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  • Rich Haglund

You can't use time.

And problems are what make life meaningful.

We've created an unrealistic expectation around time, thanks to someone inventing the clock.

Before, time was just the medium in which life unfold, the stuff that life was made of. Afterward, once "time" and "life" had been separated in most people's minds, time became a thing that you used.

The clock isn't "solely to blame for all our time-related troubles today," writes Oliver Burkeman in the book, Four Thousand Weeks. But, once we separate "time" and "life" in our minds, time becomes "a resource to be used" and we "start to feel pressure . . . to use it well, and to berate [ourselves] when [we] feel [we've] wasted it." And our "sense of self-worth gets . . . bound up with how [we're] using [our] time."


So, how can we combat the concept that time is some thing we can use well or poorly?


Burkeman suggests "a limit embracing attitude to time." This means recognizing and organizing our days "with the understanding that [we] definitely won't have time for everything [we] want to do or that other people want [us] to do."


There is, Burkeman adds, an "unfashionable but powerful notion of letting time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history."


Life is problems.

Just as it is "irrational to feel troubled by an overwhelming to-do list," it is unrealistic to assume we'll ever have a problem-free day.

The presence of problems in your life . . . isn't an impediment to a meaningful existence but the very substance of one.

To patiently navigate the world of problems, Burkeman prescribes three things. First, we need to "develop a taste for having problems."


Second, "embrace radical incrementalism:" making things a smaller part of our daily routines. For example, strive to write for 10 minutes a day instead of an hour, and thereby increase the odds of actually writing something every day.


Burkeman's third recommendation for fostering patience is accepting that "originality lies on the far side of unoriginality." Burkeman retells photographer Arno Minkkinen's "Helsinki Bus Station Theory, outlined in a graduation talk he gave at the New England School of Photography in 2004. In Burkeman's words, the theory posits that distinctive work only begins after people have "master[ed] the patience to immerse themselves in the . . . trial-and-error stage of copying others, learning new skills, and accumulating experience." (For more suggestions of how to apply the Helsinki Bus Station Theory, check out James Clear's post here.)


OK, so now what?

So, how can you and I let time use us to make a difference in the world? In other words, how can we live a meaningful life on 24 hours a day? Burkeman suggests that we "focus on fully enjoying the tiny slice of experiences [we] actually do have time for." And that we be careful not to let the allure of convenience cause us to give up truly meaningful interactions with other people in our community.


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