Something to consider as you think about resolutions for the new year
Oliver Burkeman has an interesting piece in the Guardian, long but worth reading. One extract:
. . . Given that the average lifespan consists of only about 4,000 weeks, a certain amount of anxiety about using them well is presumably inevitable: we’ve been granted the mental capacities to make infinitely ambitious plans, yet almost no time at all to put them into practice. The problem of how to manage time, accordingly, goes back at least to the first century AD, when the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote On The Shortness of Life. “This space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily, and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live,” he said, chiding his fellow citizens for wasting their days on pointless busyness, and “baking their bodies in the sun”.
Clearly, then, the challenge of how to live our lives well is not a new one. Still, it is safe to say that the citizens of first-century Rome didn’t experience the equivalent of today’s productivity panic. (Seneca’s answer to the question of how to live had nothing to do with becoming more productive: it was to give up the pursuit of wealth or high office, and spend your days philosophising instead.) What is uniquely modern about our fate is that we feel obliged to respond to the pressure of time by making ourselves as efficient as possible – even when doing so fails to bring the promised relief from stress.
The time-pressure problem was always supposed to get better as society advanced, not worse. In 1930, John Maynard Keynes famously predicted that within a century, economic growth would mean that we would be working no more than 15 hours per week – whereupon humanity would face its greatest challenge: that of figuring out how to use all those empty hours. Economists still argue about exactly why things turned out so differently, but the simplest answer is “capitalism”. Keynes seems to have assumed that we would naturally throttle down on work once our essential needs, plus a few extra desires, were satisfied. Instead, we just keep finding new things to need. Depending on your rung of the economic ladder, it’s either impossible, or at least usually feels impossible, to cut down on work in exchange for more time. . .