THIS COLUMN WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE…

During those sleepless night stretches, when for most insomniacs everyday worries take on giant proportions right when we can do least about them, Cioran felt himself to be encountering truth, existence in the raw, even the meaning of life. “He ultimately understood his long journeys into the sickly morning light as both crushing him and yet shaping his sensibilities,” observes the Cioran scholar Gordon Marino. “What rich or strange idea,” Cioran asks, “was ever the work of a sleeper?” In those weird hours, out of sync with the rest of the world, his singular creativity flourished. The experience wasn’t much fun, but it was real.

Perhaps that’s extreme: almost nobody these days is best advised to get less sleep. But at least Cioran reminds us that special atmospheres attach to those parts of the 24-hour cycle decoupled from the world’s routine. Getting up at 4am can feel magical, if it’s voluntary; medieval peasants often slept in two phases, “first sleep” and “second sleep”, with a much-valued period of peaceful half-wakefulness between. Being awake at night has its upsides, though if you truly come to believe that, you’ll probably find you can’t do it.

The Law of Triviality also calls to mind the caustic comment, usually attributed to Henry Kissinger, that “academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small”, which is surely a fair take on most office politics, too. I fear that something related is also what’s transpiring whenever I get that delusional feeling of achievement from having powered through multiple unimportant items on my to-do list, leaving untouched the few tasks that really matter. Taken together, Parkinson’s two laws amount to a wry but certainly not trivial warning: the work we do expands to fill the time available—and, half the time, it’s not even the most important work.

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