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Conduct Of Life:
Manners When Travelling
How To Dress
Achieve Happiness
Of A Happy Life And Wherein It Consists
Man The Maker Of Happiness
Happiness Through The Pursuit And Use Of Money
The Art Of Having Time
The Miracle Of Tact
Frienship - Part 1
Friendship - Part 2
Friendship - Part 3
The Simple Life
The Essence Of Simplicity
Right Living As A Fine Art

The Art Of Having Time

( Originally Published 1913 )

"I have no time" -- that is not only the most familiar and convenient excuse for not doing one's duty; it is also, one must confess, the excuse which has in it the greatest appear ance of truth. Is it a good excuse? I must at once admit that within certain limits the excuse is reasonable, but I shall try to show how it is that this lack of time occurs, and how one may, at least in some degree, find the time he needs. Thus my sermon differs from those of the preachers in having, not three heads, but only one. This I say to propitiate those who may protest that they have no time for reading.

The most immediate reason, then, for lack of time is to be found in the character of the present age. There is just now a prevailing restlessness, and a continuous mood of ex citement, from which, unless one makes himself a hermit, he cannot wholly escape. One who lives at all in these days must live fast. If one could observe the modern world as a bird might look down upon it, and at the same time could distinguish the details of its life, he would see beneath him a picture like that of a restless and swarming anthill, where even the railway trains, as they cross and recross each other by night and day, would be enough to bewilder his brain. Something of this bewilderment is, in fact, felt by almost everyone who is involved in the movement of the time. There are a great many people who have not the least idea why they are thus all day long in a hurry. People whose circumstances permit complete leisure are to be seen rushing through the streets, or whirling away in a train, or crowding out of the theatre, as if there were awaiting them at home the most serious tasks. The fact is that they simply yield to the general movement. One might be led to fancy that the most precious and most unusual possession on earth was the pos session of time. We say that time is money, yet people who have plenty of money seem to have no time; and even the people who despise money are constantly admonishing us, and our over-worked children, to remember the Apostle's saying, and "to redeem the time." Thus the modern world seems pitiless in its exhortation to work. Human beings are driven like horses until they drop. Many lives are ruined by the pace but there are always more lives ready like horses to be driven.

Yet the results of this restless haste are in the main not convincing. There have been periods in history when people, without the restlessness and fatigue that now prevail, accom plished far more in many forms of human activity than men achieve today. Where are we now to find a man like Luther, who could write his incomparable translation of the Bible in an incredibly brief space of time, and yet not break down at the end of the task, or be forced to spend months or years in recreation or vacation? Where are the scholars whose works fill thousands of volumes, or the artists like Michael Angelo and Raphael, who could be at once painters, architects, sculptors and poets? Where shall we find a man like Titian, who at ninety years of age could still do his work without the necessity of retiring each year to a summer resort or sanitarium? The fact is that the nervous haste of our day cannot be wholly explained by assuming that modern men do more work, or better work, than their predecessors. It must be possible to live, if not without perfect rest, still without haste, and yet accomplish something.

The first condition of escape from this ineffective haste is beyond doubt, the resolution not to be swept away by the prevailing current of the age, as though one had no will of his own. On the contrary, one must oppose this current and determine to live as a free man, and not as a slave either of work or of pleasure. Our present system of the organization of labor makes this resolution far from easy. Indeed, our whole manner of thinking about money-making and our painstaking provision of money for future generations-our capitalist system, in short-increase the difficulty. Here is the solemn background of our present question, with which I do not propose to deal. We may simply notice that the problem of the use of time is closely involved with the problem of that radical change which civilization itself must experience before it reaches a more equitable division of labor and a more equitable distribution of prosperity. So long as there are people, and especially educated people, who work only when they are forced to work and for no other purpose than to free themselves and their children as soon as possible from the burden of work; so long as there are people who proudly say: "Je suis d'une famille ou on n'avait pas de plume qu'aux chapeaux,"-so long must there be many people who have too little time simply because a few have too much. All of this, however, is of the future. The only practical problem for our own age is to maintain a sort of defensive attitude toward our lack of time, and to seek less radical ways of fortifying ourselves. Let me enumerate some of these ways.

The best way of all to have time is to have the habit of regular work, not to work by fits and starts, but in definite hours of the day,-though not of the night, and to work six days in the week, not five and not seven. To turn night into day or Sunday into a work-day is the best way to have neither time nor capacity for work. Even a vacation fails of its purpose, if it be given to no occupation whatever. I am not without hope that the time may come when medical science will positively demonstrate that regular work, especially as one grows older, is the best preservative both of physical and intellectual health. I may even add for the sake of women among my readers, that here is the best preservative of beauty also. Idleness is infinitely more wearisome than work, and induces also much more nervousness; for it weakens that power of resistance which is the foundation of health. . . .

In close connection with this point should be mentioned the habit of using fragments of time. Many people have no time because they always want to have a large amount of uninterrupted time before they set themselves to work. In such a plan they are doubly deceived. On the one hand, in many circumstances of life these prolonged periods are difficult to secure, and, on the other hand, the power of work which one possesses is not so unlimited that it can continuously utilize long stretches of time. This is peculiarly true of such intellectual work as is devoted to productive effort. Of such work it may be said without exaggeration that the first hour, or even the first half-hour, is the most fruitful. Dismissing, however, these large intellectual undertakings, there are to be found in connection with every piece of work a great number of subordinate tasks of preparation or arrangement which are of a mechanical nature, and for each of which a quarter of an hour or so is sufficient. These minor matters, if not disposed of in small fragments of time which would otherwise be wasted, will absorb the time and power which should be devoted to one's important task. It might, indeed, be reasonably maintained that the use of these fragments of time, together with the complete dismissal of the thought, "It is not worth while to begin today" accounts for half of the intellectual results which one attains.

Another important means of saving time is the habit of changing the kind of work in which one is engaged. Change is almost as restful as complete rest, and if one acquire a certain degree of skill in his ways of change-a skill which comes from experience rather than from theorizingone may carry on his work for almost the entire day. Moreover, so far as my experience goes, it is a mistake to plan that one piece of work shall be finished before another is begun. The judicious course, on the contrary, is that which prevails among artists, who are often engaged on a whole series of sketches, and turn, according to the momentary inclination which overmasters them, first to one piece of work and then to another. Here, too, it may be remarked is an excellent way of maintaining one's self-control. The old Adam in us often persuades the better nature that he is not really lazy, but is simply not in the mood for a certain piece of work. In this state of things, one should forthwith say to himself: "Well, if you do not feel inclined to this piece of work, take up with another." Then one will discover whether the difficulty is a disinclination to a special form of work to which one might yield, or a disinclination to do any work at all. In short, one must not permit oneself to deceive oneself.

Another point to be considered is the habit of working quickly, not giving too much care to outward form, but devoting one's efforts to the content of the task. The experi ence of most workers will bear me out when I say that the most profitable and effective tasks are those which have been done quickly. I am well aware that Horace advises one to take nine years for the perfecting of verses; but such scrupulousness presupposes an excessive notion of the quality of one's work. Thoroughness is a very beautiful and necessary trait, in so far as it concerns truth, for truth cannot be too thoroughly explored; but there is a spurious thoroughness which absorbs itself in all manner of details and subordinate questions which are not worth investigating or which cannot be wholly known. Thoroughness of this kind is never satisfied with itself. It is sometimes mistaken for great learning; for to many people learning is profound only when wholly detached from practical usefulness, or when an author, for a whole lifetime, has brooded over one book...

But, after all, we have not yet named the chief element in the art of having time. It consists in banishing from one's life all superfluities. Much which modern civilization regards as essential, is, in reality, superfluous, and while I shall indicate several things which appear to me unnecessary, I shall be quite content to have my reader supplement them by his own impressions...

I may name as a second superfluity the excessive reading of newspapers. There are in our day people who regard themselves as educated, and who yet read nothing but news papers. Their houses are built and furnished in all possibleand impossible-styles, and yet you will find in them hardly a dozen good books. They get their whole supply of ideas out of the newspapers and magazines, and these publications are more and more designed to meet the needs of such people. This excessive, or even exclusive, reading of newspapers is often excused on account of our political interests; but one has only to notice what it is in the newspapers which people are most anxious to read to arrive at a judgment whether this excuse is sound. I may add that the time of day dedicated to the newspaper is by no means unimportant. People, for instance, who devote their first hour in the morning to the reading of one or two newspapers lose thereby the freshest interest in their day's work.

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