Have you ever experienced that sinking feeling of helplessness when you realise on a long bus/train ride that you’ve forgotten your earphones at home and/or your phone is out of juice, and you’re going to have to spend the entire journey free of something to do? If you live in the digital era of smartphones and portable music and video players, you’ve felt this way at least once. And if you’re like me, you’ve felt that helplessness quite acutely, as though you’ve actually wasted a precious opportunity to utilise your time wisely. “That’s a whole hour I spent just staring out the window, thinking about nothing! What a tragedy!”
Today’s world runs on efficient time management. Why do one thing at a time when you can do two or three? Grabbing a bite to eat? Why not do it at your desk and send off some emails while you’re at it? Waiting for a friend to watch a movie with? Why not do some marking in the mean time? Taking a long flight somewhere? Why not bring your laptop and get some work done? I can’t remember the last meal I ate by myself that wasn’t accompanied by TV or a book. I cannot do any household chores unless I’m also listening to the radio at the same time. We’re so inundated these days with things to do (mundane or otherwise) that doing them one at a time feels like… well, a waste of time.
Yesterday, I watched a movie about a guy who finds out he can travel back in time. By the end of the movie, he learns a lesson that contradicts what he can actually do: he learns to live each day as though he’s never going to be able to come back to it. It’s an interesting concept, isn’t it? You can take it at face value and say that living each day to the fullest means doing the most you can in 24 hours. Days packed to the brim with “useful” tasks and tangible results, nothing extraneous, nothing worth wasting time over.
But the guy in the movie interprets that lesson differently. He doesn’t do anything extraordinary; he just goes about his days as usual. He’s just more aware of what he’s doing, more open to the happiness that small things can bring. In our daily hustle and bustle, we often fail to realise how packed our days are with little things that give us joy. Things we miss because we’re too busy doing stuff, too busy trying to make every second count. Things like breakfast with a colleague. A silly joke on the internet. A cute baby on the bus. A cool breeze. A clever pun. A kind waiter. A relaxing shower. A comfortable pair of shoes. The sound of onions sizzling on a saucepan. The smell of freshly laundered clothes. A smile from a stranger. A “good night” SMS from a friend.
I’m learning that lesson, too. That it’s good to get things done, but it’s also okay to stop and do nothing every once in a while. We place too much importance on what other people think are productive ways to spend time, and too little on what we’d actually like to be doing. It’s okay to spend an hour staring out a window, it’s fine to spend an entire morning in bed. We’re all going somewhere, and that journey is inevitably going to end some day for all of us.
But when the journey itself is so beautiful, why hurry towards the ending?