“What is the state of things, then? It is this: I do not regard a man as poor, if the little which remains is enough for him. I advise you, however, to keep what is really yours; and you cannot begin too early. For, as our ancestors believed, it is too late to spare when you reach the dregs of the cask. Of that which remains at the bottom, the amount is slight, and the quality is vile.”
– Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
Re-read that Seneca quote and measure your use of alive time against what you have left in the cask. If this year offered plenty of cause to question our use of time or the unfairness in the world, it also gave us time to think and to pivot towards better uses of time than we might have before. But the irony is that we can’t waste time dwelling on it, we can only use it as a guiding light for what we do next.
“Our current use of time is not rational. There is therefore no point in seeking marginal improvements in how we spend our time. We need to go back to the drawing board and overturn all our assumptions about time. There is no shortage of time. In fact, we are positively awash with it. We only make good use of 20 percent of our time. And for the most talented individuals, it is often tiny amounts of time that make all the difference.” – Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle
I got out and walked yesterday, pondering the narrow shoulders of the roads in my town and the number of cars driving on them in the busy stretches, and appreciating the quiet stretches with no cars where I could think. The takeaway was to remove the busy roads and walk in places where thinking is 80 percent of your walking time instead of simply surviving the experience. The time allocated to walking was always available to me this year, I just put it aside more often than I used it.
I think back on the crazy year that was 2020, and wonder where the time went. Too much time on useless activities, chasing after opportunities that turned to vapor in the hard reality of the pandemic, and squandering time on social media, political debate, and watching entertainment of questionable quality. I spent more time with an iPhone in my hand than I should have, but tried to use that time reading the Kindle app, learning a bit of French and Portuguese, and taking pictures of the good moments.
“The 80/20 Principle says that we should act less. Action drives out thought. It is because we have so much time that we squander it…. It is not shortage of time that should worry us, but the tendency for the majority of time to be spent in low-quality ways… If much greater work would benefit the most idle 20 percent of our people, much less work would benefit the hardest-working 20 percent; and such arbitrage would benefit society both ways. The quantity of work is much less important than its quality, and its quality depends on self-direction.” – Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle
During those moments of thinking time while walking I turned over the key points of Koch’s book in my head, thinking about the the quality of the time spent and how to spend it better. We don’t really know what’s left in the cask, but we know it’s not as full as it once was. The 80/20 Principle is both obvious and widely ignored by most people. But why be most people? When applied to our use of time, the pursuit of quality becomes… imperative.