Seize the hour (not the day)

The Latin expression “Carpe Diem”, often translated into English as seize the day is first attested by the ancient Roman Poet, Horace. The idea behind the expression is that since the future is uncertain, it is best to prepare for every situation by taking action when you can instead of leaving it up to chance. In other words, do what you can now to make the future better.

In contemporary times, the idea has been expressed as a need to make each day count. The internet expression YOLO (You only Live once) humorously captures a similar concept. Being mindful of the present and doing what you can now is a valid productivity concept. However, seizing the day might be a little too much for most people. Taken to extremes, the idea seems to suggest if you are not being productive 24 hours a day, then you are wasting your life. It is impossible for anyone to be productive for an entire day. Resting at the end of each day is very important if you wish to avoid burnout.

Carpe Diem as Horace intended does not mean thinking about being productive every day and overwhelming yourself to the point of paralysis. It is meant to represent being mindful of the tasks that need to be done now so you can achieve your long-term goal. It is expressed practically when you block out an hour each day to work on an important task. It was never meant to emphasise moving from one task to another like a headless chicken (even though motivational speakers may claim otherwise).

If you prefer a more humorous take

In Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, Jedi Master Qui-gon Jinn tells Obi-wan Kenobi “Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.” Seizing the moment does not mean giving in to your fears about everything that can go wrong. Instead, it is about:

  1. Knowing what your goal is.
  2. Making a plan to achieve that goal.
  3. Acknowledging your strengths and limitations.

With these 3 things in mind, you can focus on what you can do right now and accept there are things that should probably not be done by you. Remember, knowing how to cook does not guarantee you have the skills to run a restaurant. Ironically, someone with absolutely no cooking skills might be a successful restaurant owner. Where can you add the most value? In the kitchen whipping up mouth-watering meals for customers or in the office making sure the ingredients the chef requested arrive on time? Seize that.

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