Time: the endless alternative

This thing all things devours; birds, beasts, trees, flowers, gnaws iron, bites steel, grinds hard stone to meal...

The answer to Gollum's riddle, of course, is Time.

There is no way (that I know of) to escape the passage of time. But we can think of all the moments that we move through as one thing, we can name that thing "time", and we can decide what to do in it and with it. We can track it, measure it, use it to evaluate our effectiveness. We can be on time, out of time, in time, timeless. Time is an immensely powerful concept. It's also notoriously hard to get a solid grip on, and hard to spend wisely.

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I worked in sales one summer during college. Like every salesperson on my team, I tracked my hours carefully, because that (combined with our sales dollars) determined how much we were paid. Of the 168 hours in a week, I noticed that the fewer hours I spent trying to sell knives, the happier I was.

I didn't last long as a salesperson, but I did learn a few valuable lessons that summer. The first was that spending my time on some things -- selling knives is a good example -- left me feeling drained, and that getting back to a balanced emotional state after even an hour or two of work took a good long time. I also figured out that spending time on a different set of things (going for walks, organizing my space, reading, making art) left me feeling energized, and those activities were what I would turn to after a few hours of draining work.

Fast-forward to the present day. For years now, I've been moving away from work that leaves me feeling drained. I own a small non-profit that lets me spend some of my time organizing other people's spaces. I end work feeling revitalized, because organizing is one of those things that feeds me, and my clients get to spend less of their valuable time on work they find draining.

Returning again and again to one simple go-to question, like "How does this make me feel?" or "What can I learn from this experience?" can be a powerful tool to ensure that the way you spend your time is working for you. Over time, you'll begin to understand which things you do are working for you personally, which are working for you professionally, and which are working for your loved ones. And you'll start to see more deeply into what you value, and key in on the things that are worth spending time on.

Whatever question you choose as your go-to, make sure you use it often, and with complete honesty. Don't be afraid to change how you spend time when you need to; for example, I keep a very strange sleep schedule because that lets me spend more time with my partner. And don't be afraid to hang onto patterns that work for you, even if it feels as silly as my habit of staying up all night organizing my bead collection when I'm anxious; the point is, go with what works for you.

What activities leave you feeling recharged? What obligations do you find most draining? What is one thing you haven't found time for in a few years that you really miss doing? Can you find one hour a week to set aside, and do it?