Self-Directed Life Newsletter: This Thing All Things Devours
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Hey guys,

How was your week?

The holidays approacheth.

Hopefully it’ll be awesome — but we know it can also be a time of great stress as your expectations smash into your reality like Calvin’s transportation play.
For the next month or so, you’re probably going to be a little crunched for time.

Let’s meditate a bit on how we can use the time we have thoughtfully and purposefully.

#1 — You have plenty of time.

Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently. — Laura Vanderkam, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

Time is a created thing. To say “I don’t have time” is like saying “I don’t want to.” — Lao Tzu

If you start building up your work muscle — under these less than ideal conditions — then you will be a superhero when you actually get some big blocks of uninterrupted time. Like an astronaut in 70% gravity, you’ll be hoisting giant machinery with one hand and taking gigantic 30-foot steps. You will have done all your training Rocky-style, running up and down mountains with logs on your back, so that when you’re finally in the ring, it will feel like a vacation.

As an added bonus, if you stop stubbornly insisting that you need XYZ in order to work, you can take the first step in quitting making excuses. There’s no patch for that, and it’s very hard to go cold turkey. Most of us are so addicted to our excuses that giving them up feels like surgery without anesthetic. — Learning to use the time you have

Does it feel bananas to say you have plenty of time? I get it. But there IS time — we all get the same 168 hours a week — and you can find more time for the things you want to do by relentlessly hacking away at the things that are less important.

When I was running my school, visiting teachers would ask how we could keep the focus on long-term projects with so many interruptions by holidays. The answer was, we ignored holidays during our work time. The kids would still find plenty of time to talk, play, and make things related to the holiday (if it truly captured their attention — Christmas, say, rather than St. Patrick’s Day), but we wouldn’t move it to the center and give up our best time. We’d just let it float along on its own.

To keep the focus on what’s most important, you have to prioritize. You have to decide what’s crucial and what’s okay bobbing along on its own. Too often, the things we start out wanting to be first in line end up shuffled here and there, moving further and further back, while other people’s commitments elbow their way to the front.

If you really want to do some special things together as a family this holiday season, be very careful about saying “yes” to invitations and extra responsibilities. Try to train yourself to say “That sounds so fun, but our schedule is really full — we’ll try to make it work!” instead of automatically saying “Oh, sure, of course, great, we’d love to.” At the beginning of the month you may feel there will be enough time for everything, but is there ever?

Take a pause before slotting someone else’s plan into your calendar, even if it does sound super fun. There are a million “fun” things you can say yes to — but no one else is going to ask you to commit to the stuff that’s important only to you.

#2 — Get your big rocks in first.

In the middle of a seminar on time management, a lecturer said, "Okay, it's time for a quiz." Reaching under the table, he pulled out a wide mouthed gallon jar and set it on the table next to a platter covered with fist-sized rocks. "How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?" he asked the audience.

After the students made their guesses, the seminar leader said, "Okay, let's find out." He put one rock in the jar, then another, then another--until no more rocks would fit. Then he asked, "Is the jar full?"

Everybody could see that not one more of the rocks would fit, so they said, "Yes."

"Not so fast," he cautioned. From under the table he lifted out a bucket of gravel, dumped it in the jar, and shook it. The gravel slid into all the little spaces left by the big rocks. Grinning, the seminar leader asked once more, "Is the jar full?"

A little wiser by now, the students responded, "Probably not."

"Good," the teacher said. Then he reached under the table to bring up a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar. While the students watched, the sand filled in the little spaces left by the rocks and gravel. Once more he looked at the class and said, "Now, is the jar full?"

"No," everyone shouted back.

"Good!" said the seminar leader, who then grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it into the jar. He got something like a quart of water into that jar before he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, the jar is now full. Can anybody tell me the lesson you can learn from this? What's my point?"

An eager participant spoke up: "Well, there are gaps in your schedule. And if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life."

"No," the leader said. "That's not the point. The point is this: if I hadn't put those big rocks in first, I would never have gotten them in." — Stephen Covey, First Things First

[W]here does the time come from that we hand over to others? We make that time. We part the red sea of our schedule and create it. We can do that for ourselves — but we don’t.

Just like prioritizing a savings account, when it comes to prioritizing your personal goals you have to pay yourself first. Take a hard look at the commitments you’re currently juggling and think about which ones you might replace with an open block of time dedicated to what YOU really want to do.

Then protect that time as if it were a puppetry class your third-grader signed up for. — Five ways to find more time for the things that matter

No one else is going to prioritize YOUR personal priorities. That’s up to you. Don’t try to squeeze them in at the end. Plan them NOW.

And treat them exactly as you would a commitment to someone else — put them on your calendar, tell people you’re busy (you are!), and don’t treat them as the least important thing and shuffle them around because after all, you can do *your* thing any time, right? WRONG. If you can’t commit to your most important goals, if they *always* rank second behind commitments to other people, you may as well kiss them goodbye.

Your big rocks are the things that you absolutely want to accomplish, and it doesn’t matter if they seem very minor to other people. An afternoon that you spend making homemade hot chocolate and icing cookies with your children is no big deal to anyone else — that doesn’t mean it isn’t a crucial part of your family’s holiday.

#3 — Block in a buffer.

Refilling the well, being inspired, making connections, reflecting … these aren’t things that are easily acknowledged and checked off a list. They need time — empty, unfilled, unscheduled time. White space.

Without the white space, there’s no balance.

Rather than thinking about quantity — of ideas, of experiences, of work produced — we need to think about quality.

Spending more time doing less, so we can do better and appreciate more.

A single experience, really and truly had and understood, is more valuable than weeks and weeks of rushed, unconnected, random experiences. — White space

How does anything new happen? In a world where everything is scheduled, everything is listed, everything is programmed, the first thing one needs is space…

You have to be open. It doesn’t mean something enormous will happen, but nothing can happen until you clear that space

Nobody has time to even receive anything that is actually new, including their own thoughts. — Ursula Franklin (quote shared by Austin Kleon)

We don’t just need to set aside time to do the thing we want to do (go sledding, make cookies, volunteer together as a family) — we need to set aside a buffer of *extra* time to make that saved time relaxed and unhurried.

Build in some white space — a buffer of time you purposefully leave empty.

This is the time that will allow you to play the second game of scrabble (or the first), to sit around laughing and drinking hot chocolate, to spontaneously jump in the car to go look at the lights.

That buffer will protect your most important time, keeping other commitments from impinging on it and reducing your joy. And even if it’s filled with nothing other than the gift of moving more slowly, with more focus on the moment, it will be more than worth it.

If you think you need two hours, set aside three or four.

You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by. Yes, but some of them are golden only because we let them slip. — James M. Barrie

It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important. ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want. ― Bill Watterson

#4 — Choose thoughtfully.

People have said it’s kind of pathetic to have to schedule “date night” — for one thing, it’s the opposite of spontaneous, and for another, it kind of highlights how much time you *don’t* spend being romantic when you have to carve a few hours out to be a couple.

But think about it — the couple who schedules date night is openly declaring that their time together is important enough to deserve a chunk of the calendar, to be treated as a priority, to be committed to and followed through on.

This is the same level of commitment we try to show our children through dedicated time for their meaningful work.

Does it feel cold to organize your family life like your work life? Well, that’s silly — your family is, after all, the most important work of your life.

Don’t cross your fingers and hope that the important stuff happens. If it’s truly important, plan it. Schedule it.

Your days will fill up no matter what. You have the ability to control what fills them, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

Think before you choose. Don’t make one of those big generic lists of holiday activities that people post online. Really think about what would be most meaningful for *your* family, the most fun for *your* particular kids.

It probably won’t end up written in scrolly letters on a blackboard on Pinterest, but if your kids would have the MOST fun ordering Dominos and playing Wii together, do that! Actually giving people what they want is the best gift — not the thing that looks best to others.

Our greatest fear shouldn’t be failure, but of succeeding at things that don’t really matter. — Francis Chan

#5 — Savor it.

We often talk about reflection as a way of connecting the past (what we already did) with the future (what we plan to do) with today (what we’re going to do with this current chunk of time).

In this way, we help children do deeper work, by helping them remember their plans so they can stick with one idea a bit longer.

We also help them see how they’ve progressed, by looking back at previous work — which helps them develop a growth mindset.

Reflection can also be used to savor — past experiences you enjoyed, past work you are proud of, and so on — which allows you to pull more happiness from the past into today.

If we don’t reflect, we simply keep plowing forward into the future, deciding each day what to do based on how we feel at that moment. The days become disconnected … we’re no longer linking activities and experiences into a larger, more meaningful whole. We easily forget what we wanted to do (because we fail to look back at what we were planning and what we’ve already accomplished), so we drift to something else … again … and again.

When we savor, we take our good experiences, the ones that are most meaningful to us, and focus on them. You’ve heard that saying about how friendship divides our sorrow and multiples our joy — savoring allows you and your family to multiply your joy simply by celebrating your happy times: while they’re happening and then again later on.

“Savoring” is a powerful method for boosting happiness. It’s also ridiculously simple:

Next time something good happens, stop whatever you are doing, give it a second, and appreciate that moment. Pay attention to it.

Savoring is all about attention. Focus on the bad, you'll feel bad. Focus on the good and… guess what happens? — Why attention might be the key to happiness

The key component to effective savoring is focused attention. By taking the time and spending the effort to appreciate the positive, people are able to experience more well-being. — Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth

Positive events alone are not enough to bring about happiness. People need to be able to attend to and appreciate the positive feelings that emerge from positive events. — Savoring: a New Model of Positive Experience

Remember that good moments pass quickly, and tell yourself to consciously relish the moment… Realizing how short-lived certain moments are and wishing they could last longer encourages you to enjoy them while they’re happening.

In fact, savoring can be used to connect you to the past or future… This can be done by remembering a good time and recreating it, or imagining a time in the future when you will look back with good memories. — 10 steps to savoring the good things in life

Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention. What you attend to drives your behavior and it determines your happiness. Attention is the glue that holds your life together… — Happiness By Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think

In one set of studies, depressed participants were invited to take a few minutes once a day to relish something that they usually hurry through (e.g., eating a meal, taking a shower, finishing the workday, or walking to the subway).

When it was over, they were instructed to write down in what ways they had experienced the event differently as well as how that felt compared with the times when they rushed through it.

In another study, healthy students and community members were instructed to savor two pleasurable experiences per day, by reflecting on each for two or three minutes and trying to make the pleasure last as long and as intensely as possible.

In all these studies those participants prompted to practice savoring regularly showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression.The How of Happiness

When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. Just as when you are drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life. Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole world revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life. — Thich Nhat Hanh

When you know that your time is going to be attacked — by extra commitments (even fun ones), extra tasks (shopping, wrapping, baking), and extra expectations (other people’s and your own) — you need to be proactive and guard that time.

Remember that you have enough time to do the things that matter most — as long as you prioritize and commit to yourself first.

Remember to set aside some extra time as a buffer between what you want to enjoy most and the other things that will clamor for your attention, so your best moments will be relaxed and focused.

Remember to choose your priorities thoughtfully so they’re most likely to bring joy to you and your particular family. Don’t try to nail the generic “best holiday ever” — just make it one you and yours will enjoy now and enjoy remembering for years to come.

There is no duty we so underrate as the duty of being happy. — Robert Louis Stevenson

“How do we begin? By clearing a space.” — White space as a learning tool


“Matthew and I moved into a new rhythm. I got to know him better during those days, and perhaps he came to know me better, not because we talked, but because we didn’t. As a parent, you capture such quiet moments when you can, in the loudness of time. — Richard Louv, The Bond of Shared Solitude


“[T]here’s some really good research coming out of Harvard that shows that people whose job is to somehow add value, to be creative or to produce, need a cocoon of time for sustained effort where they are going to get something done. … I structure my day so I have protected time.” — Daniel Goleman


“There’s no reason for children to focus, no reason to really work hard, if they know we’re just going to shoot on to something else tomorrow. They’ve been trained to sit and watch the world go by like a constantly moving, constantly changing parade, entertaining them but rarely asking them to do more than spectate. And we’re watching the same parade. If the parade never stops, how do we know it’s time to turn our focus inward and start creating something of our own?”

“To really learn, we need a revolution. We need to cut decisively through the things that don’t matter until we come up with a chunk of time big enough that it can hold real learning. A chunk of time big enough that it’s worth concentrating and focusing.”

“Once we’ve carved out that time, then we can figure out what’s important enough to spend it on.” — It takes time to really learn


“If you have enough opportunity to practice, you can roll with your failures or not-clear-winners — your successes outweigh your failures. And your skill improves steadily over time: both your foundational skill and your skill for experimenting and trying new things.

If you want to be good at something, if you want to develop talent for a thing, you need to do that thing as much as possible.

You’re not just developing your ability to be creative — you’re developing your tolerance for creativity. You’re creating a larger allowance for innovation.”Do your children have time to develop creativity?


It’s not enough to fill your schedule with things that you think (or hope) will make you (and your family) happy — level it up and pay attention to what really brings you happiness, so you can do more of those things.

When something makes you really happy, jot it down. Then do that thing more often. Daniel Nettle jokingly refers to this as “Pleasant Activity Training.”

Via Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile:

This staggeringly complex technique consists of determining which activities are pleasant, and doing them more often.

Yeah, it's stupidly simple. But as Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker explained in my interview with her, you probably don't do it:

…people who spend more time on projects that energize them and with people who energize them tend to be happier. However, what is interesting is that there is often a gap between where people say they want to spend their time and how they actually spend their time. For example, if you ask people to list the projects that energize (vs. deplete) them, and what people energize (vs. deplete) them, and then monitor how they actually spend their time, you find a large percentage know what projects and people energize them, but do not in fact spend much time on those projects and with those people.

Why attention might be the key to happiness


“Everything I’ve ever taught in terms of self-help boils down to this — I cannot believe people keep paying me to say this — if something feels really good for you, you might want to do it. And if it feels really horrible, you might want to consider not doing it. Thank you, give me my $150.” — Martha Beck

Gollum’s Riddle:

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town
And beats high mountain down.

Answer: Time — The Hobbit

Remember that any time is good to start

And that no time is good to give up.

Don’t forget that the cause of your present is your past,

As the cause of your future will be your present. — Pablo Neruda

Thank you as always for your continued support!

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