Slow Down to Smell the Roses, Part 1

“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.” – Louisa May Alcott

My father died last year. Several months later, I spent a very long weekend worrying that K was seriously ill. And now I’m living through the day-to-day struggles of my first and most generous mentor, who is battling a deadly war against cancer.

Needless to say, I’m contemplating my own mortality.

Fact is, time is disappearing for all of us.

Einstein proved that time is relative. That it speeds up and slows down in relation to how fast or slow you’re traveling. But psychological time – our perception of its passing – moves faster the further we get from our birth date.

Think back to your first 10 years. Do you remember how slow an afternoon could be? Or how about your high school years? Do you recollect how the classroom clock seemed to literally slow down as the three o’clock bell approached?

The older we get, the more important it seems to be to pack more meaningful activity into every hour. At the same time, the more we do with our time, the faster it goes by. A middle-aged person in the midst of a busy career and straddled with the demands of family, friends, and local social obligations is a psychological freight train rushing forward toward its demise at 140 miles an hour.

We can’t change or even deny the fact that our lives will end. But there are things we can do to decelerate and, as a consequence of slowing down, enjoy all the things that nature meant for us to enjoy.

For most of us, the challenge is this: How do I find the time to “smell the roses” … and still have time to achieve my dreams?

Or, to put it differently: How can I accomplish the goals I’ve set for myself without turning into a success-fixated automaton?

I’ve wrestled with these questions myself. Here are some of the answers I’ve come up with …

First, identify and eliminate your personal “Time Killers.” A time killer is any activity that consumes most or all of your mental energy and provides little if anything in the way of lasting benefits. The worst time killers not only give you nothing in exchange for the time you invest in them, they also leave you weaker, less energetic, and duller than you were before.

In my experience, these include:

  •  most TV


  •  all video games


  •  at least 70% of your e-mail


  •  waiting in line without having something productive to do


  •  getting angry about waiting in line


  •  arguing about anything that will not matter five years later


  •  trying to be number one


  •  worrying about people stealing your good ideas

Eliminating your time killers will give you back hundreds of precious hours every year – time you can devote to working on your goals, enjoying friends and family … and making the world a little better than you found it.

Problem is, time killers give you the illusion that you are engaged in a relaxing activity. But, in fact, when you’re watching TV, playing video games, and Web-browsing, what you’re really doing is putting your brain and your body “on hold.” Your mental and physical energy levels drop, and that dormant state persists for hours. In other words, not only are you wasting time, but when you’re ready to get back to work, you’re making it impossible to operate at a normal (let alone highly productive) level.

It’s not easy to give up habitual time killers, but it can be done. The trick is to crowd them out of your daily schedule.

Let’s start with TV. You won’t be able to stop watching TV simply by telling yourself that you’re going to do it. We’re talking about an addictive habit here. So you’ll have much better luck if you identify when and where you do your TV watching and then make sure you are always doing something else at that time.

Schedule just about any productive activity during your “regular” TV time. Maybe going for a walk … or reading a book … or gardening … or working on a plan for that side business you’ve been meaning to start (if only you had the time). After two or three weeks of “practicing” this new habit, you’ll no longer have the urge to flop down on the couch and reach for the remote when the clock strikes whatever.

In short order, you’ll notice a huge difference. You’ll find that the productive activities you’re now doing in your “free” time leave you with even more energy. That extra energy can be funneled into additional activities that will enhance your life … and move you closer to your dreams.

That’s how you deal with the big time killers.

Then there are the small ones – those that eat up minutes instead of hours, but still leave you feeling like a zombie. Here are some of the things that work for me when I’m early for an appointment … or stuck in a line … or sitting there waiting for a business meeting to start:

  •  Reading short articles from newspapers and magazines that I clip out and keep in my pocket or briefcase for this purpose.


  •  Recording my thoughts and observations – maybe even making sketches – in a small notebook. (Later, I transfer the best of these to my journal.)


  •  Doing crossword puzzles.

On Friday, I’ll tell you about another major time killer – one so debilitating it deserves devoting an entire article to explaining how to strike it from your life.

I’ll also give you a way to increase your enjoyment of your life – literally thousands of times every day.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]