We have plenty to do in our lives. Industrial revolution promised to improve the quality of life for many people. Instead, we created a system of hierarchical management, crazy working hours, shifts and later 9-5 office requirements. Digital revolution promise was even more appealing. It promised to reduce some intense labour jobs, automate everything and significantly shorten the time that we spend doing monotonous, routine work. In a way, this was what happened, but rather than enjoying the time we gained thanks to automation, we decided to try to do even more. We created projects, tasks and deadlines. But in fact, we have just one real deadline. Let’s face it.
On top of busy schedules and deadlines, the XXI century brought “instant gratification” aspects to our lives. Everything is so quick nowadays that we want to have it now.
It is valid for every aspect of our lives:
- Communication with others – even email works as the instant manager these days,
- Goods purchases – package needs to be shipped now, to be at my hands the next day,
- Entertainment – on-demand services, where any delays, lousy quality is unacceptable.
Tell me how busy is your life and I tell you who you are
To add to this craziness, we add more and more to things that we want to achieve, goals, projects, and tasks. To accomplish all of it, we try to project manage our lives. We add deadlines to make sure we complete all of those projects, and we can start the next from the queue. Unfortunately, not many people examine their motivations in this downward spiral. As a result, we follow others, and we go after whatever is currently trending. Often it is just money, status and prestige.
Let’s pause for a moment. But is pausing even possible? Are we programmed to just go forward without any reflection on what is happening? Unfortunately, that’s the truth in many cases. Living intentionally sometimes means going in the opposite direction. It is yet another argument why cultivating retrospective mindset is so important and could literally save us a lot of time, in micro but also macro perspective.
I would like to propose some exercises and frameworks to constantly challenge our goals, intentions and to help us to protect our time. The only currency in our lives that cannot be earned can only be spent.
What is your real deadline?
- Let’s take our expected, average life span and assume it is 84 years.
- We then put it into a week view in our simplified life calendar.
- Now, let’s try to fill in with our life’s highlights of this timeframe. Highschool, uni, marriage, kids, jobs etc.
- Add the point where you are at the moment.
- Contemplate. How do you feel?
0 – 12 Monday
13 – 24 Tuesday
25 – 36 Wednesday
37 – 48 Thursday
49 – 60 Friday
61 – 72 Saturday
73 – 84 Sunday
I am in my mid-forties, that means I am on Thursday. Most of the week is gone, and I am preparing for the last productive day and well deserved weekend.
We have really one real deadline.
It is not work-related.
We don’t want to work towards this deadline.
‘Hell yeah or no’ from Derek Sivers
OK, now when we realized, we have limited time to spend on what is essential, how we can start living intentionally? How can we see what is not necessary and how we can say no to it? One of my favourite and super easy frameworks comes from Derek Sivers. In his book “Anything You Want”, he describes one of the most effective and the easiest method of assessing if you should spend your time and energy on any given initiative – it is called Hell Yeah or No.
Derek explainers it in simple few paragraphs that I am going to quote here:
Use this rule if you’re often over-committed or too scattered.Derek Sivers, Anything You Want
If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no”.
When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” — then say “no.”
When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”
Every event you get invited to. Every request to start a new project. If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about it, say “no.
“We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.
It is easy enough to implement immediately. Next time someone will try to drag you to some project, propose some initiatives, or just simply want to spend some time with you – ask this question: “does it bring me joy, is it essential and really resonate with me?” If the answer is: “maybe“, “let’s see“, “I will think about it” and so on – the real and immediate response should be “no, thanks but no“. It should still be tactful and respectful but need be firm at the same time.
Another good framework that I find very useful is actually the whole philosophy. I am not going to describe in details what Stoicism is, because that would need to be a book. Instead, let me summarise some key elements of this way of living.
The 7 Key Teachings of Stoicism
In essence, Stoicism can be described in a few principles.
1. Summum Bonum (highest good)
2. Amor Fati (love of fate)
3. Premeditatio Malorum (anticipate the future)
4. The Obstacle is the Way
5. Ego is the Enemy
6. Sympatheia (the common good that connects us)
7. Memento Mori (meditate on your death)
Let’s focus on the last one. It should not scare you. It is just to realize we are all mortals and our time with our families and friends is limited. “What is your real deadline” exercise above is one of the many practices that help to meditate and ponder on your death. It should not feel creepy, it should feel liberating and empowering to start using frameworks like “Hell Yeah or No” as default to all initiatives, projects and activities that are in front of us.
6 Time Management Techniques from Seneca
The different framework that will help us to realize we have one real deadline comes from one of the greatest Stoics philosopher – Seneca. He put together some helpful steps that I call Stoics retrospective. It is such a robust process. I am trying to get to the routine of reading these points every morning adding them my journaling process.
Remember that you will die
Sometimes I think I am bulletproof. For instance, sitting in one position for a few hours straight, every day, month, year. It accumulates, and one day I will pay for it with a severe back problem. I have one real deadline and I need to remember about it.
Value your time more than your own possessions
I think I can buy everything, sometimes it manifests itself when I try to buy a present for my kids, rather than spend quality time with them. Having this said, I believe I have a solid framework in a place called the coffee trip to celebrate family time together.
Be ruthless to things that don’t matter
This is the area I need to focus consistently. Getting rid of TV seven years ago was the right decision and a good start. Cultivating a retrospective mindset also helps, but the whole industries are fighting for my attention. It is a constant battle to do the right thing at the right time.
Put your day up for review
The 5-minute journal helps a lot with reviewing everyday highlights. This is nothing else than living intentionally and having a close loop on every single matter at hand.
Do it now
This is a natural consequence of retrospective mindset if something works – carry on, continue, start now.
Realize what time off is for – rest activity, not idly
Most of us have this idea of time off or retirement – we sit idly drinking cocktails and staring at the ocean. This works for 10 first minutes, and then we realize that this dreamed paradise quickly turns to the hell of boredom. Some right questions worth asking when it comes to filling in free time:
– Do I have a hobby?
– How do I like to spend my spare time?
– What legacy do I want to leave behind me?
The subtle art of not giving a F*ck
A very modern take on Stoicism comes from the book that I have recently read. The author, Mark Manson, gets it straight between eyes. This may be too harsh for someone who is not used to pondering on life and death matters. He gets it straightforward, and that’s precisely why I recommend this book to everyone.
“You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of f**s to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a f**k about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to get f**d.”― Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
In fact, the whole last chapter of his book is about the contemplation of one’s own mortality.
“Yet, in a bizarre, backwards way, death is the light by which the shadow of all of life’s meaning is measured. Without death, everything would feel inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero.”― Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
5 life-changing values of modern Stoicism
Mark proposes some steps to start living more intentionally:
“These five values are both unconventional and uncomfortable. But, to me, they are life-changing.― Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
– The first, which we’ll look at in the next chapter, is a radical form of responsibility: taking responsibility for everything that occurs in your life, regardless of who’s at fault.
– The second is uncertainty: the acknowledgement of your own ignorance and the cultivation of constant doubt in your own beliefs.
– The next is failure: the willingness to discover your own flaws and mistakes so that they may be improved upon.
– The fourth is rejection: the ability to both say and hear no, thus clearly defining what you will and will not accept in your life.
– The final value is the contemplation of one’s own mortality; this one is crucial because paying vigilant attention to one’s own death is perhaps the only thing capable of helping us keep all our other values in proper perspective.”
Lesson learned during this coffee journey
- Being busy is a choice, but the whole industries are trying to get our attention and keep us busy.
- To be less busy and stop feeling overwhelmed, we need to work systematically, create good habits, remove bad ones.
- There are a few useful frameworks that can help us in this battle.
- “Hell yeah” -> assess the proposal and check if it is an absolutely fantastic way to spend your time, if not – reject.
- Check Stoicism and if you are sceptical about ancient philosophers, check the modern ones, like “The subtle art of not given a f*ck“.
- Do the “we have one real deadline” exercise putting years of life in one-week view – it gave me perspective and opened my mind.
There is no good news here. We all have limited time to spend. Nobody can earn or get back any single second. We have one real deadline. It is up to us, however, how we spend our time. Pondering on this topic should not feel bad. We should feel liberated to start living more intentional life, living to the full of our potential and maximizing every day and every hour of what is left.
Cover photo: 2012, sunset (at 11pm!) in Iceland 🇮🇸
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The thought that it’s already Thursday is sobering! I can see how “hell yeah” might be helpful in spending the rest of the week in a meaningful way, but I’m not sure it would always work well. For example, in my case it would almost definitely go: Watch the latest episode of Highlander? Hell yeah! Go out for a jog? Em… Maybe later… I make myself go because I can feel it’s what my body needs but the immediate reaction is definitely not hell yeah! Similarly with the thought of taking a cold shower – I’d rather die.
More importantly, the question “does it bring me joy, is it essential and really resonate with me?” applied to someone who wants to spend time with you seems selfish, and insensitive to the needs of others. I don’t mean to criticize, but this thought struck me immediately when reading this particular paragraph.
Thank you for your comment!
I see the “Hell yeah” framework on a slightly different layer. To your example, I would ask myself – do I want to be still mobile and fit when I am on Saturday/Sunday? If the answer is yes, then it may be worth creating habits to support it. And then, at some point choosing between “to jog or not to jog” will be hopefully “hell yeah” (even when it finishes taking a cold shower) 😇
As for spending time with people. I added this extreme example to trigger some thoughts. Yes, it may be seen as selfish. However, in the context of that _deadline_, it makes sense to pause and check it as well. I can only help others if I am in good shape (mentally). It is the same reason why first responders help themselves first before helping others. I agree it is a sensitive topic.
I general, I see those frameworks as tools to help to decide long-lasting, and time-consuming commitments to set the write trajectory for someone’s life. When this is done, some smaller choices are natural consequences of those more significant decisions.