Spring Clean-up Part 2: Time for pruning - life is short!

David Olsen, Ph.D, LCSW

Spring is slowly arriving in the Northeast! April was a complicated month as we longed for warmth and new life to begin to sprout. As we reflect on this new season blooming around us, we are reminded of the passing of time and how quickly it goes.

Oliver Burkeman, in his book 4000 Weeks - Time Management for Mortals, reminds us that if we have a normal life expectancy, we have approximately 4000 weeks to live. Talk about a sobering reality! It puts life in perspective and reminds us to use time wisely for what is really important. He quotes the Roman philosopher Seneca as saying, “This space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live.”

Part of a spring clean up involves taking some time to ponder the existential reality that life is short. Humans are unique in that we live with the knowledge that at some point we will die. While not a pleasant thought, it can be motivation to consider what’s really important. Life is too short to be “tranquilized by the trivial'' as Kierkagaard reminds us. With this in mind, perhaps an important part of a spring clean up is to prune away that which blocks what is really important and gets in the way of living meaningfully and intentionally. Practically speaking, where do we start?

First, ask yourself what are the things you value most. We are all busy and complain about not having enough time. Yet, perhaps much of our time is wasted because we forget to be clear about what we value most. That type of mindless business leads to what Marilynne Robinson calls living with “Joyless urgency”. A very important exercise is to ask yourself what you value most and what you believe your values are.

Second, ask yourself how much time you spend on that which you say you value most. The late theologian Paul Tilich said, faith is what you are ultimately concerned about. Where we put our time and energy tells us what we actually value. Spend a few moments writing down the things you value most, and then ask how much time is spent on those things, vs things like social media or TV that are most likely not on your value list. (The new data on how much time people waste on social media is horrifying.)

Third, ask yourself if what you say you value, lines up with where you invest your time. After going through that exercise, see if what you say you value is really where you spend your time. Most likely there will be some rude awakenings. This is where “spring pruning" should start. Start to prune away mindless activities to allow for growth. Remember that pruning, while painful, allows for new growth to flourish.