There was time to kill in Rome, just as there is today. A dinner started late. A meeting got cancelled. Travel delays meant being stuck in this place or that place for a couple days. Something would break and someone would need to go into town for supplies. The impulse then, as now, when faced with these kinds of situations, was to just wait. Or complain. Or mess around.
We all do it, writing stuff off as dead time, as we’ve talked about before. It’s a rather presumptuous thing to do, though, if you think about it. We kill time as time is literally killing us. Who says you’ll get more moments? Can you really afford to let any be wasted?
Cato the Elder was built of that sturdy, original Roman stock. He didn’t put up with laziness or poor productivity. He didn’t tolerate it from his workers or his family or himself. As he wrote in On Agriculture, there is no excuse for just sitting around. “In rainy weather,” Cato advised, “try to find something to do indoors. Clean up, rather than be idle. Remember that even though work stops, expenses run on nonetheless.”
We can always find something to do, even when our original intention or plan is thwarted (that’s what the obstacle is the way means). We can read. We can think. We can clean up and prepare. We can squeeze in a few minutes of work while we sit in the waiting room. We can turn a rainy day into a family day.
There is always something to do. You can’t afford for there not to be.
P.S. This was originally sent on March 11, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.