14 July 2013

14 – Doing Lots With Little Time

I recently wrote about why admitting our mortality can drive us to make the most of our lives. I’ve been finding it useful to apply the same approach on a day-to-day basis. Do I look in the mirror and remind myself that I’ll die every morning? Unnecessary now that I’ve got my new motivational saying.

Sometimes we don’t do enough of the things we truly enjoy and cherish daily. It happens to all of us. I’ve let it happen plenty of times. And it’ll probably happen many more times before the Grim Reaper punches my timecard.

When this happens on a regular basis we often start seeing our days as obstacles that prevent us from being more authentic version of ourselves. “I’d exercise and draw and write more if I wasn’t so busy with teaching and my PhD,” is what I’d tell myself. You probably say similar things to yourself about your own passions and job. It’s a rough way to live and think.

We always fall back on two excuses. We have either: a) too many other things to do, or b) not enough time to do what we enjoy. I hid behind both excuses for the better part of a decade. And while I haven’t exorcised the demon, I’m getting better at keeping it in check.  

Such thinking is the by-product of being convinced that we can’t really do the things we want until we retire, and that day-to-day life has to be stressful and hectic. Because if it can’t wait until retirement, apparently it’s not worthwhile. And if your days aren’t hectic and stressful, then apparently you must be lazy and unproductive.

Bullshit. Balderdash. Poppycock. Call it whatever you want. It’s just not true. We don’t need to wait until we’re sixty-five to start enjoying life. And our days don’t need to be hectic and stressful (they may be more productive without that actually). Oh, and we all actually do have time to waste.

“What the hell did he just say to me?” you ask. I said we all waste time. You do. I know I do. Don’t worry, we’re both guilty parties here. Show me a person who never wastes time and I’ll show you where Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson go to listen to Jim Morrison recite poetry. The real point is this: having time to waste means you actually have time to do things you really want. It’s what you decide to do with the time that counts.

I have to exercise and write every day. I neglected both for several years. But while I gradually turned them into daily habits, I still found it challenging to fit both in to my daily routine. 

Here’s the solution I’ve come up with. I do a twenty minute workout five days a week (I do yoga and stretching on the ‘off’ days). And I do at least one half hour writing session every morning or evening. I even use an online countdown timer that makes a clear gong sound so I know when my time is up.  

I’ve been doing this for almost five weeks now. It really works for me. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot more than I would have otherwise. My twenty minute workouts leave me feeling and looking stronger than the hour-long workouts I used to grind through. Using the thirty minute principle I’ve retyped and lightly edited a full section of my first novel, written about sixty pages of my second novel and churned out every essay on my young blog. Less is more.

Working with a short time limit has a powerful effect. Instead of overthinking the exercises I do them as efficiently and effectively as I can. Instead of overanalyzing my thoughts I write them out. It’s like my brain says:

OK Bob, you’ve only got thirty minutes to write so write everything you can because once that gong sounds that’s it. This is the time to do the thing. You can think about the thing later.

A self-imposed time limit creates a minor sense of urgency. It drives you to get more done. It’s a great placebo for enhancing focus, efficiency and productivity.

Stop letting banks tell you that life really begins at sixty-five. We do have the time to do what makes us happy. As Gandalf the Grey once told Frodo Baggins:

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

I’ll throw my lot in with anyone who rises from the dead after killing a Balrog.


I can’t tell you how to kill a demon of The First Age. But I can tell you that using small blocks of time to do things you love can help you feel a little happier every day.

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The House Newf is from a rugged and beautiful island on the eastern edge of Canada called Newfoundland. He was first identified by a potter with a naturalist's flair, and he does in fact live in a house under the watchful eye of a cat that seems bewildered by the universe at large. That house is in Halifax, Nova Scotia and that's where the House Newf writes fiction and essays on things that add value to his life that may add some value to yours. You can contact him at bobharding80@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter @theHouseNewf, on Instagram @thehousenewf, and like him on Facebook. The House Newf is a unique specimen. Every home should have one.