In life we do not have equal opportunity. There are numerous resources to which many have lesser or greater access than others; there is no disputing this. What is equal in life is not opportunity, but time; however, we can create opportunity through our use of time. Theoretically, we all have 24 hours in a day. No more, no less. So why is there such disparity of productivity between capable people? It comes down to how we choose to use our time. This one quality can determine the quality of one’s life and has the ability to narrow the gap of inequality and expand opportunity. It is time for all of us to begin to use our time more wisely and to our own and society’s advantage.
I will break down our use of time in two categories: doing things now, and doing things tomorrow. We all need to get in the better habit of doing more things today that we know we should do and using our time to cultivate the skills that will benefit our futures and the future of our communities. There is no denying that we are facing some significant challenges today economically, socially, environmentally, educationally – to name a few. The way I see it, many of these problems are solvable. We just have to use our time better and apply ourselves to solve them.
Let me give an example. It’s a Tuesday night around 8pm and after a day at work, you sit down on the couch, pour yourself a drink and turn on the TV. You spend the next three hours of your time unproductively when you could have spent that time reading a book, volunteering, going to the gym, picking up a musical instrument or learning a new artistic skill. You don’t have to do this every night, but think of the difference it would make in your life if you improved your level of productivity by a few hours a week. What could you accomplish in a month or a year? What momentum could you create that would lead you to a greater vision and higher purpose for your life? It all comes back to how we use time.
What can we do to turn those down hours into hours of productivity? Most of us know what we need to do, but we don’t actually do it. So it’s not a matter of knowledge, but a matter of consequence. We need to make the consequences of inaction greater than the consequences of action. And in fact, those consequences of choosing unproductivity over productivity in life are immeasurably greater, but the problem is that they’re not visible in the short term. Years and years of compounded unproductivity leads to a highly undesirable state, but this state is highly ambiguous in the short term; it is difficult to see how three hours of inaction on a Tuesday night after a long day’s work could be problematic. But it is because it’s about habit. It’s not about the three hours as a standalone event (we all need time to unwind and relax) but the three hours over the course of a year, or a decade, or a lifetime is years of creativity, solutions, and innovations lost that could very well improve life for yourself, and perhaps even for humanity.
The question then becomes, how do we break this pattern of inaction and replace it with its more productive counterpart? The answer lies in mindfulness and consequence. First, you must bring attention to yourself when you are engaging in activities that are unproductive when it is in your capacity to be productive. At those times when you believe that it is in your capacity to be productive and pick up a hobby or solve a problem that needs a solution, then it is your responsibility and privilege to do so. I often look to people with years of experience in living fruitful lives in determining the best way to live. T. Boone Pickens is a man who has seen and experienced a lot. He says, “Every person who can work and stay active has an obligation to do so.” He is a man who as accomplished a great deal and who has also created a sound philosophical framework for himself about how to live a productive life. He finds many answers through his work; but not just his work, rather his purpose. As long as he is capable, he will contribute through his physical and mental efforts. He takes action through being mindful.
Second, you must ascribe consequence to your action – or inaction, for that matter. A poor use of time in the short term leads to a great disadvantage in the long term, both for yourself and for others. Think about all the time that you could spend on something productive or accretive to your life or society. Do you really need to watch the entire game on TV? Do you really need to go out and party every weekend? Is there a time when you can perhaps put a longer-term vision of what you can create in your life and in the world ahead of your short-term needs for pleasure? Choose your destiny wisely, or it will unwisely choose it for you.
Lastly, this is not about creating a life of rigid austerity. I often emphasize an idea to make a point because I think we need to push ourselves to grow and push the limitations of what we believe is possible. As Adidas says, “Impossible is nothing.” It is really about how we have dangerously created a convenient belief about our ostensible inability to accomplish a difficult task. Its achievement is fully within our grasp, but it will most likely take time to reach. Life is therefore less about monumental efforts everyday and more about doing little things well consistently. It’s about balance and understanding that it is in your favor to use your time as best as you possibly can. Time and the ability to use it well are incredibly powerful resources that we all have the ability to maximize.
When it comes down to it, we all want happiness, but there is often a misperception about those things that we think will make us happy and the things that will actually make us happy. Hard work and progress will make us happy. Procrastination – while comfortable in the short term – will not. If we want more money, a great relationship, a vacation, or more recognition, it all comes down to our need for arriving at happiness. But will these things – in and of themselves – give us happiness? I’m doubtful. That begs the question, how can happiness be best achieved? It comes down to progress. We are happy when we make progress, both in the physical act, and in the immediate comprehension of it upon achieving it. Happiness is not a static state; it is not found in a perpetual place of certitude. Rather it comes from process. Why is this helpful? Because progress comes from taking action, and if progress gives us happiness, and taking action gives us progress, then we all ought to be taking a lot of action to make us happy.
Rise up to the challenge and use your time that you have. The use of it will answer for you whether being more productive will add to your feeling of purpose or whether it takes away from it. And that is a great quality of taking action: it removes uncertainty because the very act of taking action creates certainty about an event whose result we were uncertain about before we resolved to take action. Use your time to enhance your life and create opportunity. Perhaps it will even lead to an innovation, an idea, or an action that ends up benefiting society – and that would certainly be a favorable consequence of time better spent.