I have been accused, more than once, of arguing that people should pack something into every minute of the day. I fully own up to believing that most people can pack more into their lives than they think, or than they do. In 168 hours, there is certainly space for a full-time job, gobs of family time, exercise, sleep, and Homeland marathons. I also see a tendency to claim we have “no time” when we waste drips and drops of it. Yes, the person who reviewed 168 Hours for the Wall Street Journal years ago made fun of the idea of doing plank poses while waiting for food to heat up in the microwave but you know what? Lots of people wish they had stronger abs, and lots of people nuke a snack for 90 seconds at some point in their lives. These things can come together in a glorious combination.
But as I’ve been thinking about the concept of “slack” (in Crystal Paine’s forthcoming book, Say Goodbye to Survival Mode, she talks about “margin time” — 2 hours in each day not accounted for) I’ve realized that one of the reasons to plan your time well, and be ruthless about prioritizing, is that it allows you to be inefficient when you want.
There’s a parallel to money. In the realm of personal finance, for instance, many people become obsessed with small expenditures: the proverbial lattes, lunch from the deli. I think it’s better to sweat the big stuff. As long as you’re in the financial position where the houses you are weighing are in decent school districts and none of the cars you’re choosing from will blow up while you’re commuting, then better to spend toward the lower ends of these categories. You keep your major expenses low and you have lots of free cash to spend inefficiently as you wish.
It’s the same with time. If you’re not satisfied with how you’re spending your time at work (or at home), then the free hours you control become quite precious. I have seen people who are unhappy in their jobs sleep too little because they crave fun time. You stay up late to get it, because if you went to sleep on time then “work would just get more of me.” (Seriously!) Parents at home with small children sometimes become militant about naptimes and bedtimes precisely because this time off is so dear.
But what if we made this off time not quite so precious?
We can be millionaires and billionaires in money, but none of us truly has this option with time. We all have 168 hours a week, and all the money in the world can’t buy you a second more. However, if you’re spending the big ticket items of time in the way you want, then you can waste time sometimes just because you want to waste it.
I was thinking of this last night when I’d hired a babysitter for the evening. I went to the library for a bit and worked on the novel. Then I drove all the way over to the Y (15 minutes) and changed clothes there in the locker room just to run 2 miles. If I’d run 2 miles during the day while working at home, I could have made the whole enterprise (changing, running) take less than 30 minutes. As it was, I probably spent an hour or more of transition time to get 21 minutes of running.
But it was all good. I wanted to see the evening scene at the Y. It’s been a while since I’ve worked out at a gym in the evening. I drove over to my favorite sushi spot. I did not call ahead to order and get take-out. I went to the restaurant, ordered off the menu and ate it there. I didn’t even read anything redeeming while sitting at my booth. I just screwed around with my inbox.
Sometimes it is fun to be gloriously inefficient. When you generally like how you’re spending your time, you can feel like you have all the time in the world.
What do you like to do inefficiently? What have you done recently that took a lot of time — but you didn’t care?