When is time wasted?

photo-386Despite a major newspaper calling me a “stone-cold time-maximizing genius,” I must admit that I waste a lot of time.

I’ve been recording my time continuously for about 4 months now and I can see the hours that have drifted past, never to be reclaimed.

Of course, declaring time “wasted” means we need a definition of wasting time, which is trickier than it seems. Open space is not wasted time, particularly if it’s spent relaxing. Some prime time-sucking suspects (watching TV, cruising Facebook) are not necessarily wasted time if the result was real pleasure. Pleasure is a good in its own right. Sometimes even things that look like an obvious waste (driving to Target and wandering around the aisles when all you needed to buy was paper towels, which you could have made do without until the grocery shopping trip you planned to do the next day) have a purpose. You needed some solo downtime; seeing all the glittery things on shelves makes you happy.

One possible definition of wasted time: you don’t enjoy it, and it’s not done in the cause of advancing you toward some larger goal. I can’t say I enjoy listening to my 8- and 5-year-old’s epic descriptions of their Pokemon games, but I want to have a close relationship with them, which involves caring about the things they care about. I didn’t enjoy every phone call and edit involved in creating I Know How She Does It, but I really wanted to write that book, and so even the dead ends weren’t wasted time.

What is?

I can see I need real breaks, but I take fake ones. I spend time reading stuff on social media that I don’t really care about, or looking at the stuff at the top of my inbox to see if anything new’s come in (when I don’t feel like dealing with what’s already there).

I don’t think about how I’d like to spend my evenings, so I wander around the house while the kids are watching TV, sometimes picking stuff up, but then getting distracted by re-reading magazines I’ve already read.

While driving places in the car, I listen to pop music I don’t even like. It would take 2 minutes to stock my car with some great classical music CDs…and yet I don’t do it. And so I keep listening to Fight Song, and Honey I’m Good or whatever those songs are called while I’m sitting in traffic.

I agree to do things that, upon further consideration, aren’t the right direction professionally. This is a tough one, because you never know what will bear fruit. As a freelancer, I’m a hunter gatherer, and so I’m always tempted when someone sends me an email saying (in essence) here’s fresh meat, take it! But that is probably the biggest culprit in wasting time. You can watch a lot of TV in the time spent being “productive” toward ends that don’t matter.

What do you consider wasted time?

Photo: Stopping to smell the roses — not a waste of time

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