“When you’ll reach the end, you will understand that you were very busy doing nothing”, warned Seneca centuries ago. The Stoic philosopher was knew clearly that time is the most valuable possession we have, but still we waste it without thinking about it.
Despite the weight of mortality is continually hanging over our heads, we often live as if we were immortal. We prefer not to think about the end to exorcise our most atavistic fears. However, if we want to make good use of time and do something meaningful with our lives, we must bear in mind the Latin phrase that reminds us of our mortality: memento mori.
Tips for making the most of our time, according to Seneca
1. Do it now, don’t let life pass
“Postponing things is the greatest waste of our life: it takes away each day as it arrives and denies us the present, promising us the future,” Seneca wrote. To which he added: “While we waste our time doubting and procrastinating, life speeds up.”
We have all procrastinated at some point. However, when it becomes the norm, when we continually put off important plans that could change our lives for the better, we have a problem because life does not wait.
Procrastination may be due to laziness, but it is mostly rooted in fear of uncertainty. That is why Seneca reminds us that “Fortune has the habit of behaving as it pleases”, so that waiting does not usually increase our chances of success, but only serves to accumulate more obstacles along the way.
The solution is to eliminate from our vocabulary the phrase: “I’ll do it tomorrow” to get to work right now. We just have to take the first step. Break inertia. As Seneca advised: “Hold on to today’s task and you won’t have to depend so much on tomorrow’s one.”
2. Value your time more than your possessions
If we saw a person burning money, we would think that he or she is crazy. However, every day we waste minutes and hours, but we do not think that we are crazy, even if time is our most valuable possession.
Unlike money, which can be spent and recovered, time is a precious resource that we can never get back. Seneca said: “People are frugal in protecting their personal property; But when it comes to wasting time, they are the ones who waste the most the only thing on which it is good to be greedy.”
Redefining the value of time while being aware of its finiteness is the first step for using it intelligently, managing it better and, above all, dedicating it to those things that are really worthwhile or significant in our lives. One strategy to begin to value time over possessions is to ask ourselves: how much time in my life should I spend working hard for buying that?
3. Cut down on pointless hustle
“A concerned person cannot perform any activity successfully… For a concerned man, living is the least important activity. However, there is nothing more important and difficult to learn than living,” said Seneca.
His words take on a special relevance today, at a time when we are subjected to an incessant flow of external stimuli that demand our attention. Pending fromsocial commitments, screens, news, messages, work … our schedule fills up and we don’t have a minute left.
That creates the feeling of being very busy doing very important things, but if we balance it out at the end of the day, we might find that we have done a little that makes us happy or that brings us closer to our meaningful goals in life.
That daily dizziness can trap us for years, making life slip away from us. That is why it is important that we rethink our day to day, trying to eliminate all superfluous distractions and occupations that do not bring us anything, while we make room in our schedule for those activities that really contribute to our well-being or make us feel fuller and more alive.
4. Be relentless with what does not bring you anything
If you want to make the most of your time, you have to learn to say “no.” Seneca warned: “How much you have devastated your life because you did not know what you were losing, how much you have wasted on senseless pain, silly joy, greedy desires and social diversions. You will realize that you were dying before your time!”.
To make good use of our time we need to learn to set limits. Some of these limits are directed to others, to all those people who believe they have the right to use our time, charging us with responsibilities that do not belong to us. So that means saying “no” to many of the things that we are doing for the others that they could do for themselves, as well as all those meaningless commitments, invitations, and obligations.
However, we must also learn to say “no” to ourselves. Set limits not to waste precious time. It involves saying “no” to those emotional states that harm us and take away moments of happiness while we allow ourselves to be consumed by guilt, anger, or resentment. If we are not careful, both social impositions and those emotional states will end up expanding until they consume a large part of our life.
5. Do not subordinate happiness to the achievement of your goals
“It is inevitable that life is not only very short, but also very unhappy for those who acquire with great effort what they must keep with even greater effort. They painstakingly achieve what they want; they eagerly possess what they have accomplished; and meanwhile a time slips away from them that will never return. New concerns take the place of old ones, expectations arouse more expectations and ambition more ambition,” said Seneca.
In a culture that rewards constant effort and ever more ambitious goals, this stoic message can be contradictory. However, continually pursuing new goals, never satisfied with the achievements, only leads to a state of permanent anxiety and unhappiness.
Instead, one of Seneca’s tips for making the most of our time is not to be too ambitious. As we pursue new goals, time is slipping away from us. One goal always leads to another and deceives us into thinking that happiness is in achieving each of them, in the result and not in the process. The solution is to readjust our expectations and ask ourselves how we can lead a more meaningful life here and now, while working to achieve certain goals.
In any case, Seneca also warned “You should not think that a man has lived a long time because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, he has only existed for a long time… the part of life that we really live is small. Because all the rest of existence is not life, but simply time”. The key to making good use of time is to turn empty minutes into meaningful ones.