Stop Being Chased by Time: How to Live a Life Unbound by a Hectic Schedule

We were all taught… no, brainwashed… that a busy person was a capable person. That being busy is a good thing. That being busy is sexy. That by contrast, not being busy was because you had nothing to do due to your incapability, or that you were just being lazy even though you had things to do.

 

 

Just take a look at TV ads. What does a capable person look like? It’s always a busy person, a person with a heavy schedule, a person with plans, a person who’s always restlessly working hard on something. Even during our school years, the model student was always the student who never played. The model student was someone who always knew what to do next, was never late, did homework well without ever forgetting it, never broke the rules, had good grades in every subject… But doing all that meant that the model student was always busy. If you’re trying to do that many things, it’s obvious that you’re going to be busy. Perhaps it was from back then that the idea that being busy was a good thing was implanted deeply in our heads.

 

But do you know what the problem of that kind of model student is? Because he/she is trying to keep an eye on everything and do everything well, he/she never has time to focus properly on just one thing. He/she doesn’t even have time to try something that he/she really wants to do. Doing so would mean losing the title of the model student. If he/she started doing that, his/her once uniformly good grades would start to become uneven, wouldn’t they? When that happens, the timid model student will start getting scared. So, he/she will suppress everything else and just return to his/her model student routine. “If I keep living as a model student, if I keep doing my best in every task I’m given, I’m sure one day I will be rewarded for it. I’m sure one day that I’ll be able to live doing what I want to do. One day, I will have enough money and time to do so.” It is with that kind of mindset that you gently suppress your curiosity, your playfulness, your sense of adventure, your passion, your dreams, and your love. And it is with that mindset that you try so hard to be good at things you aren’t good at and make the decision to spend less time and energy on things you enjoy and are already good at to supplement the things you aren’t good at or the things you lack. (This was truly a tear-jerkingly stupid thing to do. There’s no sense in regretting it now, but it was really a stupid thing to do.)

 

After that, you will know how the life of that model student turns out when you become an adult. That “one day” never comes. Even when you go to university, when you get a job, when you get married and start a family, when you get promoted, that “one day” is still always so far away and “now” is always the time to sacrifice, the time to do your duties, time to live a “balanced” life, and time to live while constantly “managing” your time. “Now, I also want to live doing what I want to do, I want to live a life that’s not just a hectic forward sprint but a life with some thought, a life that allows me to enjoy leisure, a life where I can savor the flavors and fragrances of life. I want to live pursuing important things, but the duties assigned to me, the things expected of me, and the situation that I’m in won’t allow it.” Isn’t this how most people of the world think to themselves? I’m talking about the thoughts of those people who have lived their lives faithful to what adults or the world told them to do.

 

I know that it’s vain and useless to state some grandiose theory to turn one’s own foolishly wasted life into a fault of the society, the world, or someone’s conspiracy, but I wanted to share this briefly in this passage because I had one realization regarding it. The realization is regarding the “goal of education”. I considered how the education I and my generation received might specifically benefit the rulers of this world, as Marx thought. Education is really for their benefit. I think the leaders/rulers that tried to achieve so-called “industrialization” were trying to train laborers to work in that “industrialized” society.

 

 

I don’t know if they still do it now, but when I was young in South Korea, I used to see “International Vocational Training Competitions” broadcast on TV. Students were dressed in uniforms and taught regulations, and it seems that they were trying to forcibly implant the morals of working “diligently and industriously”. The purpose of education was to cultivate pillars of industry (산업역군) that could cooperate with others to work in a big factory without thinking, along with a handful of administrators to manage those workers. It seems that even adults who already broke free from the school system were made to adjust to this system through all kinds of mental training in order to allow the system to run smoothly. It seems to me that things like South Korea’s “Saemaeul Movement (New Village Movement)” or North Korea’s “Saebyeokbyeolbogi Movement (Start-Work-Before-Dawn Movement)” were all a part of that. (When I was very young, they played the Saemaeul Movement song on the loudspeakers of the village office at dawn once a month. At such times, adults and children alike were made to come out and clean up the neighborhood streets, etc. If you think about it now, it’s pretty unbelievable.)

 

Fortunately, times have changed. Society has already become uncontrollably diverse and many changes unintended by the leaders/rulers have occurred, so they seem to be busy grasping and digesting those changes as well. I think the scholars are calling those changes the information age or knowledge-based economy and the like. It’s no longer an age where prosperity means black smoke fuming out from a factory chimney.

 

It’s no longer an age where prosperity means black smoke fuming out from a factory chimney. Click To Tweet

 

However, it seems that education is still continuing as it was. More importantly, the adults that have received that kind of old industrial worker education are still living their lives with that kind of mentality. And they’re teaching their children that way, too. How and why do you educate your children? Why do you tell them to study hard and get good marks? What will they gain from that? To summarize, the logic is that “If you study hard, you will get into a good university; if you get into a good university, you’ll get a job at a good company; and if you get a job at a good company, you will be able to lead a proud and happy life”. But where in the world is that true? If you get a job at a good company, can you really lead a good and happy life? I don’t know what qualifies as a good company, but the fact that the majority of people don’t (aren’t able to) stay at one company for very long has already become an irreversible trend. In the United States, people born between 1957 and 1964 have had 11 different jobs on average (!) (Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://jobsearch.about.com/od/employmentinformation/f/change-jobs.htm).

 

If this generation has changed their jobs every 4.4 years on average, I can guess what will happen to the generation following it. The claim that workers selfishly and slyly went about changing their workplaces looking for a better job is a shameless claim that’s not even worth considering. The stress of the people who have chosen this path (the path of employees) can’t easily be imagined by those who haven’t experienced it. That’s why I tell my kids  to never study with the goal of being employed by someone else. I tell them to not think about their grades or academic level and to become their own protagonists who study the things that they need. (Then they started to get a different look in their eyes. :D)

 

Now, to return to the point, I’m going to talk about time again. The reason I’m talking about time is this. In order to be the protagonist in your own life and live without relying on another person, you must do some pretty serious considering, make a serious decision, and carry it out seriously; however, quite ironically, the majority of people can’t do that because they “don’t have the time”. They ask how they could possibly have the time to do that kind of thinking, decision-making, and implementing when they are already so swamped that they barely have time to blink. That is the case for learning a foreign language or entering the path to becoming a translator, to give a couple of examples. Both of those things don’t just happen on their own and need a considerable amount of time and effort. They are things that may or may not happen even if you consciously have a direction in mind and try your best to achieve them. So, you don’t stand a chance if you’re already so busy that you don’t even have the time to think about them.

 

I’m going to tell you about the most pathetic moment in my life (those kinds of moments aren’t few in number, but I’ll just tell you one of them that relates to this topic). A long time ago when I was working at an office, I was so busy that I felt like I was going to be buried under the amount of work I had to do. So I started going to work earlier. I went early and thought about the things I had to do, prioritized, and used that quiet time when nobody was around and nobody called to do the work that required thinking. And of course I mobilized the time management know-how that the company taught us to burn through huge amounts of work during regular business hours as well. I did all that to not feel hounded by my work but instead to dominate it. I wanted to be on top of things. Did I succeed? I did not. The basic problem was that this wasn’t something that could be achieved by starting early and working hard all day. First of all, company work isn’t something that’s done alone, so making a big fuss by yourself won’t solve anything. Also, if you start finishing off work during the time when nobody else is working, that kind of effort will start to be taken for granted and be expected of you. The extra time that you have to spare can’t be used to relax since more work will be given to you. Furthermore, there were all kinds of useless things like long meetings, vain projects, and mandatory dinners with boss and colleagues that were making my battle with time laughably futile… During that time, I was basically thrashing about like a drowning person struggling for even a breath of air.

 

 

I wrote in my notebook at the time: “I want to give myself just one month so that I can think about how I ended up like this.” Pretty pathetic, don’t you think? Still, thanks to the bone-deep bitter realization that I had at that time, I have no regrets. And this is why I always tell my children to never think about being employed by someone else.

 

I don’t know why I can’t seem to get to the point and keep digressing today. Well, that is a specialty of mine, actually. Digressing, I mean. 😀 Getting back to the point, what should these busy people do? Can their dilemma be solved if they work more efficiently and create some spare time? Should they split up whatever little spare time they have to study a foreign language? Or should they clock into work before dawn to start working like I did? If they save up some money by doing all that, will they be able to escape from this kind of life?

 

In my opinion, I don’t think so. With that kind of thinking, there’s no way they can. They will never be able to reach their goal. Honestly, are you all living your professional lives in an office because you weren’t “diligent” enough about something? Is it because you weren’t working “busily” enough? Is it because you weren’t “managing time” well enough? If that’s the problem, then maybe it can be solved.  However, if you did do all those things up until now but the fruit of your labors left you in this busy plight, I think I’m correct to say that working even harder probably won’t help you escape this. Isn’t the “faith” that if we do anything diligently enough that everything will work out in the end the key point of the brainwashing that we all received? We have to escape from that.

 

I started writing today to say something enormous. So even if it seems a bit irrelevant, please bear with me and continue reading. Well, if you can’t bear it, I guess you can stop reading any time.

 

If you’re leading a hectic life because you’re employed by someone else, and you want to escape from it, and you want to lead a life where you’re at the center no matter what form that may take, and you want to live doing something you like doing no matter what other people say, the first thing you have to do is to 1) change your thoughts. You have to change the deeply rooted concepts in your head. A kind of unlearning. A detoxification process of the mind seems like a good term for it, too. After that, you must 2) change your habits. Finally, you must 3) act. Let’s look at them one by one.

 

 

Changing your thoughts

If you chain an elephant to a pillar from an early age, it will later only be able to go as far from the pillar as the chain’s length even when you unchain it. This is an example of learning, and in this case, the content of what was learned is disadvantageous and toxic to the elephant, so it should abandon those learned thoughts and beliefs. You might assume it’s easier for us to unlearn things since we’re not elephants, but still, it’s no easy task. Below, I have listed the concepts related to today’s topic that I think we should abandon.

 

 

“Many drops make an ocean”

 

 

This expression is often used to encourage saving money, but I’ve heard it used regarding time as well. “If you combine the little spare time you have here and there, it becomes a considerable amount of time, so don’t think of it lightly and use all of it wisely.” Something along those lines. I’ve also heard the advice to manage your time in units of seconds. However, you should not be misled by such talk. No matter how many droplets you collect, it will never amount to an ocean. It’s always the people who have never tried saving their drops who say things like that. For example, if you save things like the time you ride an elevator or the time it takes to dial a phone, can you save 20 hours in a month? There’s absolutely no way. Even if you are able to, can you really make a conscious, consistent, concentrated effort with a clear direction during those tiny scraps of time? Those who think or claim that you can have probably never attempted it. Just as it takes time for an engine to heat up, it takes a certain amount of time for a person to be able to do something with concentration. That’s why you can’t achieve some meaningful thing that requires concentration during scraps of spare time that keep getting cut in the middle. So even if you manage to collect enough tiny drop-like scraps of time with painstaking effort to make up one hour in a day, you won’t actually be able to accomplish any meaningful thing during that one hour. With water drops, no matter how painstakingly you collect them, all you’ll end up with is a wet hand. Maybe if you collect them for a few million years, the drops might be able to fill a tub or a pool, but you don’t have to worry about that since we can’t live for that long. If we believe such principles and obsess over a drop-sized amount of money or time, we will never reach what we want to achieve. We must ignore little drops and focus our entire hearts on the big, important, and essential things.

 

We must ignore little drops and focus our entire hearts on the big, important, and essential things. Click To Tweet

 

 

“Let us work more efficiently”

This one is a little better than the idea that “many drops make an ocean”, but it’s still largely useless nonetheless. Efficiency is to do more and do it faster, but that won’t decrease the amount of work you have to do. Give it a try. Even in your purely personal life, do you find yourself with more spare time if you do something faster? When you finish one thing, another thing you need to do always comes up. The biggest problem with “working efficiently” is that we don’t judge whether or not something is worth doing efficiently. Going somewhere by car is faster than going by bicycle, but if the goal of getting there didn’t have much value in the first place, saying that you saved time or enhanced efficiency by getting somewhere faster by car is almost deception. We received education for a system where a superior always decides “what” to do and “what” is important and the people below him only have the duty of taking care of those decided things “efficiently,” which is why “efficiency” is considered so valuable, so important, and so worthy of reward. But in reality, there are lots of things that are better the more inefficient they are. There are things that are better the slower you do them; well, there are even things that are only good when you do them slowly. Life isn’t something to do efficiently and finish off, is it? What to do with your precious life is the most important question. The duty of thinking about “what” is important in your life, are you also going to hand that over to someone else to process efficiently? Consider “efficiency” a bad thing, even just for a while. Consider it something like a false promise, a bad check, or junk food. Do that at least until you decide on a path for yourself and “what” you want to do with your lifetime. 

 

Consider “efficiency” a bad thing, a false promise, a bad check, or junk food. Click To Tweet

 

 

“Being busy means I am capable”

Being busy isn’t a sign of capability but rather evidence that someone is dragging you around. If you’re busy even though that’s not the case, that just means you’re incompetent. People who always say they’re busy are either pitiful, liars, or incompetent. They are people that flounder about without knowing what’s important, people who are dragged around while unable to make their time their own, and people who fill their time with insignificant things and confuse themselves for capable people since they’re so busy. A master of life is not busy. That person might look busy, to others, but he/she is actually just immersed in doing something he/she enjoys doing. That’s why someone might look at the situation of that person and say “that person is busy.” The life of a master of life isn’t complicated. Because they know what’s important, they can always focus on the work that must be done, and because they know their limits and when to give up, their body and mind can rest. So, a person who smiles furtively while telling others about how busy they are is actually advertising his/her own ignorance and incompetence. 

 

A master of life is not busy. His/her life isn't complicated. Click To Tweet

 

 

“You’re a diligent and responsible person only if you do everything that needs to be done”

I’m sure there was a time in human history, though I don’t know when, when such a thing was possible. Perhaps the Paleolithic era? I’m not sure. But what’s clear is that in these times that we live in, it’s impossible to do everything there is to do. You should not try to achieve the impossible. “Trying to do everything that’s possible” is also difficult. The reason is that if you think that way, you can’t differentiate between things that are important and those that are unimportant. That kind of thinking is a formula for a hectic life for no purpose and no direction. You’ll never be able to escape your hamster wheel life. 

 

Nowadays, it’s impossible to do everything there is to do. Don't try to achieve the impossible. Click To Tweet

 

 

“I’ll think about important issues later when I have some time to spare”

That time will never come. There’s a big possibility that the life of this person is currently relatively decent. So he/she might be someone without any significant problems. But if there’s someone who says this kind of thing even though their life is a living hell, that person’s issue isn’t that they don’t have the time, but that they’re afraid of being given that time. They’re postponing serious thinking with the excuse that they have no time. To be honest, asking yourself what the true path for your life is and then plodding down that path is a scary thing. So they might be saying something like that because they’re afraid of the thought. 

 

Asking yourself what the true path for your life is and then plodding down that path is a scary thing. Click To Tweet

 

 

Changing your habits

If you abandoned the above thoughts, you’ve been detoxed to a certain degree. At last, you’re ready to do a bit of serious thinking. But because people are much more controlled by their habits than they’re aware of, the power of those habits can kill their thoughts and determination, which are like flickering candlelight, in one fell swoop. The thoughts that were inculcated in us over a long period of time aren’t just inside our heads but are actually encasing us in quite a concrete form as behaviors and habits. That’s why we must change our actions and habits as well. Of course, that’s not to say that you can only start doing what you want to do after changing all your habits. You can do those things at the same time. I’m just saying that the logical order is that way. Changing habits shouldn’t become an excuse for postponing taking action, which is more important.

 

 

Saying “no”

The most powerful and obvious way for a busy person to make time is to not do work. At the very least, you have to be able to firmly say “no” to the many things that you don’t have to do. Like I said in the previous paragraph, you can never change your life with the kindhearted and compliant mindset of trying to do everything for everyone or as much as possible. If you try to finally turn your life around in a new direction by using your time more effectively and by taking on more work instead of reducing your workload when you’re already busy enough, it simply doesn’t work.

 

So, the habit you should start right now is making a “not-to-do list”. That means making a list of things that you shouldn’t do out of the things that you have been doing so far. The important thing here is not to delete things you find unnecessary from your pre-existing “to-do list”. There are so many things that you do without even thinking that won’t be on your to-do list. You should think of every little thing that you do and write down all the things that you won’t do, shouldn’t do, don’t need to do, or can stand to be drastically reduced. You should then stick that list in front of your desk or on the wall and strongly, fiercely, brutally put it into practice until not doing the things on it becomes a habit. There are other things below, but if you can’t say “no” like this entry tells you to, all the rest of the following things aren’t even worth doing. It will all be to no avail.

 

 

Managing time

I’m sure this doesn’t apply to all of you, but many people probably believe, follow, and practice the cheap “time management” tips that are sold in bookstores and commonly found on the Internet. Before this, I gave a lengthy talk about the purpose of education, and “time management” is largely similar to that. Read closely. Most of these tips are ways to do everything without forgetting anything, ways to remember things you have to do, ways to not make mistakes, ways to do more things faster in the time that you’ve been given, and things like that. No matter how much you read things like that and follow them perfectly, you will be a long way from the road to happiness. Aren’t those all things that employers want you to do to make you work more? Maybe the writer is writing those things without even realizing that. Or perhaps teaching methods of “time management” sells well because the general public has internalized the idea that they should do more for their employers.

 

You should just forget all about that kind of time management tips. You might get a small sense of “aha!” enlightenment and feel a small sense of joy or achievement in the short term when you read those things, but they’ll be no help to you in the long term. Those kinds of things encourage you to save your minutes and seconds for someone else. Those things don’t allow you to stop what you’re doing, look at the situation with a bird’s eye view, and look inside yourself.

 

The best book related to time management that I’ve read is a book called “First Things First” by Steven Covey. It has probably been translated into Korean as well. (I really hope it was translated well.) The book’s excellence lies in the fact that it doesn’t approach time management from the “do more and do it faster” perspective. Instead, it advises us to find the “things that are at the same time important and non-urgent” and always do those things first. Most of the time management books, suggestions, apps, Internet tips, etc. say the opposite. They encourage you to quickly handle all the “unimportant but urgent” things and help you to do so. You should stay away from them. 

 

Most time management books encourage you to quickly handle all the “unimportant but urgent” things. Stay away from them. Click To Tweet

 

I strongly recommend that each of you do first things first. But before that, relating back to habits, you must first get rid of your existing “time management” habits. Delete any time management apps installed on your phone, take down all the schedule management calendars you have hanging around everywhere, get rid of all the post-its stuck on your monitor and keyboard, and turn off all the alarm settings you have on your computer or phone. The huge empty space, the white walls, and the blank notes that are created thereafter is like a quiet soundproof room. In that space, think of the things that are non-urgent but very important. (Well, things like the apps or post-its that I mentioned above aren’t evil or useless in and of themselves. They are all wise tools that speed everything up. However, I’m suggesting to not speed anything up until you’re heading in the right direction. We should completely stop and be still until then. And I’m saying we should remove all the excess noise and static. You can use those things again later on if you need them. I don’t use apps, but I’m an avid user of the post-it myself.)

 

 

To work to reduce work

This one’s not as important as the previous two, but I’m writing about it because I think it could still be quite helpful. (However, it’s not that important.) If you take a close look at your daily, weekly, or monthly life, you can probably find something that’s stealing your time like a thief. It’d be best to get rid of that thing through the previously described “not-to-do list”. However, there are probably things that you can’t just simply not do. For those things, it’s a good idea to do some work to reduce work. For me, an example of that kind of thing is going to the bank unnecessarily, so I rarely go unless it’s for fun (going for fun is a good thing!). I set it up so that everything can be handled automatically and use checks as much as possible in situations when I need cash. I set it up so that monthly bills that I won’t even open or read aren’t sent to me in the first place. This reduces garbage as well, so it’s killing two birds with one stone. This is a little different, but I also spent some time creating a system so that I won’t do things that I don’t have to do. You can read more about this in the post entitled, “5 Things That Ruin a Translator’s Concentration.” Through these efforts, you can finally be free from unimportant things and things you don’t have to do, at least to some extent.

 

 

Putting it into practice

Now that we’ve changed our thoughts and corrected the actions and habits that were disrupting our concentration, all that’s left to do is to take action. I’ve said this repeatedly, but I’m not advising you to become a translator. Becoming a translator isn’t something that just anyone can do. Only those with an aptitude for it and those who can choose to live a translator’s lifestyle should do it. Otherwise, it is much better to look for a different career. It’s my wish for everybody to live doing what they want to do. A knowledge-based society has arrived and the era of freelance one-person businesses, which are the producers and distributors of knowledge, has begun. A time that was only possible in dreams of the past has now become possible. If you’ve looked around, asked around, researched, confirmed, considered, and decided, you should move forward. No matter what form that takes.

 

Phew… this is quite draining. I’m going to tell you a little story as a break. I listened to an interview on the radio, and it was about someone who dropped by an antique shop at lunch with a friend. She wasn’t there to buy anything, she was just browsing there to kill time because it was nearby. While in the store, she saw a chair. A chair. 😀 So, she was looking at the chair for a moment, when a man who might have been the owner or just an employee greeted her and started explaining about the chair… for a whopping 30 minutes! And he didn’t just simply explain, he explained as if explaining about that chair was the most important thing in the world, as if that chair was the most interesting thing in the world! An average person probably wouldn’t have anything more to say after explaining that it was “a chair made during the Ming Dynasty”, but this man’s eyes were lit up and he was explaining this chair so passionately and excitedly. But enough time had passed that this woman needed to start getting back to her job. She started to get anxious. A little while later, she even started to get angry. “Did I ask for such a detailed explanation? And if you’re going to explain, you should do it briefly. Why in the world is he droning on about this so endlessly? It’s like he’s a master of the entire history of China. I have to get back to the office. How can I interrupt and stop him?” Because of thoughts like these, she found it hard to focus on what he was saying. This is bad customer service, don’t you think? It shows a lack of sales skills, doesn’t it? Anyway, she eventually went back to her job and started working again. But this incident changed this woman’s mindset. She realized that her lifestyle made her unable to fully concentrate on her present situation because she was always thinking about the work that she had to do, and she realized that she always lived according to a schedule and that she disliked and found unpleasant the people and things that disrupted that schedule. Then she thought about that man who was so excited about explaining that Ming Dynasty chair that he didn’t notice the time passing or that he was spitting and thought, “Perhaps that man is the one who’s truly living his life right.” To be so carried away and bewitched by something that you forget what you’re doing, to be so immersed in something that you forget everything else, to forget how much time has passed by, isn’t that truly living? That’s what this woman thought. As the interview went on, it seemed that man at the antique store got upgraded from a tactless employee to a mentor who teaches a way of life. 😀 

 

To be so carried away that you forget what you’re doing, isn’t that truly living? Click To Tweet

 

I’m going to focus my energy into this last spurt to finish writing this post. If you have something that lets you live this way, something that you want to do that badly, you should do it. Other people can give you advice, but ultimately, you have to make the decision and ultimately, the responsibility is yours. Because it’s your own life. Look deep within yourself and do some soul-searching, listen to the voice of your heart, and go where that voice takes you. Put aside everything else for a while until you find that path. If you think about it, actors, singers, painters, wood crafters, philosophers, film directors, etc. are all stubborn and selfish in some ways. They are the people who didn’t compromise with the world, ignored all its ridiculous warnings, and pushed forward like mavericks. They didn’t go down that path because they had prospects; these are the people who pushed on, shouting, “I’m going to do this even if I go hungry!” I heard that the advice Sanulrim’s Chang-wan Kim (a Korean legendary singer) gave to IU (a young Korean singer) and other young singers was, “Don’t listen to the adults…” That is just the kind of thing he’d say. It’s up to the individual whether or not to listen to the adults, and it’s all up to the individual whether to listen to the adults’ generic advice or the voice of their own heart, but this is what I think: “It would’ve been so nice if I had met an adviser like Mr. Chang-wan Kim just a little earlier in my life…”

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