Seneca – Time Management


It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much.


“I need more time! I’m always stressed, and I can never find enough time for myself!”

Haven’t all of us had thoughts like these sometimes? In a world of growing complexity which is full of competitive necessities we frequently feel overstrained trying to meet all our requirements. We are suffering from stress, feeling obliged to fulfill comprehensive needs –and thereby forgetting ourselves.

Seneca, the Roman philosopher and natural scientist lived over 2,000 years ago. Is it possible that he had an idea of our time? Did he have a presentiment of the drastic changes the last decades brought about and of the technical means that are of our disposal today?

The essential things

Still, Seneca’s words are just as valid today as they were in his time. We are not able to produce more time, even with all technical tools available. What we can do however, is to obtain clarity – clarity about our values, about what seems most important to us – and to set priorities accordingly. We need a compass showing us the way through this barely penetrable jungle full of challenges, enabling us to change course.

More control?

“Greater efficiency and control“, these were the principles of conventional time management. An even more seamless planning of our available time should help us to use our time more effectively. However, can efficiency and control lead to a meaningful life?

Surely, they can’t. On the one hand, not every detail is controllable: The consequences following our decisions can never be predicted exactly. Solely our decisions can be affected by us. On the other hand, doing things efficiently, i.e. “more in less time” is not always the best way. Isn’t it much more important to do things effectively, i.e. using adequate means and producing the intended results?

Quality of life is surely not a question of velocity.

Which values?

Determining our decisions and actions values like love, security, status, recognition, fame etc. are of highest importance to our lives. If they contradict to reality though, they won’t increase our lives’ quality. On the contrary, we will feel even more rushed, unsuccessful, and futile. It is therefore vitally important to critically scrutinize the social and private values we submit to. How else can we recognize, if the aims we strive for actually meet our own needs or if they had been extraneously imposed on us until we internalized them?

Time – use, don’t lose it

The answers to three questions can contribute significantly to our using time instead of losing it:

Which activity, if I would do it excellently and consequently, will have a considerably positive impact on my private life?

Which activity, if I would do it excellently and consequently, will have a considerably positive impact on my professional life?

And if I know that these activities could be that much effective, why am I not doing them already?

Seneca surely didn’t imagine how life will look like in 2,000 years into his future. He is proven right anyway.


Covey, S. R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R. (1995). First things first. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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