Today I wish to go into a topic that is different from what I have explored so far. I want to explore a very old time-related issue: How can we use our time wisely? It is an old issue because there is simply not enough time to do everything you want to do, and you do not want to waste too much time doing menial chores/other things that might have limited or zero long-term value. Of course, you want to pick-and-choose the most important things to you and compartmentalize in order of importance to you. The question is how? I will get to that once I explore why it matters.
I find myself wondering this often because there is only so much time in a single day to do things. There are two extremes to not using time wisely: one is where you waste TOO MUCH time for tasks with limited value (i.e. entertainment) OR you focus so much on one task that you leave little or nothing for other things you want to do. Both leave you wanting more time. As William Penn’s quote suggests, time IS what we use most poorly.
For me, in the past it was often videogames. I would get zoned in and time would zip by — 2, 4, 6+ hours would fly back, and I would not even know it. At the end of the gaming session, I would feel an emotion similar to caffeine crash. While drinking coffee, you feel hyper and great, but once you stop, you begin to feel tired, down emotionally, and mentally lagged as the effects of caffeine dwindle. Videogames were my coffee, and it became my daily routine on school days to play until 8pm (on weekends, 8pm would extend to 2am). When I watched TV, I would sit there for 4-5 hours some days while focused in. That was the case for many things through Elementary school to high-school and first year of college. I found my foolish self wasting lots of time through this inefficient style of doing things. I did not value time or cared about the world around..
..Until I had this one awesome Professor in college, Dr Clark, for one of my extra elective courses (Human Ecology) in first year of college. Professor Clark was one of the coolest and most inspirational professors I ever had.
Why It Matters
Quick story. Dr Clark was different than most people I knew – his lecture style was non-conventional. Most noticeably, he was an older professor with a massive beard and long hair from 1960’s style, down-to-earth personality, and he gave lectures while walking in front of lecture hall with his eyes closed. More importantly, he made you think and was very concise & easy to understand.
He knew just how to connect with his students — on second day of class (I missed first day), he came up to me and said “Hello Mr Shukla. How are you? I noticed you missed first day”. In all my years at Rutgers, only a few professors actually knew my name without me saying so in email or in-person (all professors get a roster listing with every student’s face/name and ID if they cared to). And he called me, just a mere student, “Mr Shukla” that I remember clearly to this day 4 years later – I mean who does that? I knew right then that he truly cared about his students.
Just to show how different and open he was: during the class, he mentioned there was a lot of information to know for the exams (articles, couple required books to read, lectures, film material, recitation hall material, lecture discussion materials, etc) so he asked the class how many exams we wanted for the semester. Some voted for 1 exam, some voted for 6 exams, but the majority raised their hands for 3 exams and then a final. He approved with a smile: “Okay! Four it is!”
I remember that on last day of regular class, he told students there will be a party on day of the Final. He asked what food students wanted – the only no-no was alcohol (illegal for under 21) and caviar (too expensive). He made a list of everything every student mentioned. He bought everything with his own money and brought it all on last day of class. Before handing out the final exam, he writes the meaning of life on the board – “There are no empty Tabasco sauce bottles.” I do not know what that means. Looking at it now, I would guess that it is an analogy. Because Tabasco sauce is very spicy, you take a little and savor it (so bottle never goes empty). Take too much sauce and you suffer in agony. Enjoy life little at a time – if you go too fast, you suffer in agony at the end. Keep the bottle of life always filled.
Now the implications & end of the story. Every lecture Dr Clark gave, he made us think about broader scopes. I learned more about myself in this class from not just the material but the professor. I got life lessons from his lectures, I learned more about humanity, I learned about life itself. This man was wise and knew what he was talking about (even with his eyes closed haha). He taught me that there is much to life, nature, human spirit. He taught that there is much to gain from learning about humanity and the decisions we make (decisions that might hurt not just nature but us humans in the process, yet we keep making them). Time after time, the same stories globally — entire forests wiped out, entire whale groups massacred for blubber, elephants hunted to near extinction for their ivory tusks, companies dumping dangerous chemical wastes into local rivers, dangerous substances used in materials, nobody willing to take responsibility for their actions. Some of these things made me disgusted.
On an individual-level, I realized there were simply so many issues out there that I did not pursue or spend time thinking about. From a general audience perspective, I realized there were not enough people standing up for different causes not because they did not want to. It was because they did not care enough to pursue these issues to begin with as their focus was elsewhere (again back to ‘not enough time’). I found that I was often asking myself: what the hell am I doing wasting time?
There is so much to life and much we can learn about ourselves. It is essential.. no, a NECESSITY.. to spend our time wisely and reflect on things. There is only so much time, and so many decisions that we individually must make & live with. There is simply too little time in a week.. 168hrs – 56hrs of sleep = 112hrs (if you work or study full-time, that is another 40+ hours weekly subtracted) to waste 30% of it on a few videogames as I used to. It made me realize how valuable time is. It made me realize how much we take it for granted.
My solution of trying to compartmentalize how to spend time wisely is to divide it for the week. Essentially, I made a cycle for myself to essentially limit how much time I waste below :
A) 2 days I put aside for blog-related things. Writing up blog entry, doing research for most blog entries I do, and jotting down thoughts. I also spend some time updating parts of the blog (couple ideas I am working on).
B) 1 day I put aside for online courses and their workload (lectures/quizzes/assignments). I forced myself to continue learning on the side even with college finished.
C) 1 day I recently started to put aside for a broad programming/model helicopter (robotic UAV) project I am working on with my cousin. Just the opening idea to possibly starting a company.
D) Remaining 3 days are miscellaneous things like catching up on tv shows, movies, gaming, etc. Hopefully I can find the right job for these 3 days. TV I can watch whenever, and games I pulled back a bit over the last two years.
E) Every night before falling asleep, I read a book for 2 hours to keep my mind stimulated & thinking of different ideas/thoughts.
I suggest trying hard to stick to a cycle that you define based on the things you value. If you want to consistently get things done and use your time wisely, do not just do things randomly on whims. Of course there will be times when your cycle will fall apart but you want to try to stick to it anyways. Just do not make it too specific – keep some flexibility in there.
What truly matters is the long-term scopes. Sure, short-term is important to keeping yourself entertained, but I learned that something like playing videogames for too long everyday has very limited long-term value. Sure it kept me busy and entertained, but not much else. 112 hours is all you have in a week. Use it wisely. Or lose it all.
So my life lesson here in all this is to figure out what you value. Do yourself a favor and make a mental note/schedule to follow up on what is important to you. Value time as much as you value your life, and you will have no regrets.