Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

#18: Letting Time Use You

The feeling of being overwhelmed, blocked by stressors of the mind rather than by an immediate physical threat, is uniquely human. And so is the desire to provide some sort of order to that in the form of “time management.” Both of these concepts, born from human ingenuity, more often than not result in a rabbit hole of wasted time, exacerbating rather than alleviating and making everything worse.

Whenever something like that occurs to me, I think about the book “Four Thousand Weeks” by Oliver Burkeman, an insightful and profound meditation on the meaning of time, existing within it, and learning to except is finitude.

And its not just phillosphy. It’s an insightful and practical guide to accepting the limitations of time. However, what I find most intriguing is Burkeman’s ability to completely flip around time in your mind (emphasis mine):

There is an alternative: the unfashionable but powerful notion of letting time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history.

Burkeman suggests thinking about time a bit differently then we are often taught, and that endless blog posts and books about time management seem to recommend. Instead of viewing life as a canvas to execute our meticulously planned visions of success, he proposes that we should react to the demands of our surroundings and our unique place in history.

It’s a reminder to focus on our desires, to embrace what we truly want, and to let go of what we cannot control. It’s not about fighting time, but about learning to dance with it, to let it lead us through the rhythm of life.

And so, this week I feel overwhelmed. Which is simply my mind telling me to be present, to lean into what I want, and to just fucking let it go.

You get about a halfway through the Count of Monte Cristo and you realize that it is not actually one novel or one story or one tale. It is many stories nested and layered on top of one another that builds the portrait of a man and his time, and the never-ending march of vengeance. And what stories. Such fun. And so many more left.

I just got to the fulcrum of Steinbeck’s East of Eden, a reflection on the story of Cain and Abel and its potential meaning. After discussing it earlier, one of the characters of the book, Lee, recounts his own experience in subsequent years studying a specific sentence, and even a specific word, in the translations of the Cain and Abel story. It revolves around the Hebrew word tishmel, and refers Cain relationship to sin after he is cast out. In one translation, Lee says, the word “thou shalt rule” over sin, while in the another it is said that “Do thou rule.” In the former, a promise is made, and in the latter, an order is given.

But after years of study, Lee and the scholars he refers to found a new meaning for that word. “Thou mayest.” Our ability to conquer sin, Lee says, is up to us. It is a choice.

This is an essential part of the novel, and is a focal point for all of its various characters and motifs. And is interesting because of how profound it could be. But on the other hand, it is possible that it is not even true. All of which warrants some inspection I think. I’ll be reading up on this.

The meaning of Tishmel in Steinbeck’s East of Eden. (Just an intro, I want to look into it more and write a proper post)

little project in each area of his life at any given time. It helps prioritize and choose what to work on in that moment:

I artificially limit myself to having one major and one minor active side project at a time, my agility goes up because I’m not doing ten projects at once, I’m doing one or two. When one project finishes, I move to the next best idea that fits the available slot. I will never be taking on too much and it’s easier to say “no” to new distractions if I have to substitute projects.

I love the no nonsense approach. I worry that I allow “projects” of my life to go on for too long and simply become routine or habits. But maybe that’s a plus.

And speaking of one thing, here’s one trick to help with decision making in teams: decide how to decide.

John Burroughs on what it is to live life:

We may fancy that there might be a better universe, but we cannot conceive of a better, because our minds are the outcome of things as they are, and all our ideas of value are based upon the lessons we learn in this world.