2 Time Management Principles From 2000 Years Ago

Nearly 2000 years ago, a Roman philosopher named Seneca authored a short treatise called On The Shortness of Life. In it, he unpacks important lessons about the value of time and how best to use it.

Today, millennia after its writing, On The Shortness of Life still teaches us timeless lessons about the principles of managing one’s time.

I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself — as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given.
They are deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap — in fact, almost without any value. People are delighted to accept pensions and gratuities, for which they hire out their labour or their support or their services.
But nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it costs nothing.

Few of us really appreciate time. In a world where technology facilitates immediacy, we’re often dragged from one task to another, one event to another, one TV show to another. Yet, we fail to account for how those hours are allocated.

Seneca goes on to say:

People are frugal in guarding their personal property, but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.

Prize your time above everything else — it’s your most valuable asset.

It is the sign of a great man, and one who is above human error, not to allow his time to be frittered away.


Peter Drucker, one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers said:

History’s great achievers — a Napoléon, a da Vinci, a Mozart — have always managed themselves. That, in large measure, is what makes them great achievers. But they are rare exceptions, so unusual both in their talents and their accomplishments as to be considered outside the boundaries of ordinary human existence.

Seneca echoes these thoughts, emphasizing the seriousness of one’s personal time.

Certain people reveal the most stupid indignation: they complain about the pride of their superiors because they did not have time to give them an audience when they wanted one. But can anyone dare to complain about another’s pride when he himself never has time for himself?

Managing one’s personal time takes focus. The temptation is to try pack as much as possible into our days, but Seneca advises against this:

It is generally agreed that no activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it. Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man.

Perhaps most essential is his counsel about actually making changes to how we manage our time. Most of us have moments in which we feel that something needs to change — those moments must not be wasted!

It would be superfluous to mention any more who, though seeming to others the happiest of mortals, themselves bore witness against themselves by their expressed hatred of every action of their lives. Yet they did not change themselves of anyone else by these complaints, for after their explosion of words their feelings reverted to normal.

Time is in your hands. Make the most of it.

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