Time Management and the Slacker Ethos

How not to do it.

(Nick’s Notes: This article was inspired by this talk by Laura Vanderkam)

I struggle a lot with managing my time and figuring out what’s a priority on my to-do list and what isn’t. When I’m in work as much as I dislike it, it does give a certain rigid structure to my day. I can just depend on work to form most of my day without it over to my own mind. I’m not saying this is a good thing but I can also understand how this lack of responsibility can be easier to some folks compared to the alternative.

Living in your mind can be a stressful process and its’ often difficult to figure out what you “really” want and what is just going to be good while it’s happening. Today I watched a bunch of Youtube videos that were funny and entertaining but in the long-run don’t give me much substance to my life. On the other hand, writing this article may seem hard and not as fun at first but once I finish it I’m likely to take a lot more meaning from it.

So there’s activities I really want to do because of short-term pleasure (eating chocolate, watching funny videos, surfing the web, etc.) and long-term pleasures (reading a book, writing an article, going to a poetry slam and performing). Both of these pleasures are good things in their own right. I’m not going to claim one is always inherently better than the other because sometimes you need a day made up of short-term pleasures to remind yourself you can still feel pleasure.

Part of my perspective here is coming from the fact that I have depression and anxiety as well as other mood disorders that sporadically conflict with what I want or tell myself I want. This especially happens if I stay in bed and under my covers (as I have for most of the day) because my depression will insidiously tell me to just stay there and keep trying to fight it by engaging in short-term pleasures. But deep down I know I’ll need more, in the long-run, to be happier.

So that’s where things like this article come from. That’s part of why I keep writing, so I can take some stock in my day and say that I accomplished some things I not only really wanted to do but was really helpful to me. Watching some Youtube videos that I really wanted to see is like the sprinkling on a great ice cream. They’re great when you’ve got the ice cream under it but otherwise it’s hardly a filling or satisfying meal.

But again, that’s not to say there’s nothing to those sorts of pleasures. I think being a slacker (or trying to be one) is a constant struggle of throwing up a barrier between “too much” and “just right” for your own person. The slacker will tend to navigate towards the “just right” even if it’s perceived as “lazy” by society. Maybe laying in bed a good part of your day, watching Netflix, is pretty lazy. But if the context is that you’re depressed or just need to wind down from the past few days, then your decision makes a lot of sense.

Looked at it like that, the slacker ethos can often be a form of survival. It’s a way for us to cope with a lifestyle of being busy all of the time and involved with things that we may not want to be a part of. That doesn’t mean always engaging in short-term pleasures and never writing that book you’ve always wanted to write but knowing when to stop and take a breath.

Ryan Calhoun’s ideas on what it means to be a slacker seems pertinent here:

The slacker enjoys the slack of the rope, of letting loose. People implore the slacker that if he lets loose of his ropes, she is sure to fall. But the slacker knows her limitations, her desires, her pace, when to move and when to sit.

Most importantly she knows that people at the ends of their own rope end up hanged by them.

Let loose of your rope. Stop your mad dash to the achievement of the American Dream or God’s plan. The only dream worth having is your own, the only plan worth having is one which accords with your own spontaneous nature. Do not be pulled around by the demands of rope holders, whether they be human or “natural”, moral or practical.

The slacker is the ultimate individualist and the best kind of individual. The person who knows what they want, how they want it and in what quantity, quality and takes the appropriate steps to get there. They do this by being spontaneous, self-directed and acting as freely from external constraints as possible. This ideal is never achievable (as is the case for any ideal) but it’s one for us to aspire to. Our days would be filled with much more meaning, if we slacked a lot more.

And slacking can look like many different things. Taking it easy can look like a relaxing walk, deciding to go hang out with friends, playing a game, productive procrastination or any number of things that keep you in control of your life.

This means there are many different ways to be a slacker. You don’t have to do drugs, lay on a hammock and tell everyone the mysteries of the universe like some sort of forgotten sage. You can also be someone who just enjoys knowing when “enough is enough” and how to make time for yourself. Whatever that means is up to you.

Making time for yourself is the ultimate form of time management. Knowing when to put time into yourself instead of time into external projects can be a great way to re-align yourself with the day. Today I had to do self-care in the form of Youtube, taking it easy, giving myself some time to wake up and other things that weren’t explicitly on my to-do list.

And even though I can no longer make time for practicing bass guitar today, I’ll still have some time for that tomorrow. And in fact I may even have an easier time now that I took care of myself first today instead of the projects I felt like I “had” to do. Giving myself the space to move music theory and bass practice to another day reminds myself that I can prioritize my life and figure out what works best for me. It also reminds me that it isn’t the end of the world if that means moving things over by another day if I have to.

While it doesn’t feel amazing to miss out on some items from my to-do list, it also doesn’t feel amazing to stress myself out when it comes to time. It doesn’t help my mental health to stress myself out about something that I have some time to do as opposed to things that had a bigger time-constraint on (reading, writing, meditating, etc.).

I’ve maintained (and I’ll continue to) that the slacker ethos is a great way to get things done. It’s also a great way to self-manage your own day. And who knows, if people keep living their lives like this, perhaps one day we could self-manage ourselves out of jobs, work and the corrupt society around us.

It may take some work to build a new one, but hey, what are slackers for?

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