The Thing You Most Want to Save Time on Is a Thing You Shouldn’t Be Doing at All
In 1902, Remington advertised its breakthrough appliance — the first commercial typewriter — with the following slogan: “To save time is to lengthen life.”
It’s a powerful phrase, and for years, Richard Polt thought it was true. Polt is a typewriter collector, but he’s also a professor of philosophy. Eventually, he came to the following realization: “The more time you save, the more time you waste, because you’re doing things that are only a means to an end.”
I don’t like email. For years, I’ve layered hack upon hack to minimize the time I spend in my inbox. I’ve disabled all email notifications. I’ve set up filters so certain emails never show up as unread messages. I’ve created snippets I can copy and paste. I even made a rule to never check email before 11 AM, and I try to batch-process it whenever possible — and yet, I still spend time in my inbox every day. I waste less time, but I’m still stuck doing something I don’t enjoy, because none of my measures got to the heart of the matter:
Minimizing and eliminating are not the same thing. No matter how much you reduce the time you spend on a certain aspect of your life, minimizing alone will never make it go away completely.
The thing you most desperately want to save time on is a thing you shouldn’t be doing at all — because feeling like you have to do it is why it seems like such a big burden in the first place. If you did it for fun, you wouldn’t mind how long it takes at all.
This hints at the corollary of Polt’s insight: “To waste time is to deepen life.” Whatever you’re doing for enjoyment alone, you should do however as inefficiently as it takes for you to savor it.
I love coffee. I love it so much, I never want my current cup to end. Therefore, I often take an hour or more to finish it. By the time I’m done, the coffee is cold and — if you asked most people — disgusting. But I enjoy it regardless, because as long as I drink coffee, the world spins a little slower, and that’s a wonderful feeling. I couldn’t care less about doing it quickly, and in fact, the faster I have to drink it, the…