Stop wasting your time ! Seneca’s lessons

It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it”, says Seneca in his Treatise on the Brevity of Life.

What Seneca means is that to exist is not to live. Some people spend their time wrongly, others spend it well.

Are you one of those people who spend their time wrongly ?

Seneca calls “preoccupied” those who spend their time wrongly. They are the non-philosophers, those who live without asking too many questions, without taking too much distance from their actions and thoughts.

The author cites, for example, drunkards, lazy people, greedy, idlers… But also those who waste too much time in body care, those who live only on a passion, those who do unnecessary scholarly work, etc.

As soon as it comes to wasting time, they are most extravagant with the one commodity for which it’s respectable to be greedy”, he says.

Further on :

“They are too busily preoccupied with efforts to live better; they plan out their lives at the expense of life itself. They form their purposes with the distant future in mind. Yet the greatest waste of life lies in postponement: it robs us of each day in turn, and snatches away the present by promising the future.”

The art of spending time wisely

How can you spend your time better ? Well, by taking a step back, by not wasting energy on regret of the past or fear of the future.

In accordance with a recurrent principle of Stoicism, we must put our energy into things that absolutely depends on us, that is, into our thoughts, actions, judgements ; and not into things that do not absolutely depend on us, such as the result of work or the reaction of this or that individual.

It is therefore by following this principle that we spend our time wisely. True human life begins here, because its existence is then regulated by reason, a specific tool of our human condition.

Seneca says that it is the leisure people (= philosophers) who live this life.

This means that an old man who has never really used his reasoning and reflexive abilities will have lived less than a young man who examines the movement of his actions and thoughts.

To exist is not to live.

Two concrete exercices to live better

There are practical exercices to make oneself independent of things that do not depend on oneself and to progress in the wise management of our time.

Self-attention (prosochê), for example, requires us to be aware of the movements of our souls and to take a mental break when a strong emotion occurs.

Examination of conscience allows you to evaluate your past thoughts and actions to see if you have spent your time well, spent your time wrongly or if you could have spent it better.

We can all be satisfied with our life span

Learning to spend our time wisely allows us to influence the length of our experience for three reasons :

  • We no longer waste time on things that are not up to us.
  • The happiness that wise time management allows us to achieve is timeless. It lasts as long as our existence lasts. It is therefore independent of the timeline.
  • A mind focused on wisdom will no longer fear death. It will therefore be free from temporal concerns.

In short, the less disturbed the mind is, the more satisfied it will be with the length of its existence, even if it may seem objectively short.

This post is a condensed and practical summary of the following blog post :

(As I’m not a native English speaker, if you noticed any grammar mistake, let me know. I will be glad to correct them.)

Un regard stoïcien / A Stoic Perspective

Written by

French blogger on Modern Stoicism. I’m (mostly) using Medium to publish condensed English versions of my articles that are published on

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