Dear Gefilte: How Do I Actually Make the Most of My Time? – Kveller
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Dear Gefilte: How Do I Actually Make the Most of My Time?

Dear Gefilte, 

I have a very conflicted relationship with time. Mostly, I feel like I don’t have enough of it. I’m always rushing. I’m often slightly late. It makes me moody and stressed, particularly with my kids (who seem to slow down when we are late for something), and I really hate this. And then when I do have some time, I usually waste it online in some stupid way. It’s so messed up!

I think the answer is more mindfulness. It is, isn’t it? Urgh. Do I have to be more, like, conscious? Can’t I just watch cat videos on YouTube? Please help me! 

Yours timelessly,


Dear Busted,

Why the heck are you wasting precious moments writing to a side dish? That probably took you at least 10 minutes, which in cat years is at least a fortnight. (I actually have a theory about why you wrote me, but more on that later.)

OK, if you’re too rushed to read to the end of this letter, here are the highlights:

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1. Measuring time is a modern convention made by humans to protest our inevitable powerlessness.

2. Read the book FLOW” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (and then say his name five times fast with crackers in your mouth).

3. You will only enjoy time when you lose it.

4. Send me the cat video link when you get a chance please?

Here is the fuller version of my thoughts for you. Starting with an assignment:

Busted, get out a pen and paper, because we have some work to do. And believe me, I’m in this with you.

At the top of your page, I want you to write.


This is your mantra for the rest of today. Yes, this is derived/plagiarized from a Dunkin Donuts commercial back in the ‘80s about Fred the Baker, because I think Fred really enjoys dusting his doughy treats and the passage of time. Plus, kreplachs take forever to make. So if there’s time in the world to make kreplachs, there’s time for you to do anything you want.

Say this mantra under your breath, over the intercom, while you’re tying your kid’s shoes, scrubbing up to perform surgery, or hosing down the sidewalk. Whatever you are doing right this second, add these words to your consciousness and let them comfort you.


Keep on saying this while I tell you a few fun facts about telling time.

1. The sundial was the first way wo/man tried to measure time. It’s based on the idea that shadows move from one side of an object to the other as the earth rotates on its axis. This was helpful information so humans could plan things like hunting, farming, and making sure you’re in a cave before the hyenas come out.

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2. In 1761, John Harrison came up with a clock small and accurate enough to help with sea navigation. Before that, lots of sailors died because they needed to know the time to find their longitude, and grandfather clocks didn’t cut it.

3. Just a few years later, Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay called “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light” about how Paris could save money and energy if they got out of bed earlier in the morning. Which is why we have Daylight Saving Time.

Notice any themes here?

We are just making these guesses. Trying to predict and savor the sun. Trying to calculate our best chances of survival. Trying to make each minute count.


Now I have a few questions for you to answer, starting with this: If I could give you an extra hour in your day today, what would you like to do with your free time? Don’t think about being productive. Think about the free part. Make a list. For me, the list would look something like:

-Run through the forest preserve.

– Eat popcorn while listening to podcasts about self-acceptance.

– Walk to the post office to send a package with stickers but also to see that guy who sits outside the frame shop with a cigar and never actually sells frames.

Which brings me to my second question: What are some things that you often do that feel like a waste of time? This list is much easier for me to write.

dear gefilte

-Picking at my face.

– Worrying about other people’s gastrointestinal tracks.

– Looking at the ingredients in “sensitive skin” soaps.

– Hanging pictures on plaster walls.

– Worrying about how filtered water is filtered.

I spend and lose way too much time nursing fear. Especially during that period we’ve named “night.” Somehow the sun visiting other parts of the earth makes me feel naked and shaky. So I have to work every night on finding soothing ways to be here. Popcorn and podcasts. Kreplach recipes. Mantras…

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Here is the hardest and most hopeful question: Busted, when did you last lose track of time?

This is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.” When you immerse yourself fully in the moment. When you don’t feel regret or scratch an itch or look around to see who is faster or furiouser than you. These gifts of flow happen all the time—they’re usually just flashes or maybe a few seconds strung together. They can easily go undetected, but they sustain us. Kind of like green algae.

A wise woman (aka my therapist) advised me to keep a list of these moments. Each night, before I lay me down to sleep, I try to jot down a few moments from my day when I felt like I was in flow. They usually involve running, singing loudly, or a cuddle from one of my gefilte guppies.


So, here is my theory about why you chose to use your time writing to me. It’s just a gefunch (gefilte hunch).

Busted, I think you value honest connection and openness—two beautiful and timeless qualities that I really appreciate. So I hope you cultivate them more and more each day. I hope you find new ways to lose track of time in connecting with other people. Shoot a text to someone you haven’t seen in a while. Hold the door for someone and notice her shirt. Take a picture of a funny sign on the street. You have that extra hour to lose.


And here is a moment of flow I will always treasure, even though it happened over 30 years ago now. My family was on Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts. Mama Gefilte was boiling water for the corn on the cob and I was trying to my wet hair down to touch my butt. Big brother and sister Gefilte were playing cards on the peeling porch. Papa Gefilte announced, “It’s time!”

Mama turned off the stove, Papa grabbed the camera, and we tumbled into the station wagon. Zipping through the sandy streets, we got to the lighthouse in four minutes. There was a crowd of tanned, smiling faces. Cocktail glasses clinking and kids playing tag in between the grown-ups’ legs. Together, we watched the sun melt through all the sherbet-y colors of sunset—orange, peach, lemon, lavender, pink.

And when the last slip of light was gone, everyone started clapping.


With love and schmaltz,


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