A Magician of Time

It’s strange sometimes to see yourself through other people’s eyes. Others see things — both good and bad — that you don’t see in yourself.

“I see you as outdoorsy,” a new friend told me the other day, which caught me off guard. I’ve never thought of myself that way.

Or a few months ago, a friend told me, “Every time I see you, you’re doing something amazing.” Me? I love my life, but much of it seems so mundane, so boring. But I only see this friend a few times a year, and through her eyes I’m always doing something new and different, like training for a marathon or traveling to South America or writing a book. (To me, these are the exceptions and not the rule. Mostly, I sit here at this desk, typing on this keyboard, writing about money.)

Then, on Monday night, my Spanish tutor said something else that surprised me. We were talking about the books I’ve been reading and my plans for the coming months. “Tu eres un mago del tiempo,” she told me: “You are a magician of time.” When I asked what she meant, she said that I seem to do so many things that I must be able to create time out of thin air.

Well, I can’t create time, of course, as much as I wish it were true. But I’ve been thinking about this comment for the past couple of days, and I’ve realized that maybe I’ve finally learned to be productive — at least more productive than I used to be. Here are a few of the things I do to magically create more time:

  • I say “yes” to things. A few years ago, I made it a policy to say “yes” to any new opportunity that came along, even if it scared me. As a result, I’ve jumped out of an airplane, written a book, and met dozens of GRS readers. Because I embrace new experiences, it probably seems like I’m doing more than I actually am.
  • I say “no” to things. While I’m eager to say “yes” to new opportunities, I’ve also learned that it’s important to say “no” to the things that drag me down. I’m only one man. I can’t do everything. At the age of (nearly) 43, I’m smart enough to recognize when something will be a time sink; I steer clear of time sinks.
  • I do what I love. I used to be a dilettante. I dabbled in dozens of hobbies — astronomy, gardening, woodworking, electronics, photography, and so on — but I wasn’t particularly good at anything. Over the past year, I’ve made an effort to focus on just five passions: fitness, friends, writing, Spanish, and travel. Because I’m working on just a few things, I’m doing well at them. I’m having more fun with my friends than ever. I’ve learned Spanish quickly. I’m in the best shape of my life. And you know what? By limiting the things I do, I’m spending a lot less money.

Note: I do still dabble in other interests from time-to-time. I’m always practicing photography a little, for instance, but I do it with a cheap point-and-shoot camera, not my fancy DSLR. I still read comics — but not much. (I still haven’t bought any comics in 2012.) But these other interests are much, much less important to me than they used to be.
  • I multitask — smartly. I’m very aware that multitasking while working is actually a recipe for reduced productivity. But there are ways to do more than one thing at once that can create more time. (Sort of.) An example: I could drive the two miles to my Spanish lessons. In typical Portland traffic, that would take about eight minutes. Instead, I choose to walk while listening to Spanish-language podcasts. Yes, this takes more time (about 30 minutes), but at the same time I’m getting additional exercise and I’m practicing my Spanish listening abilities. Volunteering with second-graders lets me practice Spanish while working with kids. (I’d forgotten how much I love children!)
  • I don’t “waste” time. Ten years ago, I played videogames 20-40 hours a week. I watched a ton of television. And so on. These activities are fine for others — I’m not dissing them for you — but I find that for me, they’re a waste of time. I enjoy them, yes, but not as much as I enjoy going to the gym or writing a new article. By cutting these downtime activities from my life, I’ve freed up plenty of hours for Crossfit or meeting my friends.
  • I make use of my network of friends. This might seem like a strange thing to include in a list of productivity tips, but I’ve found that by maintaining a wide network of friends and acquaintances, I have access to a broader range of opportunities and experiences. The other night, a friend called to see if I wanted to go watch the Portland Trailblazers, for instance. This weekend, I’m going to learn how to salsa dance. After I finish writing this article, I’m going to join my cousin to try Turkish food for the first time. (He and I plan to visit Turkey this autumn.) You GRS readers are a part of this network, by the way; I’ve encountered many opportunities because of people like you, for which I am grateful.

Last night, I met Tim Clark for dinner at a local restaurant. (Clark is the editor of Business Model You, and a past contributor to Get Rich Slowly.) I told him about the whole “magician of time” thing.

“You know what part of it is,” he told me. “You don’t work a nine-to-five job. A lot of times, a nine-to-five job can prevent you from using your time the way you’d like.” Good point. I do work hard, but I’m able to work on my schedule. Some days I don’t write at all. But there are weeks where I’m writing from dawn to dusk for seven day straight. The key is that I have the flexibility to work when I want (or need) to work. (And, of course, not having children allows me to be more flexible with my time too.)

I realize that not everybody wants to live this sort of life. That’s fine. Do what works for you. As for me, I’m having a blast. I don’t have time for everything I want to do, but I’m still able to accomplish a lot. Maybe someday I’ll actually find the secret to creating more hours in the day. Until then, I’ll continue to pursue my passions with the time I’ve been given.

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