Taking the Long, Long View of Killing Time

I just turned off Star Trek (you know, that episode with Julie Newmar) so that I could sit down and write this post.

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity - Thoreau
Time is a terrible thing to waste.

Peter Thiel often asks, “What is something you believe that few other people do?” I believe we lived as spirits before we were born, and that we were with God for a very, very long time, waiting excitedly for our turn to come to Earth. This belief has interesting implications for time management. I imagine us all talking about what we would do when we got here and I just can’t imagine hearing the following:

My Friend: It’s almost time! What are you most excited about doing on Earth?

Me: Well, they’re gonna have this thing called Candy Crush; I’m really looking forward to playing it for hours on end.

Walden has a seemingly endless supply of great observations, but the one that resonates most with me is that you can’t kill time without injuring eternity. Since reading Walden I have banished the phase “killing time” from my vocabulary and am trying to banish the practice from my life. Perhaps you should, too.

Time and Eternity

The reason Thoreau’s aphorism jumped out at me is that it is simultaneously reasonable and totally preposterous. On one hand, eternity is made up of an infinite number of chunks of time, so actions affecting time should have some impact on eternity.

On the other hand, what possible difference could time mean to eternity? An hour is finite and eternity is…infinite. We were all taught in elementary school that any number divided by infinity is zero (or as close to zero as makes no difference).

But it does make a difference.

On November 9, 1979, New Zealand Air Flight 901 with 257 people on board left Auckland on a sightseeing trip to Antarctica. The luxury trip that was to take about 11 hours ended after just four and a half when the plane slammed into the side of a mountain. The accident investigation revealed that unknown to the crew, the flight path had been altered by two degrees.

Close to zero is not the same as zero. Two degrees may not seem like much but over the course of 2,000-miles, two degrees can put a jet 28 miles away from where the pilots thought it would be. A couple of hours may not seem like much, but over the course of an infinity, it can have an infinite impact.

Killing Time

Doesn’t the phase “Killing Time” seem unnecessarily destructive? Killing is permanent, it connotes violence. To kill is to destroy, to annihilate, to take the life away from something. Most people resist killing unless it is necessary. So why are we so willing to kill time, and even announce to people that we are doing it?

A man who dares to waste one hour of his time has not discovered the value of life. — Charles Darwin

When we kill time, we are announcing to the world that we don’t value it. That we have more of it than we need. That we are too lazy, or unorganized, or unmotivated to come up with a good use for it.

Watching Star Trek is a lot easier than coming up with goals. Surfing the web is less taxing than seeing needs and acting on them. Checking our Facebook feed is less stressful than serving our neighbors.

Cherish Time

Time is an endangered species and you could run out of it at any time, so stop the killing it by taking these two steps:

  1. Resolve now to stop using the phrase, “I’m just killing time.”
  2. Resolve now to never go into a day without one or two things  that you want to do when you have a few moments.

Here’s a question for you: How do you usually “kill time,” and what can you do today instead?