12/28/2011 08:56 am ET | Updated Feb 27, 2012

It Will Be Hard To 'Save Time' In The New Year

Much of life has become a game show, our fingers perpetually poised above the buzzer -- James Gleick, Faster

We would all like to believe that there must be some way to "save time" -- to wring just a bit more out of every day. While that may sound good, according to James Gleick, the author of Faster, it can't be done.

You Can't Save Time

It may be hard for us to imagine the concept of a day undivided by hours and minutes, a day ruled only by the turn of the earth and the change from light to dark, and back again. Under these conditions, a person does what they can within the available time. But at some point in time man felt a compulsion to harness time, manipulate it and demand more of the meager 1,440 minutes in a day.

Many welcomed the sundial as an instrument that could place them at a certain point in a given day and create order and consistency. But Plautus, the Roman playwright (c.254-184 BC), cursed the sundial: "The Gods confound the man who first found how to distinguish hours. Confound him, too, who in this place set up a sun dial to cut and hack my day so wretchedly into small portions." Plautus welcomed cloudy days.

How many mornings have you awakened and frantically exclaimed, "I can't do this, I will never get everything done today?" We have been bombarded with books on how to save time, become more efficient and gain more time for leisure, family and, yes, even more work. Computers, smart phones, the internet and FedEx all claim to save us time and enhance the quality of our lives. But can they really deliver on this promise?

It is a fact. You can't save time. According to Gleick, time is what we live in and we never really have it to lose -- "time is just life as we live it." There are only 1,440 minutes in a day and it is up to each of us to decide on how to use them. Most of us don't really mean that we want to save time. What we really want is to do more.

Hurry Sickness

Gleick refers to our preoccupation with speed as "hurry sickness." Can you have any time savings without hurriedness? The answer is no. Without the constraints of time, philosophers, scientists and the average man had whatever time it took to come to their conclusions. In today's speedy environment both Einstein and Darwin, who described themselves as "slow thinkers," may have felt pressure to publish their early theories on an internet that spread their theories all over the world before they could sufficiently roll their ideas around in their minds, discuss them for years with colleagues and allow them to mature within their brains.

Do we frequently make better decisions by waiting, deliberating, watching and analyzing our options? Yale psychologist Robert J. Sternberg believes that, "If anything, the essence of intelligence would seem to be in knowing when to think and act quickly, and knowing when to think and act slowly."

There is no such thing as a typical day. If you don't believe it, try to describe a "typical day." Each day is different -- neither predictable nor ordinary. Yet, we keep look for "time-saving" strategies, believing that in the end both time and money will be saved. What we may have really created is a war between the quality of our lives and trying to do more in less time. This is a war we are destined to lose because we can't save time, we can only reapportion it.

Slow Down

The message is clear -- you can't save time. You may reach for the Red Bull or energy drink of your choice in order to get by on less sleep. You may appear more productive, but as you become more sleep deprived will the quality of your work suffer? It is hard to do, but buck the trend and consider slowing down -- just a bit. It might be an unusual New Year's resolution.

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