Among my circles, I've earned the moniker of "drill sergeant." I suppose it's fitting, considering my obsession with timeliness to the point of extreme lifelong disapproval and/or mockery of anyone who falls below my standards. It's gotten to the point where I tell habitual latecomers to meet me a half hour to an hour (yes, a full hour) earlier than I planned on meeting, so I can be sure they will arrive on time. Still, some fail to do this.
As you can imagine, I am one of the young people left on this planet that stills wears and respects an analog watch. Though some (most) bash me for sacrificing my soul to such an arbitrary notion as time, I have very simple logic to back me up.
According to a New York Times report, Americans spend around 37 billion hours waiting in line per year. The average person will spend 3.9 years of their lives staring at their phone screens. Every idle second we spend at a bus stop, scrolling through our feeds, or waiting for our sandwiches is time that could have been spent doing something more productive. We complain that time goes by so fast and that life is so short. But is it?
Time is a measure not only of moments, but also of discipline. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion that it takes only 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. In a little over a year of continuous work without sleep, that means we pretty much do anything. (Though if you tried to work continuously for a year without sleep, you wouldn't live to see your accomplishment…) With life expectancy in the mid-80s in the U.S. and the ability to be your own person at age 18, that is quite a long time in which we are given to achieve. So why don't we make the most of it?
We're going too fast
This is counterintuitive. Wouldn't a sped-up world make us more efficient and spend less time waiting. Yes, in theory. With order-ahead apps, online delivery services, and instant messaging becoming the new phone calls, we're moving at a faster speed than we've ever moved. But that doesn't mean that we are replacing this wait time with something more efficient. While the world has moved faster, there are also so many more obstacles and stimuli getting in our way to distract us. While we don't have to wait in line for our tacos anymore, instead, we use that time to look at tacos on Instagram.
We lose focus
With waning attention spans, discipline is a harder commodity to come by. So a five-minute subway delay is the perfect amount of time to send some Snaps. We're just trying to be occupied to distract us from the monotony of looking at the train tracks. But spending 5 minutes being engaged and looking at train tracks will open you up to a whole different dimension of consciousness. The default reaction is "this is boring, so let me look at this computer in my hand that is infinitely less boring." If we approach everything like it is interesting and has potential to teach us, we'll end up using our time more effectively.
We feel it's too late
Start young. That's what everyone says. But what happens if we're past our prime? Every moment we're still breathing means that the moment can be useful to better ourselves. No matter our age, there is always time if we make it. If we count up all of those little moments in between events, there is time.
Here's what you can do about it
You can train your brain to use these moments more actively. The best way to do that is to time yourself. When you block something out in your schedule, you cannot let anything else get in the way. No notifications, no distractions. Set a goal and make a timeline to get there. Use all of those moments of idleness to get towards your goal, and plan ahead. If you have to wake up earlier, wake up earlier. It feels good to work hard, so do it. Routinize your daily practice so it becomes as intuitive as breathing.
There's plenty of time if you use it. Get a watch, get a timer, and get to it. It's not so bad being a drill sergeant.