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Issue #42

But Where Did the Time Go?

John Loeppky

March 22, 2024

An hourglass sits on a newspaper. There is red sand inside, with it filtering down slowly.
Red has never been my colour/Nile from Pixabay

Live Time Versus Dead Time

Thinking of time as binary is not new. Most productivity advice, if we had to throw it all in a pot and boil it down into a stew or a sauce—can you tell I haven’t had my breakfast yet—can be distilled to our relationship with time. I’ve talked about crip time before, the concept that disabled people have a fundamentally different relationship to the idea of time, but yesterday I saw a video that gave me another way to tackle the topic.

The video was a YouTube short where Ryan Holiday is talking about his mentor, Robert Greene. Don’t worry, you don’t have to care about either of their books to read on. Holiday was discussing the idea of dead time versus alive time. Here’s what Holiday said, minus a couple of filler words.

“Dead time is like you’re in the car and you have an hour to kill. Alive time is like, ‘I have an hour, how am I going to use this hour?’”

And, because there’s a disability connection to anything and everything, this roots us squarely back to wheelchair basketball. And you thought I could go a whole week of this newsletter without referencing para-sport.

When you’re on the court, you can stop another player’s momentum and stop them from moving forward. This includes between the whistles. Coaches call that dead time. If someone is calling out dead time, it means they want you to become or stay engaged with the task at hand: stopping someone from putting a funny orange ball in a round hoop. Most games, at an elite level, are won during dead time. Most athletes, past a certain stage in their development, can stay focused when the ball is in play. It takes a very specific type of training, however, to understand the game within the game.

But here’s the secret of dead time in wheelchair basketball. A game is only forty minutes long, split into four quarters. There are time outs, there are breaks because the ball went out of bounds, or because someone fouled another player, or because somebody hit the ground so hard they have to be taken to the hospital (though I only saw that once). The point is, using your dead time effectively is only useful if you’re doing so in sensible bursts. With mainstream productivity advice, the inference is that, if you’re going to use your dead time, you’re going to use it all the time. Everything is going to be alive time because YOU’RE SO ALIVE.

But that’s not how non-disabled bodies and minds work, let alone disabled ones. You need the fallow periods, you need the breaks, even if, intellectually you understand yourself as using that time effectively. There is no version of using your dead time effectively that can be infinite. You are not a machine. What you can do is explore what usable dead time you have.

For example, I have a bunch of meetings today and they are set up sporadically throughout the day. Early on in my working life, I would have let those 15 minutes between meetings go automatically. Today, I’ll probably take a couple to rest or recuperate and a couple to get some administrative tasks out of the way. It’s not that all of the dead time will be used, it’s that it will be considered.

So, here’s today’s question: What periods of dead time do you have in your life and how can you begin to consider (key word: begin) how your relationship to them can shift?

Until Monday!


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