Chapter 28: The value of time

As 2020 warmed up to gain momentum, a sinister virus, known as Covid-19, forced the world to abruptly slow down. One might even say that the infamous Rona not only stunned normal life but stopped time altogether. Governments around the world fought the virus by putting in place safety measures to protect the people. However, this was not realisable without asking people to make sacrifices. Many of us were robbed of every scheduled activity that would have involved physical contact with humans. If you went into quarantine as well, then you experienced how made plans – may they have been working responsibilities or fun stuff like concerts, holidays, or coffee dates – were wiped out of the calendar like pretty balloons that pop and disappear. Due to commitments being erased, many of us entered into a form of timeless existence.

Of course, this is me boldly assuming what life during lockdown looked like for you. I might be wrong in my presumption. Perhaps you belonged to the brave people that kept worked hard in order to prevent our society from completely falling apart. Therefore, I can really only speak for myself and the experiences I made while mankind laid frozen under global quarantine.

To me, the introduction of social distancing, and especially the period under full-on lockdown offered a unique chance to break free from constant rushing under time pressure. At the time when people were first told to stay home, I was facing a massive stress overload caused by several assignment deadlines colluding with each other.

In a way, I am thankful for the extraordinary circumstances which were created through this global pandemic because they saved me from a near burn out. I happily accepted being locked into my house twenty-four-seven since I owed it to these precise measurements that all my assignment deadlines were extended. The command to stay home was a blessing in disguise for me as it eased the hyper-stress that had already begun to rattle my insides.

During the weeks of isolation at home, I once again turned into the child who used to care little about time, living the day the way it naturally unfolds. I stumbled into every new day with the feeling of having all time in the world for everything. I realised how much I had missed this feeling and how wholesomely it replenished my soul after the non-stop pressure from academic urgencies.

During lockdown, it did not matter if bedtime was pushed back by an hour or two, it did not matter if a whole day was solely spent chatting with my flatmate, and it did not matter if I scheduled my exercise for 9am, 1pm, or 5pm. The ticking clock turned into a faint background noise and the numbers on the calendar became irrelevant. With my sense of time fading, the days kept blending together until they became undistinguishable from each other.

On a whole, I truly enjoyed this quarantine lifestyle where work responsibilities did not impose a strict time regime on me. At the same time, I have to admit that this seemingly carefree life came at the expense of losing structure, yeah, even motivation and energy. Because zero time constraints chased after me, my mind and body got comfortable in tranquillity.

Although my mind appreciated the long-overdue break from stress, I eventually reached a point where this phlegmatic rhythm to the day had lulled me into my comfort too much. Since I believed that I had all time in the world for literally anything, I began to waste increasing chunks of my day. Hours were thrown away on pointless social media scrolling, or on staring wholes into the ceiling before accumulating the strength to lift myself out of bed.

My flatmate and I savoured this quarantine life for a solid seven weeks on the dot (we actually kept accurate score of how many weeks had passed since the official close of social spaces). After that, the timeless paradise that we had floated in disappeared abruptly. Overnight, my commitment-free lifestyle was taken from me by a new full-time job that called me into an office from nine to five. Not surprisingly, my body lagged behind in adjusting to this stark change of routine – I mean, I had not turned on my alarm in the mornings for over two months, and to be honest with you, I had actually forgotten what my alarm tone sounded like. What astonished me, however, is that both my motivation and energy levels benefited from my return to a defined working schedule, and especially my productivity with personal projects, such as writing or painting, rose above the lockdown benchmark.

It sounds rather contradictory, doesn’t it? One would predict that being free from any occupational and social commitments would ramp up the successful completion of personal matters, whereas the shortening of free time would be expected to bury one’s attendance to personal things.

Returning back to fixed commitments and responsibilities felt as if time had regained its meaning. The clear division between work and free time, and the prescribed limitation to this free time (about six hours Monday to Friday and forty-eight hours on the weekend), had raised the worth of every minute in my day. I indeed appreciated my free time much more again, and my I have all time in the world attitude was replaced by the critical question about how to make the most of my free time.

Required to fundamentally restructure my routine, I reconsidered my own goals, wishes, and priorities for a mindful choice about the fillings of my time. Any activity of too little significance to justify how much of my time it devours was cut down to make room for the things that really matter to me. As such, lounging in bed and gaping into social media were binned. Returning to full-time work duties after weeks of a blatantly empty schedule, made me reconnect with my very own core needs: spending quality time with the people I love, caring for my health and fitness, and investing into my own self-actualisation.

Twice within three months, my entire schedule was overthrown, and this demonstrated one key message to me. I experienced how time can easily lose its value when we are tricked into the impression that our time is endless. It is our perception of finitude that bestows meaning to the hours in our day.

Now, I agree that deadlines inflict considerable harm if they become too burdening. The permanent rushing from one appointment to another is not something that I miss either. In the end, it is all about balance, as it is with pretty much everything. Our motivation, energy, and enjoyment of things will dry up if we operate under too much time pressure, ultimately depleting us. However, our motivation, energy, and sense of meaning will similarly run empty under too lose time arrangements. As the logical consequence, it is the right amount of time pressure, a quantification that is defined by everyone’s unique personal prerequisites of body and mind, that grants us an optimal realisation of routinely structure, achievement of goals, and self-actualisation.

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