Taking Back Time By Letting It Slip Away

(This was originally written a few weeks ago in Anaheim at ALA. It has since been edited)

2 1/2 years ago, I went to my first library conference, and that feels like both too recent and too long ago.

StackMap is in pretty good shape nowadays. We can always make the product better, but we’ve worked out more of our practices, from our 30 second demos to code customization. Despite offering the same basic idea from our founding, we have learned and improved so much over 4 years, and we even have external validation for that. Before, we received a lot of skepticism from libraries. Mostly, they were concerned about using StackMap after we (presumably) moved on in a few years. Well, we haven’t, and now, we even get referrals in the exhibitors hall at the ALA annual conference from friends who noticed the “StackMap guys”. Even thought we’re still considered “new” in the library space, how libraries respond to us indicate that we’ve matured tremendously in their eyes. Somehow, we’ve apparently learned the secret phrase for acceptance into this world.

That development, along with other details, has made this the most relaxed conference I have been to. To get to the convention center by 9, I wake up at 8, which is well past my normal alarm nowadays. Without the usual chores of the day, I’m be in bed by 11 or 12 without any other distractions, and have even managed to do some reading before bed.

This fixed schedule is a major benefit I discovered after finishing school a few months ago and subsequently starting work. Overnight, my daily life changed, starting from my alarm going off and continuing through my social setting in the evenings. The biggest change, however, has been reclaiming my downtime. When I was still in school, I often felt like I was on the clock, regardless of the time of day. I had the obvious commitments on my calendar, y, like meetings and classes, I it also had my deliberate relaxation and procrastination.

I made the apparently liberating discover that time is fluid and that all activities are tradeoffs. At any time, I could sleep or study. Attending class is generally good, but if the time was better spent doing the homework for that class, I could just watch lecture later. Leisure was factored in there as a necessary part of a balanced life, but a lot of the value of free time disappears when you’re focused on what you’re giving up to take it. With this thinking, I broke free of the calendar and could work in my own way by paying attention only to deadlines.

The unexpected consequence of this thinking was that no moment was my life was ever truly free. Every choice had a very apparent opportunity cost, and the accumulation of all those losses in my mind sapped me of the joys that come from the unstructured, whimsical moments in life. I lost the value of the moment for itself, instead focusing on everything else it could’ve been.

Since then, I have been getting used to the idea that I have time that I don’t need to dedicate to anything in particular. I have been more often washing dishes for no better reason than that “I don’t have anything better to be doing with my time”, whereas my roommate often needed to get back to studying. Thankfully, I don’t mind washing dishes, but even if I did, it was worth doing just to use that reason.

A difficult point for me to adopt, however, has been savoring the moments in my life. Consider a specific example: lying in bed. Since midway through high school when I started falling behind on sleep, I have fallen asleep very quickly after turning the lights out. In the mornings, I rarely lie in bed just to enjoy it. I’ll stay if I’m tired and think I can fall asleep again, but if I’m awake, I don’t fear the world outside the warmth of my covers and starting the day as soon as possible.

Until recently, this gusto was worth having. During the week, my alarm was timed precisely with my class schedule, and on the weekends, I could always start brunch or homework on embark on some outing sooner. Now, weekends aren’t as often dedicated to planned activities or work. Weekends just happen, and I haven’t yet accepted that lying in bed is worth happening.

I’m probably blessed in my general alacrity, but I wonder what I lack that makes these activities not worth my time. I never stay in the shower to enjoy the water running over me, I don’t particularly enjoy walking as a method of transportation, and I don’t watch the iTunes visualizer. Ever.

After obsessing about the utility of every moment and working to maximize it both in the present and future, I have tried hard to let chance back into my life. It’s a battle as I turn my procrastination list back into a procrastination list instead of a backlog of recommended fun. My optimized schedule of relentless activities can loosen up and allow 30 minute gaps back in without seeming wasted. Instead of planning to make the most of all my time, I can grow into my life and appreciate how amazing this world, which I have always lived in, can be.

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