I don't get to read enough in my life. Most of my time is spent in the educational realm, and this usually means I'm reading a lot of various informational pieces/books, or I'm doing research in order to build a case for a Podcast or presentation. Needless to say, when I sit down to read for “enjoyment”, I'd rather take in a book of fiction or at the very least historical fiction.
However, when I do end up finally purchasing a book, I so often decide on something in the sphere of history or science. But the one that I find myself always on the look-out for is more akin to self-improvement. I love pouring over studies, theories, anecdotes and suggestions on improving everything from habits to deeply embedded character traits.
Buying books like this as opposed to pleasure reading may be partly due to the high standard I hold for fiction. I never trust anything enough to spend the money and purchase it. The only fictional books I tend to purchase are ones that come highly recommended to me. So, if you have a book or series of fantasy or sci-fi that you're willing to vouch for...then by all means, let me know.
I promise, I'm not writing this to tell you all about my nerdy reading habits. But as far as my nerdy reading habits are concerned: I've been recently working through a book titled, The Art of Manliness – Manvotionals: Timeless Wisdom and Advice on Living the 7 Manly Virtues. By Brett McKay (the founder of the website www.artofmanliness.com) and hence the idea of self-improvement. I'm fascinated with what makes a man, and how a man develops himself over a lifelong journey.
Why does this matter to you?
One of the virtues discussed by McKay is titled “Industry” and revolves around use of time. It revolutionized how I view my time. For the longest time, I've battled with my level of efficiency. Most people would probably look at how I spend most of my time, and say, “You keep yourself pretty busy.”
I wouldn't say they're wrong, but there's always a sense that I'm still being rather inefficient with my time. I think the section in this book revolving around the topic finally gave me the inspiration I needed. Or perhaps, just the words to the problem I couldn't quite define.
Before I get into the solution, I want to define the problem. I spend a lot of hours working. I'm not a person who is at the office 70-80 hours a week, but even when I am at home, I tend to have my mind in work mode. So much so, that my wife and I recently had a conversation about my mental distance while I'm at home. I appreciate the fact that she called me out on it. It was obviously apparent, and more noticeable than I realized.
You may take all of this to mean that I never stop working, but frankly that type of efficiency might be more useful to me. Instead, I tend to be an all or nothing person. If I'm not at work or working, I'm on the couch. And if I'm on the couch, I'm useless to the world. Thankfully, my phone doesn't snare me too often, but at night, after the kids are in bed, the television does catch me like a mouse to cheese.
Some reading this might think, “Okay, so you don't have a time problem. You have a relaxation problem.”
Yes and no.
I feel as though my time could be better spent. Even when I'm at work, there are times where I catch myself scrolling through some random site, or conversing with co-workers. What will tend to hit me is the nagging feeling that I am not being efficient with my time. I feel as though I could be doing more with the projects or goals that I have. When I'm watching television, I wonder whether what I'm doing is worthwhile and building towards something, or am I just passively consuming.
I witness people spending hours on end scrolling mindlessly through their phones or watching random Youtube videos. I see the inordinate amount of time dedicated to Facebook, and the passion with which people dive deep into video games. Again, I don't consider any of this bad, evil or wicked on it's own. But the question continues to come up for me: couldn't my time be better spent?
All of this leads to how the book I'm reading helped revolutionized how I see work, efficiency, and most importantly: time.
When we think of time, we think of it as a never-ending stream given to us. But what if we viewed time as a level playing field of potential wealth? Each man is given the same amount of time each day. We can neither add nor subtract from time in the day. We can fill each minute, but we can never add an extra minute to the 24 hours provided to us each day. The wondrous miracle of this is the equality of the idea. Each man is given 24 hours in a given day. That's 1440 minutes.
The wealthy man uses every dollar he has in the best way possible. He invests it. He uses it in order to gain more dollars. Despite what we tend to think: the wealthy man doesn't just store up his dollars. He takes them and invests them to gain more dollars. But why do we see no need to invest our minutes?
The greatest, most productive men have made a legendary life of using every single minute and investing it into their goals. If we look at some of the examples provided in the book, we get a very clear picture of what it looks like to truly be efficient with our time.
Benjamin Franklin was a printer, publisher, author, inventor, scientist and diplomat. He bought the print shop he started working at after 2 years of a partnership. He achieved printing Pennsylvania's currency after writing an essay on the necessity of paper currency. He became the printer of New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. He started the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard's Almanac. He made income and invested in rental properties. By the 1740's, he was one of the wealthiest colonists in the northern part of the colonies.
He organized a debate club, paid a city watch and volunteer fire department and formed the American Philosophical Society. He gained various political offices, and during that time, also invented useful items while scientifically experimenting. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
How about Teddy Roosevelt? His campaign schedule would have ground most of us to dust within a week.
7:00 a.m. Breakfast
7:30 a.m. A speech
8:00 a.m. Reading a historical work
9:00 a.m. A speech
10:00 a.m. Dictating letters
11:00 a.m. Discussing Montana mines
11:30 a.m. A speech
12:00 p.m. Reading an ornithological work
12:30 p.m. A speech
1:00 p.m. Lunch
1:30 p.m. A speech
2:30 p.m. Reading [Scottish novelist] Sir Walter Scott
3:00 p.m. Answering telegrams
3:45 p.m. A speech
4:00 p.m. Meeting the press
4:30 p.m. Reading
5:00 p.m. A speech
6:00 p.m. Reading
7:00 p.m. Supper
8-10 p.m. Speaking
11:00 p.m. Reading alone in his car
12:00 a.m. To bed
Do you notice how many speeches he gave in one day? The man was unstoppable. While I'm rather frustrated with his politics, I cannot help but admire the man's ruggedness, work ethic, toughness and discipline. His outlook on life was to squeeze every possible ounce out of it, and to never compromise or give in to his softer side. Despite growing up sickly and weak, the man made it his life mission to become tougher than nails. So much so, that he gave a speech immediately after being shot...with the bullet still lodged in his ribs.
The wealth of each minute is ours for the taking. Every day we wake up contains unlimited potential. This doesn't mean we can avoid our responsibilities and duties, such as family. But it does mean that each moment not spent with some chore, job or responsibility is fair game to be used to our advantage. Investing each minute becomes a challenge, and I've found that the simple thought of using each minute has motivated me to get off the pot (literally.)
I catch myself staring at my phone at moments in my day, and when the thought occurs, “Am I investing my minutes or wasting them?” I'm suddenly motivated to move forward. I relish the idea of taking each minute and using it to it's full potential. So many projects exist in my day to day, and the greatest men allow no excuse to derail them from growing themselves and their legacy.
As I've been working through this concept, I've recognized a new passion to take my few minutes here and there, and put them to good use. This includes working on several writing projects that have stalled in the past couple years, a major art project that will take me a couple years of dedication to finish, new projects for Self-Evident, prayer and reading Scripture, and ways to improve myself.
We might jump to the conclusion that this means sacrificing our family or responsibilities. But in fact, it only drives me to be more focused and passionate about those as well. They are more important than work tasks, and therefore deserve just as much, if not more attention and focus. My kids are my lifelong responsibility, and my greatest job in life is to produce independent, self-sufficient, righteous men out of these boys.
Yes, I get it. Earlier I said how the wife was commenting on my distraction at home. And she's not wrong. I'm working through the process, but as I sit here and write this, I recognize that my focus needs to go up a level with my kids. And when that time is satisfied, I can look to my other projects. My life can be a constant flow of productivity, and even active rest can have an element of productivity to it.
We can always be more efficient. And when I look at Teddy Roosevelt's campaign schedule, I gain inspiration. To know he grew up as a sickly, weak, small boy into such a machine says that each man can forge himself into a more powerful force for the legacy that God has placed in him.
That legacy isn't built in massive blocks of time. It's built in the tiny little clusters of free minutes. If you have 10 minutes of free time: what would you do productively? This means banning any thought of, “But I won't be able to finish.” It's the chipping away that builds progress. I often have limited myself because I thought I needed an hour or two to get anywhere. Yet, now that I've provided myself the reasoning needed to spend 15 minutes here, 10 minutes there on my art project, the speed has increased dramatically on its progress.
Stephen King always carries a book with him to read when he's standing in line. Einstein worked on his scientific theories while working at a patent office. Ben Franklin would read and study while eating lunch. When you look at the habits of accomplished men, you'll find that every minute is accounted for...whether officially or unofficially.
The usefulness of the minute is breath-taking in it's power. We've watered it down and done our best to forget it exists. But when we stop and remind ourselves of the infinite value of a minute's progress (vs. standing still), we're inspired to take that minute and wring every possible second from it.
As I work through changing myself in this way, I will continue to devote each day to getting better with my time. Since I set a goal each birthday to become completely different by my next birthday, I do believe this mindset will help me move onto the next paradigm shift.
So I pose the question to you: what are you doing with your free time?