The Art Of Having Time
( Originally Published 1903 )
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 appearance 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 two. 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 excitement, from which, unless one make himself a hermit, he cannot wholly escape. One who lives at all in these days must live fast. I f 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 every one 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 pcssession on earth was the possession 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, accomplished far more in many forms of human activity than men achieve to-day. 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 with-out 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. 1t 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 : " Jesuis dune famille ou on n'avait pas de plume quaux chapeaux,"—so long must there be many people who have too little time simply because a few have too much. All this, how-ever, 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.
Work, it is true, may be excessive, but this is most obviously the case when one cares more for the result of his work than he does for the work itself. Under such conditions, it is peculiarly difficult to exercise moderation, and as an ancient preacher remarks with a sigh: "Work is given to every man according to his power, but his heart cannot abide by it." In such cases, however, Nature herself has given us a monitor in that physical fatigue which work itself produces. One need only take account of such fatigue, and not cheat it by stimulants, and then, even without much philosophizing, he will not lack self control.
The habit of regular work is further greatly encouraged by having a definite vocation which involves positive tasks and obligations. Thus the socialistic romances which draw a picture of the future of the world are quite justified when they describe the universal organization of industry under the form of an army, for an army represents that way of life in which order and duty in one's work are most emphasized. Every Swiss citizen knows that, with the exception of occasional excessive demands, he has never been in better health than when serving his term in the army. Every hour in the day then had its regular and sufficient task, and no one was called to consider whether he desired to do things or not to do them, while no one had time to anticipate the tasks of the following day. Here is the misfortune of many rich people in our day,— that they have no definite vocation. As the common saying has it,
"There is no `must' for them." For many such persons, a specific business would be a redemption from the dilettantism which now threatens their peace of mind. They might well follow the example of that Bavarian prince who has undertaken the profession of an oculist. I am even inclined to believe that part of the movement toward the higher education which is so conspicuous among women in our day is simply the response to this demand of human nature for some definite vocation.
Another question much discussed in our time concerns the division of one's working day. In great cities with their vast distances, in the case of unmarried persons engaged in more or less mechanical tasks, and in the case of all people who regard their work as a burden to be thrown off as soon as possible, there is some advantage in working continuously and without interruption. This is what we are in the habit of calling the English method. I t is never possible, however, to accomplish in this way so much intellectual work of a productive character as may be done under the Swiss custom of a pause at midday. No one can continuously, or even with momentary pauses, devote himself for six or eight hours to work of an intellectual character. Even if he allow himself an hour's interval, the sense of strain remains, together with an abbreviation of time for work in the afternoon. On the other hand, under the Swiss custom, it is perfectly easy to work for ten or eleven hours a day,—four in the morning, four in the afternoon, and two or three in the evening, and few of us could accomplish our work in that eight-hour day of which we hear so much, although we have not the honor of being reckoned as of the class known as "working people."
The next essential point is not to have too much fussiness about one's work, or, in other words, not to permit oneself elaborate preparations as to time, place, surroundings, inclination, or mood. The inclination to work comes of itself when one has begun his work, and it is even true that a kind of fatigue with which one often begins—unless, indeed, it has some positive or physical cause—disappears as one seriously attacks his work, and does not simply, as it were, defend himself from it.
"Begin with cheerfulness thy task
Nor ask how it may end,
Farther than all that thou couldst ask Its issues surely tend."
In short, if one permit himself habitually to stop and ask that indolent part of him which the Apostle Paul calls "the old man"
What he would like to do, or would prefer not to do, "the old man" is most unlikely to vote for serious work, but betakes himself to excellent religious or moral advice. The bad part of one must be forced to the habit of obeying, without grumbling, the "categorical imperative " of the better part. When one has achieved this amount of soldierly discipline in himself, then he is on the right path, and until he has reached this point, he has not found his way. Here he first learns whether his life is saved or lost. Sometimes a man proposes to himself to collect his thoughts before he begins, or to meditate on the work he is going to do. In most cases, this is merely an excuse for doing nothing, and it is most obviously such an excuse, when, to encourage this preliminary reflection, a man lights his cigar. 1n short, one's best ideas come while he, is working, and often, indeed, while he is working on a wholly different topic. A distinguished mod-ern preacher has remarked with originality, though not with strict accuracy, that there is not a single case mentioned in the Bible in which an angel appeared to a man who was not at work.
1n 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 them-selves to work. In such a plan they are coubly 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 he 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 to-day," accounts for half of the intellectual results which one attains.
Another important means for 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 theorizing, one 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 over-masters them, first to one piece of work and then to another. Here, too, it may be re-marked 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. 1n 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 experience 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.
Truth, wherever it may be sought, is, as a rule, so simple that it often does not look learned enough. People feel as if they must add to it something which is not essential to the nature of truth, in order to give to truth a respectable and academic look. Among learned people, it is often the case. that one must first earn his reputation by some piece of work which is of no use to himself or to any one else, and in which he heaps together the hitherto undiscovered rubbish of some remote century. Lassalle was able to write his famous work on Herakleitos without forfeiting his interest in the affairs of modern life, but there are few authors with this capacity for practical concerns. On the contrary, many authors in their maiden venture of learned work not only have their eyesight ruined by their re-searches, but lose their inward vision, which is a matter of much more consequence. They reach the goal of their ambition and become of no further use.
A further way of saving a deal of time is to do one's work and be done with it; not to deal with it, that is to say, in a provisional or preparatory manner. This kind of immediate thoroughness is in our day extremely rare, and in my opinion much of the blame should be laid to the newspapers, which accustom people to superficial surveys of truth. The editorial writer says, at the close of his article, "We shall return to this subject later"; but in fact he never returns. So it is with the modern reader. If he wants to make use of what he has read, he has to begin the reading of it afresh. His skimming of the subject—as the phrase is --has had no result, and so the time that he has given to skimming has been lost. This is the reason why people have so little thorough knowledge in our day, and why, though they have studied a subject ten times, on the eleventh occasion when they need it, they must study it again. Indeed, there are people who would be extremely glad if they could remember even the works of which they themselves were the authors.
With this point is obviously connected the need of orderliness and of the reading of original authorities. The habit of orderliness saves one from the need of hunting for material, and this search for material is not only, as we all know, a great waste of time, but tempts us also to lose pleasure in our work. Further, orderliness permits us to allow one subject to be forgotten, while we apply ourselves to the next. The reading of original sources, on the other hand, gives one the advantage of being sure of his material, and of having his own judgment about it. There is this further advantage, that the original sources are in most cases not only much briefer, but much more interesting and much easier to remember than the books that have been written about them. Second-hand knowledge never gives the courage and self-confidence which one gets from acquaintance with original sources. One of the great mistakes of modern scholarship, as distinguished from that of the classic world, is—as Winkelmann has pointed out—that our learning in so many cases consists in knowing only what other people have known.
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. For instance, one superfluity is beer. It is superfluous at any time of the day and especially when drunk in the morning, after the fashion made popular by Prince Bismarck. Perhaps the greatest contributors to waste of time in this century are the brewers,and the time will come when people may regard the excessive drinking of beer as they now regard the excessive use of alcohol in other forms.
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 newspapers. Their houses are built and furnished in all possible--and 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 de-signed 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.
Another superfluity is the excessive going to meetings. A man who is much devoted to such gatherings can scarcely find time for serious work. Indeed, it is not necessary for him to do independentwork: for he has subsituted for his own judgment the judgment of the crowd, and the crowd carries him on its shoulders. A great waste of time occurs, further, among one class of people at the present time, through a pretended devotion to art. I do not refer to art practised by oneself, but to art as passively accepted ; and I should perhaps make exception in what I say, of the art of music. In other forms of art many persons permit those impulses which should have stirred them to idealism, and to responsiveness toward the beautiful, to evaporate in aesthetic satisfa ±ions. Many women, to speak frankly, are educated to ac-quire mere artistic appreciation; and they cannot, without severe struggles and against great hindrances, find the way back from this mood to any profitable and spiritually satisfying work.
Another superfluity is the devotion to social duties and the whole purposeless system of making " calls." These habits are the mere shadows of genuine friendship, and of the intellectual stimulus through personal intercourse which they were originally in-tended to express.. l need not speak of superfluous amusements. The theatre, for in-stance, to accomplish its legitimate aim needs so fundamental a reform that there would be really nothing left of its present methods. Finally, and of quite another category among the elements of culture in our time, I may name as superfluous the superficial and popular products of materialism, and with these the debasing French novels and dramas of the day. People of the educated class in our and especially people of the academic circle, ought to have the courage to say of such literature: "We know nothing about it." Then perhaps one might have time to read something each day which was serious and educative; something that tended to strengthen the mind and to bring one into real contact with the intellectual movement of the age.
And now, lest there should be complaint of time wasted on such reading as this, I shall add but two other points. One of these, stated by Rothe, is the advice that it is most desirable not to take up one's time with the details of one's business affairs. Even if this is not altogether possible, one may, if he wish it, greatly reduce the care of details of administration, and live in a world of larger and happier thoughts. The other point, which has even more pratical significance, is this: Limit yourself to that which you really know and which has been especially committed to your care. For your special task you will almost always have time enough. An Old Testament saying states it even more plainly: "He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough." As to the things which do not concern one's special calling, but which have a certain significance in the world and a certain importance for culture, it may be necessary for one, once in his life, to acquire a superficial survey of them by a glance at the best original sources. One should thereafter leave these matters alone and not concern himself with them further.
Finally, in this enumeration of the things which waste one's time, I may add that one must not permit himself to be over-burdened with superfluous tasks. There are in our day an infinite number of these,—correspondence, committees, reports, and not the least, lectures. All of them take time, and it is extremely probable that nothing will come of them. When the Apostle Paul was addressing the Athenians, he remarked that they did nothing else than to hear some new thing. It was not the serious part of his address, or its spiritual quickening, to which they gave their attention, it was its novelty; and the outcome of his sermon was simply that some mocked, and the most friendly said with patronizing kindness: "We will . hear thee again of this matter." Indeed, the reporter of the incident finds it necessary to mention expressly, that one member of the Athenian City-Council and one woman in the audience received some lasting good from the Apostle's address. How is it, let me ask you, with yourselves? Have the lectures which you have heard been to you in any way positive influences of insight and decision, or have they been merely the evidences of the speaker's erudition?
Such are the ways which in our present social conditions are open to any one to use for saving time. I must add, however, that if one tries to use these ways of saving time, he will make another discovery. For one of the most essential elements of such happiness as we can reach on earth lies in not having too much time. The vastly greater proportion of human happiness consists in continuous and progressive work, with the blessing which is given to work and which in the end makes work itself a pleasure. The spirit of man is never more cheerful than when it has discovered its proper work. Make this discovery, first of all, if you wish to be happy. Most of the wrecks of human life are caused by having either no work, or too little work, or uncongenial work; and the human heart, which is so easily agitated, never beats more peacefully than in the natural activity of vigorous, yet satisfying, work. Only one must guard against making of work an idol, instead of serving God through one's work. Those who forget this last distinction find themselves in later life doomed to intellectual or physical prostration.
There are, then, but two possessions which may be attained by persons of every condition, which never desert one through life, and are a constant consolation in misfortune.
These are work and love. Those who shut these blessings out of life commit a greater sin than suicide. They do not even know what it is that they throw away. Rest with-out work is a thing which in this life one cannot endure. The best blessing which can be promised is that last blessing of Moses for Asher: "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be." Better than this one should not desire, and if one has this he should be thankful. Yet, it must be added, this contentedness in continuous work is possible only when one abandons ambition; for ambition is always most deeply anxious not to do work, but as soon as possible to get the result of work, even if that result is illusive. Ambition is the Moloch of our time, to whom we feel bound to sacrifice even our own children, and who, more than all other foes, destroys the bodies and the souls of youth.
If, still further, one commit himself, as is so often the case, to that philosophy of materialism in which this brief life is the end of opportunity, so that but a few years are ours for the accomplishment of all which the pitiless and endless struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest permit, then there is an end of all restfulness and blessedness in work. Under such a view, time is indeed too short, and every art is indeed too long. The true spirit of work, which has no time for superfluities, but time enough for what is right and true, grows best in the soil of that philosophy which sees one's work extending into the infinite world, and one's life on earth as but one part of life itself. Then one gets strength to do his highest tasks, and patience among the grave difficulties and hindrances which confront him both within himself and in the times in which he lives. One is calmly indifferent to much which in the sight of this world alone may seem important, but which, seen in the light of eternity, loses significance. This is the meaning of that beautiful saying of the Paytone+One of Gorlitz, which brings to our troubled time its message of comfort:
"He who, while here, lives the eternal life Is through eternity set free from strife."