Seneca on Saving Time

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

With our study of Seneca having commenced, we examine his very first letter written to Lucilius, On Saving Time.

Without a clear purpose for the use of our time, we easily squander our days. Now more than ever, we have with increasing efficiency surrounded ourselves with means to occupy our attention. Candy Crush, Clash of Clans and the like, are all improved means for the consumption of ourselves.

“The most disgraceful kind of loss, however, is that due to carelessness.”

We must stand guard at the gates of our minds. I have even begun using a stopwatch while on social media to ensure my time is well spent. Without it, I can easily spend half an hour scrolling through my news feed, consuming impertinent information, losing time that could have been directed toward more worthwhile endeavors.

“Furthermore, if you will pay close heed to the problem, you will find that the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose.”

With close examination, we would all do well to audit our time.

I prepare all my meals for the week on weekends, loading the fridge from shelf to ceiling with Tupperware. Cooking everything in bulk, a mere hour and a half on a Sunday saves several hours a week in meal prep, allowing me to devote that time to areas of my choosing.

“While we are postponing, life speeds by.”

I recently turned thirty, and at the very least, a birthday ending in zero has impressed upon me that an imperfect product in the real world is better than a flawless version in my mind. Whether as an artist, writer, or doing work around the house on weekends, we tend to avoid big projects because we want them to be perfect, but this desire for perfection easily robs us of producing anything at all.

“Nothing, Lucilius, is ours, except time. We were entrusted by nature with the ownership of this single thing, so fleeting and slippery that anyone who will can oust us from possession.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about my deathbed and less about my resume. In meditating on death, and how little time I actually have, I am reminded that much of my time is spent in activities which are ultimately of little concern.

I recognize that my actions which bring me the most peace are time spent with those I love and enjoying solitude in nature. When I’m old and gray, this will be what I am most thankful for. So, while I am still in possession of the time that I have, I will do my best to use my time well, investing in that which is of great importance to me while leaving alone that which is not.

We must learn to cherish time rather than kill it.

As Thoreau said, “As if you can kill time without injuring eternity.”

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