“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.” – Seneca
It’s easy to think that productivity advice is a new concept, but it’s not. Seneca, a Roman author and philosopher wrote advice to his peers 2,000 years ago.
His suggestions are still valuable today. They work because they are time tested nuggets of wisdom anyone can apply. Here are four lessons from Seneca that you can use right now:
1. Guard your time
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”
How often do we guard our finances or other areas of our life but not our time? This struck me heavily.
Last year, our family went to Disney World. Our vacation was planned nearly to the hour as it was our only week at Disney. When I arrived at home the next week, I didn’t feel the same urgency and went back to unplanned weeks.
A friend of mine once told me: “if something costs less than $20 and will solve a problem, spend the money.” So if you are hungry, buy food. Uncomfortable, buy clothes. Need a ride, pay for the cab. The rule guards his time and keeps him focused like a rail keeps a car from the edge of a cliff.
2. Give yourself time
“But can anyone dare to complain about another’s pride when he himself never has time for himself?”
Here Seneca asks us to look at how much time we give ourselves. Rather than complain about not getting a meeting, attention, or affection from someone else, we should seek those things from ourselves.
Imagine that time you’ve sent an email out or to wait for a Twitter update. To what ends does this time spent waiting serve?
Rather than complain or do more mental preparations, I moved on. Seneca advises us to do the same. Don’t spend your time with complaints about others when you need that time to make yourself better.
3. Build your level of focus
“It is generally agreed that no activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply,”
It’s a truth of parenting that pancakes only trail ice cream in the the hearts – and stomachs – of children. My daughters love to help make pancakes and our kitchen reflects it. Flour is on at least three surfaces, one of which is vertical. The kids hop between helping stir, pour, mix, sample, and spill.
This is not an environment of focus. It is an environment of chaos, and for Saturday morning pancakes–that’s fine. When it comes to diving deep into the work, we do there needs to be more focus. When it’s time to do your work, you need a full mental commitment.
4. Measure the right things
“So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long.”
We all know the feeling of a full days when that feels like we got nothing done. We’ve all also had the flip side where we crank out so much work before lunch that we feel superhuman. Examples are piled high of the ways that results matter most:
- Taylor Pearson talked with Mike Vardy about the end of jobs.
- Research shows that the way you start the day matters.
- It’s why we are still figuring out how email helps (or hurts) our productivity.
It’s not what you do but what you get done. If you live a “garbage in, garbage out,” existence then you will fail. It was as true thousands of years as it is today.
Which of the four is the biggest hurdles for you? Hop into the comments and let me know.
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