The letter opens with Thay describing a visit from his friend Allen and Allen’s seven-year-old son Joey. Thay asks Allen how family life compares to bachelor life, and Allen says that in the past, he saw his time as subdivided into units: once he took away all the units he had reserved for Joey, for his newborn Ana, for his wife Sue, for his household work, what was left over was “me” time, time for reading, writing, researching, going on walks.
But Allen then says that he’s stopped breaking his time into units like this. Now he considers all his time as “me” time. He looks, for instance, for ways to turn helping Joey with his homework as his own time. “The remarkable thing,” Allen says, “is that now I have unlimited time for myself!”
A mindset of abundance. What would it be like if we approached those same things that sometimes feel to be so scarce and precious—time, attention, recognition, love, respect—from this place of infinity? What if we looked for that abundance everywhere? How do we remind ourselves of it constantly?
This resonates loudly with my own lifestyle – living alone in Seattle for the first time ever, I’ve found myself more productive than ever before. Right now, I’ve got a massive whiteboard where I plot weekly tasks by filling them in as a grid, part of which is shown below:
This grid is the first thing that greets me whenever I walk into my apartment. The rules are simple: you do the thing, you fill in the box for the week. You skip a week, you start over with an empty row. You can notice a few things:
I am absolutely awful at crafts and could not draw a straight line to save my life.
I track everything that I want to become a habit. Here, I’ve got three Coursera classes that I’m taking, as well as ‘write’ (or, more specifically, publish two blog posts every week), ‘read’ (a book a week; currently halfway through Alexis Ohanian’s Without Their Permission), and ‘New recipe’ (I am slowly learning how to cook things that are do not have ‘eggs’ or ‘peanut butter’ as the primary ingredient.)
I’ve found a granularity – do it in a week! – that gives me an ideal balance of flexibility and reinforcement. Even though I’ve only done this for around a month, I love the feeling of getting to fill in a square: similar to Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity advice, seeing my output expand over time is a strangely visceral reward, but without the crushing constraints of heading home after a long day of work and knowing I have to watch a bunch of lectures or else I disappoint myself.
My girlfriend has much, much better handwriting than I do.
But, just like Allen from the above excerpt, I can already feel myself creep into a bunch of tiny gridded boxes: from eight to nine is exercise (or, on dreary Tuesday mornings, 30 Rock reruns), from nine to five is work, from five until bed is some nebulous combination of relaxation and self-improvement. I know I’ve got a brain that abhors boredom, but I worry about burrowing down a rabbithole of self-improvement for self-improvement’s sake.
For now, though, I don’t mind. Every day I wake up with a universe of possibility at my fingertips; I’m getting better at telling the difference between spending time and treasuring it, and I get to cram my days with things that make me happy, that make me learn new things.
Speaking of new things – it’s somehow taken me twenty one years to discover huevos rancheros, and I need to knock out a new recipe for this week.