The Long Now

The Long Now Foundation, founded by the writer and thinker Stewart Brand and others, aims to challenge the short-term thinking all too often embedded in aspects of our modern life, such as business reporting cycles, electoral terms and even the concept of the financial year !

They argue focusing too much on the short term can be costly – making true sustainability more difficult to achieve.

Many of the world’s larger problems: climate change, poverty, population pressure, habitat loss, environmental pollution etc can often seem huge and potentially unsolvable in the here and now – but if we change our perception of what ‘now’ is, and try to work towards longer term solutions over many decades, or even lifetimes, then addressing even the most difficult problems could be within our grasp.

Overcoming our innate barriers to long term thinking will be an important part of building a better future.

To try and highlight this shift in mindset, the Foundation are undertaking a number of key projects, the most well known being construction of a Clock of the Long Now: a huge mechanical clock embedded within a mountain, designed to last ten thousand years, and that will tick just once per year.


Image from zemlinki, via Flickr

Not Enough Hours in the Day

In 2002 the marketing consultant Bill Geist invented a new phrase: time poverty.

Time poverty is the sense of not having enough available time to do everything you want, of constantly rushing to meet looming deadlines, and being overloaded with things to do, coupled with a general anxiety and guilt because you know you’re always too busy, and aren’t spending enough time with your friends and family, exercising, relaxing or even enjoying yourself.

Sound familiar ?

Do you remember that new technology was meant to make us more efficient and give us all more free time. Instead somehow we’ve shifted our expectations, and the constant ability to do work and endless opportunities and choices available to us have made us strive to do even more, over scheduling our lives as a result. We take work home, we run from one appointment to the next – always late, we try to cram more and more into every moment – multi-tasking ruthlessly. Yet whatever we’re doing, part of our brain always seems to be contemplating whatever it is we’re not doing.

We belong to the most productive and efficient civilization the world has ever seen – but many of us are simply struggling to juggle all the things we feel we should be doing in our lives. It’s easy to find news stories like children being too busy to playvoters too busy to voteChristians too busy to pray, or nurses too busy to nurse.

In the rich world most of us don’t have to face the harsh realities of extreme poverty that exist for many in the poor world – our fundamental material needs of food, clean water and shelter are generally met. Nevertheless our societies struggle to be happy, with poor diets, increasing levels of obesity and diabetes, stress and exhaustion, sleep disorders, guilt, depression, isolation, alcoholism and other addictions – the so called diseases of affluence. In addition our families, our social institutions and our community cohesion is suffering as we simply struggle to find enough time to engage. Even if we find the time, we all too often can’t summon up the energy!

Of course this is a problem entirely of our own making – we’ve chosen to lead such busy lives.

Time is not a resource – we all have the same amount available. We cannot spend it, save it, use it or waste it. To quote Douglas Adams; “time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so”.

Paradoxically the oft quoted solution to the problem of time poverty – becoming more efficient, having more lists, being better organised, using the latest technology more effectively, not only doesn’t work, but actually adds to our sense of time pressure! Completing tasks in as short as time as possible is obviously a worthy objective, but if we tend to simply refill our to do lists with more tasks as a result, we’ve simply maintained or increased the pressure on ourselves.

It’s obviously easier to say it than do it, but to overcome the stresses of time poverty we must simply do less and reclaim more of our time from our ‘to-do’ lists.

One way to start is by making a don’t-do-list – to identify and challenge all the things you’re currently doing, with the aim of de-cluttering your life. Only keep what you’re passionate about – or what is so essential to your life it’s not negotiable (and very few things are).

A few ideas:

  • Delegate or pass-on as much as you can, and then ‘let go’ the responsibility for it,
  • Stop trying to make everything perfect,
  • Stop doing things that used to be a good idea if they no longer are,
  • Stop doing things you are doing only through pride, insecurity, status anxiety, guilt or habit,
  • Stop spending time processing ‘junk inputs’, use filters to remove unwanted emails, post, phone calls, texts and social media messages, don’t watch TV programmes just because they’re on,
  • Stop procrastinating, just focus on completing the task in hand. Actively remove distractions to help increase your concentration (like closing down Facebook, Twitter etc open on your browser),
  • Stop rerunning past events, or pointlessly worrying about things in the future you can’t control.

Once again Zen Habits has some good advice.

For inspiration watch the video on the left – if you just want a laugh watch the one on the right.


RELATED ARTICLES – Time Management Doesn’t Exist

Photo by deflam, via Flickr

No Time to Stand and Stare

If you follow Next Starfish on a regular basis you’ll know that I sometimes try to follow my own advice on working towards a simpler lifestyle and take short breaks from blogging, and with one week left of the school summer holidays, I going to take a week off.

I’m working on several new posts for when I get back, including; Fight Vampires with Owls, The Greenest Car in the World, Going Vegetarian for a Month, The View from My Desk, Risk or Safe ? and Sponsor a Child Today. I’ll also be writing about how things are going in the garden and with the chickens. I’m also really excited to have several great articles by very interesting guest bloggers lined-up !

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, why not go and make the most of the end of the summer ?

I’ll sign-off with the words of the original Supertramp, Welsh poet WH Davies:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Photo by Artnow 314, via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLESThe Sun is Shining, Invincible Summer

Jam Tomorrow ?

How happy are you right now ?

How happy were you last year ?

Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winning psychologist, thinks these are very different questions – that our sense of happiness ‘in the moment’, is something very different from our memory of happiness.

In his fascinating TED talk he argues that what we experience as the present, is only about three seconds long, beyond which almost all the moments we’ve experienced are simply lost forever, with only very few finding their way into our memory.

But these remembered moments disproportionately affect our choices and actions.

Imagine that after your next holiday all your photos were to be destroyed, and your entire memory of the trip were to be erased. You would have no memory of happiness afterwards – only the actual experience of happiness for the duration of the trip. Would you choose the same holiday ?

We use the word happiness is used to mean two very different things: how happy do we feel right now, and how satisfied do we feel about our life overall. Recent efforts to distinguish between these two meanings in surveys, have found something interesting. Our sense of life satisfaction, is significantly affected by our goals, achievements and money. But our sense of happiness in the present moment is largely dominated by spending time with people that we like – our family and friends.

These two desires often seem to be pulling us in different directions. Sometimes swapping more happiness now for less life satisfaction later – such as overeating our favourite foods, and sometimes swapping less happiness now for more life satisfaction later – such as working long hours in jobs we don’t much like to earn more money.

Of course, it’s not that one type of happiness is somehow more worthy or important than the other – living only for the pleasure of the present moment will clearly not bring us any better results than never feeling satisfied and constantly striving for more. Most of us would want to find a balance between them both in our lives.

But I have a sense that for many of us in the West, being happier in the here and now might be very welcome. Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions by general practitioners in much of the Western World and living more in the present may help, as it will tend to connect us more to reality, reduce our stress, improve our concentration and give us more clarity of vision.

Many philosophers and religious teachers have advocated the importance of being present to our mental well-being, suggesting that we shouldn’t think of happiness only as something to be relentlessly pursued or delayed. If we think that we’ll be happy in the future, when we’ve achieved a certain something, or done something, or have something . . . then we’re likely to be disappointed. We have to find happiness in the present moment.

Leo Babauta, the author of Zen Habits, one of the most visited blogs on the internet, puts being present at the top of his list of How to be Happy.

The Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote:

“The unhappy person is one who has his ideal, the content of his life, the fullness of his consciousness the essence of his being, in some manner outside of himself. He is always absent, never present to himself. But it is evident that it is possible to be absent from one’s self either in the past or in the future. This, then, at once circumscribes the entire territory of the unhappy consciousness.”

I imagine it’s just a coincidence that Denmark is often listed as ‘the Happiest Country on Earth’ !

As a father of two, I’ve noticed that children tend to live mostly in the present, with few anxieties about the future or regrets about the past – I think my children have a lot to teach me.

Photo by Snowpea and Bokchoi

Sixty Seconds Worth of Distance Run

Got some spare time ?

“It’s later than you think” – Anonymous Sundial Inscription


Water a plant. Sort out the recycling. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and relax. Remove something harmful from the road. Hug someone who needs it. Get yourself a glass of water. Stretch. Focus your mind on what you’re doing now. Write a note of thanks to somebody. Turn-off any appliances left on standby. Focus on your breathing. Leave someone an anonymous positive post-it note.


Donate free rice online. Post an encouraging comment on the internet. Talk to a homeless person on the street. Leave an anonymous positive note, or voucher in a returned library book. Turn your hot water thermostat down one degree. Learn or tell a joke. Put some coins in someone else’s parking meter. Decide what you want to achieve today. Give someone encouraging feedback. Email an old friend. Sign-up to a 38 Degrees petition. Send a friend or colleague a link to an inspiring or useful website. Put half a brick in your toilet cistern to reduce the water used each flush. Pray, reflect or meditate. Sign-up with the MPS and Royal Mail to avoid junk mail. Promote a cause or campaign using social media. Feed the birds.


Have a mini-purge of your wardrobe or cupboards. Make a micro-loan via Kiva. Send someone a small anonymous gift. Phone a family member or close friend just to say Hi and tell them how much you appreciate them. Watch the clouds drift past. Collect litter from your street. Make a list of things you’re thankful for. Cancel your newspaper subscription and read your news online instead. Read or write a poem.


Read to your child. Update your to-do-list. Clear out your email inbox. Spend some time with your pet. Write to your MP. Introduce some friends to each other. Check your car’s tyre pressures. Listen to an inspirational TED talk or lecture. Write to your local Council about something that needs to be done, or just to say thanks. Prepare a healthy lunchbox for tomorrow. Start a compost heap in your garden. Clean the back of your fridge, as dusty coils use more energy. Sponsor a child in the developing world through Compassion or World Vision. Send someone an unexpected gift. Go for a short walk outside. Donate food to your nearest foodbank.


Take a short nap to refresh yourself. Take a half-hour break from the TV or computer. Play with your children. Do some exercise. Wipe the slate clean and reconcile with someone you’ve fallen-out with. Arrange a car-share with someone. Switch you energy, banking or mortgage to ethical or green providers. Bleed all your radiators and set your thermostats and timer properly. Plant and grow your own flowers to give as gifts, instead of buying imported ones. Get your opinions known – write to a local paper, call a local radio chat show or post on the internet. Clear out your fridge, but keep your freezer nearly full.


Cut your neighbours hedge or mow their lawn. If you’re lucky enough to have paid work to do, do some – many people in the world are not so lucky. Go swimming. Lend someone a book. Write something for publication, or just for yourself. Go shopping for a neighbour. Listen to Randy Pausch give the ‘last lecture of his life’. Take your old mobile phones in for recycling. Teach somebody something – perhaps show an elderly relative how to use email or make video calls. Donate old books and other clutter to a charity shop. Cook a bulk meal for the week or the freezer.


Read a book. Start a blog. Educate yourself on climate change, developing world debt, global food security, or any other complex issue. Look at better insulating your home with draught excluders or curtains. Clear out accumulated junk from your life. Work on your bucket list. Watch a good film or show. Learn to cook something new. Spend time with your partner. Write a letter to your future self. Plan healthier and more frugal meals for next week. Give blood. Attend a public meeting. Gaze at the stars.


Go on a family picnic. Prepare and plant a vegetable garden. Climb a mountain. Bury a time capsule. Install rainwater barrels and storage. Volunteer for something. Go cycling. Fix something that’s broken. Visit your local library. Do something to better organise your home or your surroundings. Discuss working from home more with your boss. Enter the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. Find something to get involved with in your local community. Join a group/organisation/church/society/class/course. Organise a hunger banquet.


Remind yourself that the average Western life expectancy will mean you will enjoy around 4,000 weekends in your life – make them all count! Visit friends. Go on a beekeeping course.  DON’T go shopping. Go camping. Build a pond in your garden. Organise or install loft or cavity wall insulation. Plan your future.


Photo by Ross Elliot