Cultivating Your Time


I used to spend a lot of my time playing video games. I played for many hours on the weekends and on some week nights after work. It felt fun and fulfilling in the moment, but the aftertaste was not good. I felt like I was wasting the little time I have to live; that I was not living well. I tried giving it up a number of times, but I kept falling into my habit of gaming for hours.

I like to think of our time as a field has various crops being cultivated in it: families, jobs, hobbies, cooking, leisure, etc. By continuing to live we invariably live in some way that uses our time. You can look at your field of time and see what is using it up. Maybe your job and commute is a big orchard in the middle of the field; maybe you have carved out a small garden where you tend to your favorite hobby. Whatever you spend time on is what is growing in your field. Some of the cultivars are carefully planted and produce a sweet fruits. Some are weeds, filling in the land by default. Some of the land is mortgaged and you must grow cash crops on some of the land to pay back the debt.

How you think about what is growing in your field is different from how I feel about what is growing in mine. I feel like activities like playing games and reading news are weeds. They grow to fill in all the space not being used by the more structured farming. The trouble with weeds is if you remove them all from your field, you leave behind empty space that has to be filled in with something. The field of your life cannot be empty, because you are always living. So what grows in place of the weeds you banned from your field? More weeds.

Reducing video game playing and news reading does not work for me. If I ban video games, I find myself doing some other activity that does not seem valuable either. Instead, I have found what works is to carefully cultivate habits that crowd out these weeds. Perhaps making health and exercise my ground cover, writing these posts a few rows of trees, and calling my parents and sister regularly a soothing grove.

It is like a game to keep the field growing what you want it to be growing such that it crowds out all the wasted time, the weeds in your field. One cool part about this for me is it satisfies some the same desires satisfied by playing video games: how can I optimize and plan my habits so that I feel like I am building a lovely field that I will be proud to have created? This is the question I am answering and I hope you will too for yourself.