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Death of the Clock: Reclaiming Your Time

Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead.

We live our lives around the clock. We wake up at a certain time, work on a schedule and base our performance on the amount of time it takes us to do things. More things done in less time = good. More time needed? Deadline not met? Unacceptable.

But it’s not just the clock that gives us anxiety; it’s basing our worth on how productive we are. We have this false belief that if we just finish everything on our to do lists, we’ll be done. After that, we can finally be happy, right? Unfortunately, that time never comes.

We always find more things to do, more projects to work on, more ways to improve and optimize. But when we base our happiness on achievement, we’ve joined the cult of productivity. Being productive is no longer a means to an end. It’s the end entirely. And it’s a sickness.

Here are some signs you’ve contracted the productivititis:

Part of the reason for this obsession with productivity is we think time is money. But time is not money. Time is life.

Now, I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water (actually, I don’t want to throw any babies anywhere — I’ve always thought that was a morbid expression). There is certainly a need for productivity and accomplishing goals. Without them, we would probably be pretty damn bored. But the problem is that we think more is the answer.

We want bite-sized happiness and short bursts of satisfaction. We go to theme parks and insist on going on every ride. We take trips and vacations, where we require that every attraction and monument be visited. We schedule our weeks trying to fit as many appointments and tasks in it as possible. All of this is done with the thought that someday, far away, we can relax.

If doing more isn’t the answer, maybe it’s doing less. Maybe it’s slowing down enough to actually enjoy the experience. Maybe it’s slowing down enough to remember what the hell you did two days ago, without having to look to your day planner.

With technology, we can get more done quicker than ever before. So isn’t that supposed to result in more free time and increased happiness? If so, why is it that most of us feel that when we’re not doing something productive, we’re uneasy? Why is it that when our time isn’t structured, we feel guilty?

In this article, Leo gave some good advice for how to break free from the clock. I think it’s important that we reject living our lives based on an arbitrary measurement. But I also think it’s important we question the values that brought us to this place. I think it’s possible that our search for happiness in productivity is largely due to a lack of being able to find satisfaction in the present moment.

Here are some suggestions for regaining the control of your time:

  1. Keep a balance. There are bound to be sacrifices that we must make in life for the future. Sometimes we have to use stepping stones to build our way to success. Sometimes we have to work a job that we don’t necessarily like, in order to make connections to move our way up. Sometimes we need stepping stones. Just try to keep a balance between goals that are long term, and doing things that make you happy now.
  2. Stay in perspective. Sometimes we need to drop goals that are no longer serving us. Having the courage to quit a goal that’s no longer aligned with you is okay. What matters most is that you stay authentic.
  3. Future goals. Are the sacrifices you’re making now a part of a larger purpose? Our long term goals should enable us to have more free time to do what we want in the future, not create more stress. If the stress outweighs the benefits, it’s likely that your goal is not authentic and is mostly ego-based.
  4. Say no. How often do you say yes to a commitment when you really want to say no? A lot of our freedom is stolen simply because we are unable to selfishly claim ownership of our time.. Realize you can only do so much. There’s no point in helping a hundred people if it’s making you miserable. That’s not a very good example to set for others.
  5. Is increasing your productivity increasing your happiness? If you’re getting more done, but not making more time for the things you want to do, something is wrong. The point of getting things done is not to have more time to get things done. It’s to have more time for the things you truly enjoy.
  6. Slow down. You’ll enjoy your time much more if you’re not constantly in a hurry. Something that’s helped me greatly is pretending as if what I’m doing is the only thing that exists at this time in the universe. This highly focused state doesn’t just make me enjoy what I’m doing more, it also makes me more effective.
  7. Just be there. We enjoy the time we spend much more when we’re “in the zone.” That is to say, we have completely lost track of time. We’re not judging what we’re doing, we’re just doing it. We’re not thinking about it, we’re just flowing.
  8. Follow your natural rhythms. We tend to try to force ourselves to be productive when we feel like relaxing. Doing this, we end up working against ourselves. Try to pay attention to your natural rhythms. When you feel like being productive, go with it. When you feel like relaxing, don’t hold yourself back. Doing nothing is not a crime. It’s essential.

If we can learn how to be more content, our productivity can have more meaning. Our productivity can be the result of our happiness. Not the other way around. Cultivate meaningful productivity and start to re-claim your time.

Remember, time is not money. Time is life.

This article was written by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead of the Illuminated Mind blog.



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