Time is a notion that we still don’t quite understand. We can measure it, we can think about it, we can draw conclusions from our past and make predictions about the future. We can easily tell others how to best use their time; many make a living by doing this. We waste it, we earn it, we long for it. It flies, it weighs down on us, and there’s never enough of it.
And, it’s that last point that interests me the most: there is never enough time. There never will be, which is why that Mr Rogers meme touched me so much. And, it’s been odd thinking about this during a worldwide pandemic. So many people have been blessed with the luxury of having more time, but the accompanying anxieties, illnesses and demands haven’t really given people a chance to take advantage of this time. Leisure is limited to what you can do within your own living space and some municipalities (including mine) have opened up snitch lines and have used their powers to issue fines – some more warranted than others. Still, this bizarre new way of life, whether it’s short-term or not, is making it feel like time is standing still.
Not a whole lot has changed in my own life. I still work from home, as I have for the past ten years. I chose this years ago after having to endure some awful working conditions, like a long commute, and a working space that involved everyone sharing one long table, rubbing elbows with each other and snooping over one’s shoulders to make sure no one was slacking off. I chose a more grown-up life, free of the kinds of work-life mentalities that stifle creativity, and completely free of the boss-worker physical hierarchies that still exist to this day. My home office is more beautiful and conducive to working than any corner desk space that’s painted grey and lit with halogen lights. I still pursue my hobbies and interests, and I mostly keep to myself. This isn’t a far stretch from my day-to-day life prior to these new regulations. But lack of a social life has been trying. The inability to travel, to enjoy a good restaurant meal, to hug a friend has all been difficult to endure. And so, I find myself thinking about what it all means. I find myself wondering how this event will change the way we spend our time.
I think that a lot of traditions are about to be questioned, challenged, and perhaps even changed permanently. Traditions like long commutes to work, shared work spaces, rotating desks, cubicle-free environments. The introduction of open-space environments has never been about improving communications between teams. The modern working world, especially in cities that haven’t properly accounted for urban sprawl, is toxic, soul-crushing and exhausting. Most of your eight hours a day are spent warming up a chair to please your employers, while most of the work truly gets done in about three hours. But, we do it because it’s how things are done. “Metro, boulot, dodo”, a lyric that translates to “commute, work, sleep”. Three simple words that describe how an average adult spends their weekday. The bulk of our time is already taken. But, why? Because, tradition? Is an eight hour workday still necessary? Are unpaid sick days a good idea? Ten days off, for the entire year? Shouldn’t we be encouraging more time off? I checked my bereavement leave the other day. It’s just three days. Three. If you lose a spouse, a parent, a sibling, you just get three days. To mourn, to make arrangements, to absorb the shock of loss. Does any of this really make sense?
I ask questions about societal structures because personally, I’ve been very focused on making the best choices for myself on how I use my own time. That’s been my biggest project. It’s not art, it’s not work, it’s not science. The thing I pay the most attention to is how I use my time. And, it takes time to manage your time. To manage things like who I spend time with, who I interact with, how I interact with them. I take weekends off from social media. I don’t engage in political talk online. I don’t waste other people’s time. I don’t seek people’s approval, and I choose whose opinions I value. I spend a lot of time doing nothing, and I enjoy it very much. I choose not to become a parent because I don’t want to re-allocate this time to care for the upbringing of another human being. It’s just not for me.
And, as I grow older, I’ve learned that my biggest fear in life is to have my time controlled by someone who doesn’t have my best interests at heart. It’s not death, it’s not disease, it’s not spiders nor snakes. The thing I fear the most is squandering the most precious thing in life because I failed to choose properly. Oh, and I have made some bad choices in life. Many. But, we can always use the time we have right now to make different choices. And it’s the long-term thinking I’m talking about: what can you do today to make sure that the time you have tomorrow is well spent? What does “well spent” mean to you? Maybe you don’t know what you want, but I bet you do know what you don’t want.
For all of the traditions and habits that we have deeply ingrained in our societies, the thing that escapes us the most is that we can still engineer the kind of life that we want. Even if it means enduring short-terms pains to forge something new. And sometimes, it’s just small, incremental changes that make for a better way to spend one’s time. Maybe it means making more time for sleep. Maybe it means taking the time to look at the clouds. Maybe it means a slow and complete overhaul of the kind of work that you do for a living. I think this pandemic will change the way we work in the future and some workplaces won’t adapt to it. I know a lot of office workers that don’t want to go back to their office after this is all said and done. And I say, good for you. (It’s not that I’m anti-offices, it’s that I recognize that so many people are miserable because of their jobs, and I’d wager that finding a healthier work environment is the single most important change a person can make in their lifetime.)
The state of emergency that we currently live in has given us a huge opportunity to make things right, even if that just means making things right for yourself. Society will always change slower than you can. Regardless of your circumstances, there is always a little something, a little choice or a little adjustment that you can make to make your time more valuable to you, your family, and your community. It’s not beyond your control. And your time here isn’t infinite. It’s so beautiful and valuable, that if you haven’t had a chance to think about that until now, then maybe right now is the best time to think about it.