The author of Zen Habits, one of the blogs I read about simple living, has a pretty awesome policy that anyone can share or reprint his blog entries if they so choose. He calls it an "uncopyrighted" policy. So when I saw his post this morning about killing time, I decided to repost it since it really resonated with me. I realized that I am definitely the type of person that views killing time as a bad thing. I'm always thinking about how I can be more productive. If I'm watching a movie, I'll try to answer emails at the same time. If I'm in the car, I'll try to listen to podcasts so I can learn more. If I have an unexpected day off work, I think about all the things I can complete that day. Those tendencies aren't necessarily bad, but they can border on unhealthy when I realize that I can't relax when I have down time. Thus, as part of my quest to live a healthier life, I'm going to think more about making time to just relax. It's one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.
I recently read a travel tip from someone who reminds himself that “killing time is a sin”, and so makes the most use of every bit of downtime, even on an airplane: “read a good book, learn a new language with Rosetta Stone, write to my friends around the world who haven’t heard from me in too long”.
I have no objections to reading books, learning languages, or writing to friends. It’s the idea that downtime must be put to efficient use that I disagree with. While I used to agree with it completely, these days I take a completely different approach.
Life is for living, not productivity.
There is a tendency among productive people to try to make the best use of every single minute, from the minute they awake. I know because not too long ago I was one of these folks.
Got time on the train or plane? If you’re not doing work, maybe you can be enriching yourself by learning something.
Got time before a meeting starts? Organize your to-do list, send off some emails, write some notes on a project you’re working on.
Driving? Why not make some phone calls or tell Siri to add a bunch of stuff to your calendar? Why not listen to a self-help audiobook?
Watching TV with the family? You can also be answering emails, doing situps, stretching.
Having lunch with a friend? Maybe you can talk business to make it a productive meeting.
This is the mindset that we’re supposed to have. Every minute counts, because time’s a-wasting. The clock is ticking. The sands of the hourglass are spilling.
I used to feel this way, but now I see things a bit differently.
It might seem smart and productive to not let a single minute go to waste (they’re precious, after all), but let’s take a step back to look at the big picture.
Is this what our lives are to be? A non-stop stream of productive tasks? A life-long work day? A computer program optimized for productivity and efficiency? A cog in a machine?
What about joy? What about the sensory pleasure of lying in the grass with the sun shining on our closed eyes? What about the beauty of a nap while on the train? How about reading a novel for the sheer exhilaration of it, not to better yourself? What about spending time with someone for the love of being with someone, of making a genuine human connection that is unencumbered by productive purpose, unburdened by goals.
What about freedom? Freedom from being tied to a job, from having to improve yourself every single minute, from the dreariness of neverending work?
Killing time isn’t a sin — it’s a misnomer. We’ve framed the question entirely wrong. It’s not a matter of “killing” time, but of enjoying it.
If we ask ourselves instead, “How can I best enjoy this moment?”, then the entire proposition is reframed.
Now we might spend this moment working if that work brings us joy. But we might also spend it relaxing, doing nothing, feeling the breeze on the nape of our neck, losing ourselves in conversation with a cherished friend, snuggling under the covers with a lover.
This is life. A life of joy, of wonderfulness.