He told me I was one of the most productive people he knows. Somewhere in the same breath he used the word “lucky,” as though my “luck” was the only reason I get so much done. I think he meant it as a compliment. With all the talk lately about the brevity of life and the importance of really living it, it’s inevitable we talk about time. I might even find the courage to open a conversation about money too, because as much as we squirm when the topics come up, or as much as we like to hope it’ll all just work out in the end, these are two tools – fundamental tools – that none of us will ever use well unless we master them. Master them? We barely talk about them.
Here are three things I know about time.
Time is not found. It is made. You put the big rocks in first. If you don’t put the big rocks in first, the pebbles and the sand – the small inevitable stuff that might seem so urgent but isn’t ultimately important – will fill your life leaving no room (again!) for the big project, the trip to Africa, the book you wanted to write this year. “I just never found the time!” Of course you didn’t, because you never made it. Get a calendar and put red lines through whole weeks or months. WRITE BOOK. For me I take 2-3 hours every week day (parents, do it for an hour after the kids are asleep) when that time is blocked off. I do my work. I take less coffee meetings, schedule in less appointments and I get the work done. One word at a time. Day after day. I am not prolific because I am lucky (though sometimes I think I might be lucky because I’ve been prolific). I just do the work. You can too. It’s not easy, but it’s also not a competition. You might only get one book a year written, not two or three. Big deal. You might also have other things going on, like a family. But you can have a family and write a book. Unless you’re waiting to find the time. Then you should give up now. At least you’ll feel less perpetually guilty. You don’t find time. You make it.
Time doesn’t stand still. We do. Have you ever spent a couple minutes on Facebook only to discover, an hour later, that time just flew by? Do that once a day and you’ve allowed seven hours of your life to dissolve into your past. Everything you could have created in that time, remains uncreated. Every real conversation with your kids, your family, your lover, just didn’t happen. We might do it later. We might not. I’m not saying give up Facebook, I’m saying the small moments matter and they are cumulative, and it’s easy to let the most precious thing in our life: our moments, pass up by while we “kill time” with a little Facebook time. Be intentional about it. Set time limits if this is an issue for you. It’s not being engaged with social media, or TV, or gossip magazines, or whatever, I’m talking about. I’m talking about what you’re missing. You could be practicing your French. You could be hand-writing a card to your Mother. You could be scheming next years adventure. Serving a client. Be intentional about your time. Own it. Don’t let little blocks of it dissolve your whole day away. You have a day’s worth of moments today, but you can only do one thing with each of those moments. Make that an intentional choice.
Time is now. You know how some people say, “there’s no time like the present?” Rubbish. There’s no time except the present. This moment is all we have. If you want to write a book, start now. If you need to reply to an awkward email, do it now. If you don’t plan to reply, delete it and delete it now, not later. The less times you handle things, the less time you waste on that thing. Check your email three times a day, not 300. We’re so good at finding ways to feel like we’re doing something – anything! – with our time. If that’s what you want, just to feel busy, then carry on. Want to actually create, to make something? Start now. Make it one of your big rocks. Set a few hours aside and shut the browser, turn the phone to Do Not Disturb, and kill the email client. Now. No one likes beginning something. It’s hard. So full of uncertainty. That’s why people like to wait for inspiration. It’s gives us time to sit around doing nothing until inspiration strikes, which it almost never does because the one guaranteed way to make inspiration strike is to get to work, get a couple pages in, make a few photographs, put the paint on the canvas – even when, or if, you have no idea where it’s heading. If you wait until you feel like it, you will never master time, and you will never create what you are capable with the time you have. The “feel good” that comes from creating comes closer to the end of the process than it does to the beginning.
Being creative, or productive – see how suspiciously similar they are at their roots: create, and produce – is not a talent. It is not luck. It is a decision. It’s an act of the will to use our tools well, and use them now.
Thank you for posting this, David! It couldn’t be timelier…no pun intended. But there it is, nonetheless. I am in desperate need of utilizing my time better. My days are frittering away and it’s incredibly frustrating. This and a few other recent posts are inspiring and encouraging. Thank you again!!
“Time is made, Time doesn’t stand still, Time is now” Man this is an awesome read.
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But what is time but just a dream…
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Thank you, David, for sharing your insights and admonitions. Clearly they derive from the doing! You generously point the way for us to manifest our own art in our own way.
I’ve said this before re similar posts of your philosophy: you are as good a writer/life coach/philosopher as you are a photographer. I hope you are gathering some of these types of posts to publish as a collection.
Thank you Jim – Look for a new book from me this June. On June 02 we’re publishing my first book with not a single photograph – all words. It’s called A Beautiful Anarchy, When The Life Creative Becomes The Life Created. It should be available as paperback, PDF, and Kindle.
Great piece David – well said!
Speaking of Time for Trips – im finally getting a chance to go to Nepal this autumn – any suggestions for top dont-miss spots for the few days in Katmandu before going on an EBC Trek? Or other tips other than getting up early with the locals?
Fantastic! You will love Kathmandu. Two recommendations – if you can, stay in Boudhanath – the Tibetan side of town. Super cool. Lots to photograph. Avoid Thamel – tourists and touts everywhere. And if you can get to Bhaktapur for a night or a couple days, do. It’s fantastic. Only about an hour away by car. Really worth the time. Have a great time!!
…thanks David. Timely [pun intended]. Your words are truly appreciated and taken to heart.
I need to mark off time.
You do go on. If you used fewer words you wouldn’t need as much time to write, and the people who read your writing would have to spend less time reading what you say. The simplest truth is that people who can, do. People who can’t, teach. People who can’t teach, teach teachers how to teach.
Sorry my friend, most of us who visit this blog on a regular basis do so for two simple reasons. the images are outstanding, and David’s wonderful writing abilities.
To me, I appreciate how he focuses on the important things concerning creating in general and images in particular. The images here are enough testament to his ability to DO, as well as teach…
You’re right, Hasi. The only reason I write is to transfer knowledge to you. My apologies for making that harder for you. In the future I will skip the creative process, abandon being true to my own voice, and simply ask, “What does Hasi want me to write?”
Those that can do? No, they don’t. Sometimes they need help. Sometimes they need a reminder. Those who can’t, teach? Bullshit.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for your contribution, but you might find what you’re looking for somewhere else. This is my blog. I write as I please. And you are welcome to come and go as you like, but spare me the attitude. It’s unhelpful and unkind and there’s enough of that in this world already.
I’ve been in this business going on 30 years and don’t claim to know everything, but at 61-years-old, I’m still smart enough to keep an open mind as well as an open eye inorder to learn the new ever changing technology. Seems to me Hasi, that you’re one of photographers whom seem to know everything and might be a tad jealous of someone who finds the time to produce outstanding imagery as well as and teach.
My question to you is, can you teach and take outstanding pictures or just blow smoke? 🙂
Brings to mind my favorite quotation from Benjamin Franklin:
“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”
This has inspired me.
time takes too much time today.
🙂 Well said, Jan.
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Thank you again David for a soul-searching post.
One of the books I’ve read recently stated that the idea that we have so little time is a fallacy. It is precisely because we have so much of it that we squander so much time. There is always tomorrow we tell ourselves.
My favourite quote and a most actionable one for me personally has been by Picaso:
“Action is the foundational key to success”
It is true and succinct.
I will remember your words when on holiday later this week and maybe extend it a little…
Well said and very worthwhile message. I really like the metaphor of the big stones needing to be put in place first.
Awesome blog. Great to be reminded to start with the big stone. Time is a funny thing unless you realize what you want to do with it. A minute on a timer can seem like forever or an hour writing can seem only like a couple of minutes and much more fulfilling. Taking the time to decide what to do with it and be intentional. Thanks for telling me what to do. 🙂
I thank you for this particular post. While I’ve been an appreciative reader for some time, this succinct essay brought me up short and into some sort of new reality. For me, it isn’t necessarily a question of one activity versus another. It’s a question of being willing to ask myself why I am doing what I am doing. Procrastination? Fear? Don’t know how to start the big thing? Don’t know what that big thing is? (Actually, I do …) In any case, “what are you doing and why?” (AND answering myself!) is going to be my mantra into the near future.
Great post. I’ve always admired your skill with the written word, when it comes to photography and creativity, but this post echoes my thoughts entirely. As I retired person (not by choice), I keep telling any young people that you’ve got to do it NOW, not later.
Now, every 2nd or 3rd day, I delete any non-personal emails as I just can’t keep up. I detest social networking sites too, so despite having them (at overseas friend’s requests), I forget about them.
Life is too short to waste on the computer.
(but I still feel guilty about not replying to some people’s comments on my own blog AND not following the new people who start following me. I just don’t have enough time, despite being retired and single).
David, this is just what I needed. My wife has been trying to get me to write a book for 20 years.
Now is the time Jim. Let me know if I can help. I know a guy who accidentally wrote a few. 🙂
Thanks for the offer David, that’s one of the many things like I about you. You’re a teacher and a helper as well.
I love this post. I love how this is discrete and organized. Your point and approach is fantastic. Amazing, thanks for sharing your philosophy.
Thanks for this series David, I’m getting a lot out of your sharing your life experiences.
Would love to hear your thoughts on money too, as this is one area that I’m struggling with myself.
I really enjoyed this. Well said!
Procrastination is the thief of time.
Thank you for this post! I needed to hear it. And please do that post about money. I know it will be well worth the read as well.
Thanks, David. I have long admired your photography. Now I am a fan of your writing, your wisdom. Now is the time . . . now.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
Sorry … just couldn’t help myself … 😉
I would disappointed if you’d refrained, Jon. 🙂
“…All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”