From Seneca: on protecting our time

Seneca  commented on what is at stake when a person asks, not to mention demands, another’s time — an admonition that applies  to the incessant requests for meetings, for donations and the barrage of People Wanting Things:

“All those who call you to themselves draw you away from yourself.”

I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting an obliging response. Both sides know the reason why the time is asked for, but few pay attention to the time itself — as if nothing is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity – time – an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned to be cheap — in fact, almost valueless.

Seneca suggests that protecting our time is essential self-care, and being profligate with it is  a dangerous form of self-neglect:

Nobody works out the value of time: people use it lavishly as if it cost nothing… We have to be more careful with this precious thing, which  will cease at some unknown point.

What has emerged as a major consumer of time is the email, the text message and peering every few minutes at your phone.  Huge numbers of messages arrive, unasked for.  Go to the gym, for instance, and most of the young people are gazing at their phones, rather than exercising.  You place an order with a company and straight away you start getting messages from them.  Mostly, you can ask them to stop, but some ignore your request and keep on asking for money, feed back, whatever.  Most irritating are election candidates half way across the Continent.  How they know about you is a mystery, but sharing your particulars with dozens of others, without your agreement, ends up  stealing your time and making you feel powerless and used.  There is no way you can donate to everyone (or even find them on the map).

Self-care means quiet, reflective time for yourself.  These days  I turn to drawing, which is totally absorbing and blessedly relaxing.  But there are many ways of tuning out.  Epicurus chose his garden.



  1. I absolutely agree. I dread tax time. As an American citizen, but of British origin, I have to do British taxes as well, although the amount of money involved is small.. Ordinary British taxes are not that difficult , but to avoid being taxed by both countries on the same money involves precious hours of work, and the chances of making mistakes are quite high. I don’t mind taxes – they are part of the cost of living in a “civilized” , modern country, (and very rich people should be paying more, by the way) ; it is accounting for them that is the time-consumer.

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