A Stoic Path to Managing Your Time

Because if time can’t be managed, nothing else can be managed.

Steven Yates

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Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Marcus Aurelius once observed, “Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”

Excellent advice! And never more relevant than now!

It’s often said, we live in an attention economy. The Internet has us all by the throat (or some other portion of our anatomies). Not the Internet per se, of course.

Facebook, Google, Instagram, YouTube, and so on. They’ve become to the present what television was to the past — a source of endless, time-wasting distractions. On steroids, moreover. Because almost no one used television to work.

Now, the Internet is all-present. It’s become essential to our professional lives. It’s also now the biggest source of distractions out there.

The ancient Stoics counseled us to distinguish what we can control from what we can’t control, and to focus on the former.

The trouble is, most of us have trouble focusing on the former. Controlling what we can control — or can learn to control.

Can you control where your time goes? How you use it, that is. As much ink as gets spilled on this — or in our world — bandwidth space used, it’s still one of the big questions of our era. We all have the same amount of time. Yet as all the success gurus note, the big difference is between those who become CEOs of large companies versus those who may work more hours than the CEO but never seem to get anywhere.

While there may be other factors involved, maybe the CEO controls how she uses her time, and her struggling employee doesn’t.

Let’s look at it.

You’re not really “controlling time,” of course. You’re controlling yourself when you structure your use of your time. This is something you must do, because if you don’t, you can’t really control anything else you need to control in order to be productive and advance professionally.

Self-mastery starts with controlling your attention. As Marcus Aurelius asked, What is essential?

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Steven Yates

I am the author of What Should Philosophy Do? A Theory. I write about philosophy (especially the Stoics), health and systems, and the future if we have one.