Saving Time

Did you see that German 1986 movie "Momo"? No? Good for you, because it sucked ass.

But there was one scene that could have almost been good - one of the bad guys (some weird suit-clad businessmen who feed on time or some garbage like that) demonstrates to an unsuspecting shop owner that he's wasting his time.

He calculates how many seconds the 42-year-old subject has lived so far (about 1.3 billion), then subtracts the amount of seconds he has spent sleeping, working, eating, visiting and talking to his elderly nearly deaf mother, and other activities he considers "empty", to reveal the net sum of zero. His suggestion is to save time by cutting out useless time wasters.

Image Credit: Tobis Filmkunst
I'll skip the rest because it quickly gets stupid right after that, but the core idea isn't that bad - you have a limited amount of time per day, and you need to make smart decisions on how to use it. People often boast how they had "some time to kill". What the hell? My time is precious. I ain't killing nothing.

It's actually a useful experiment. Measure where your time goes on any given day. You have 24 hours. 86,400 seconds. How do you spend them?

Whenever you're doing some work on a computer, you should try the free ManicTime, which automatically tracks which application you're currently using (and, in cases like a browser, what exactly you're doing).

Image Credit: Brothersoft
For everything else, just amuse yourself and track what you're doing for a few days. There are tons of apps for all mobile platforms that allow you to log your current task and then tally up the time spent at the end of the day. Or do it by hand if you want to be all old-school about it.

When you drill down the data, you'll see that a big chunk of your data is essentially immutable, which will give you a wonderful feeling of powerlessness. Yes, you are just a cog in the wheel, and your life has been predetermined for you already. Congratulations.

You're mostly left with some pretty lame choices. You can sleep 8 hours a day. Or just 5, which will gain you three extra hours (that's almost half of your "discretionary time"), but then you'll be tired all day, grumpy, ineffective, and reduce your life expectancy. (That was incidentally my choice. Get off my case.)

You're probably working at least 8 hours a day. To save time, you could simply not work. And not make any money. Probably not a viable option.

So we established a good 16 hours in a day that you can't do much about, leaving you with up to 8 hours of what I just called discretionary time.

You do have some control over that at least. You spend 60 minutes commuting every day? You could move closer, or you could use public transportation, which makes your commute even longer but lets you make use of that time. I used to commute 100 miles every day, and it was great - I got to do stuff on my laptop and enjoy a nice ocean view courtesy of Amtrak.

Spend 60 minutes on the elliptical and then watch your favorite show... or put a TV in your workout room and do both at the same time. Lots of people just listen to music while working out - big waste of using time effectively.

Likewise, I often exercise during my lunch break and then eat at my desk.

You could go nuts with all this. I'm fascinated by the Uberman polyphasic sleep pattern, but apart from being completely impractical, it quite likely has the same devastating effect as sleeping just two hours a day. But imagine all the things you could do!

Image Credit: Master Uegly/Wikipedia
It comes down to the same thing I keep preaching - analyze and optimize. Get metrics, evaluate them, and make a plan to improve things. You can come up with creative ways to squeeze more value out of your day. See how much you can save! (Spoiler alert: Not enough. Your life will still feel hollow.)

Going back to the concept of killing time, I need to rephrase a bit. Everybody needs to kill time sometimes. I enjoy playing video games (which I could write off as being productive since I'm learning from others on how to get better myself at making games, but who am I kidding), and I frequent certain websites that have no productive value whatsoever. We're human beings after all.

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