We all do it – waste our time – well, I certainly do! And I have been thinking about how we can do something about it.
Firstly, I want to be clear about this: if we are going to spend our time wisely we need to clarify what is a waste of time. Our culture has become one of doing not being, which means we often call something a waste of time because it wasn’t productive, rather than because it really did waste time.
Wasting time is when you feel like you’ve lost energy rather than gained it, as you finish whatever you were doing. Examples abound in our everyday life: the row with someone that you fell into; the mindless watching of whatever happens to be on the TV; the avoidance procedures which then tighten the deadline you had in the first place; the time spent worrying about something that didn’t actually happen.
However, that walk you took to clear your mind, that time spent talking with a friend, playing with your child – these are not a waste of time, even though they have no obvious ‘product’, because you feel better afterwards, they give you positive energy. So spending your time wisely means gaining energy through the use of your time, and using your inner assessment of your energy levels as your gauge, not some cultural norm of being busy.
This requires that we create our own unique version of spending time that works for us.
- Notice, in the course of your day, what gives you energy and what drains you.
Then you will develop your own sense of how your energy levels are affected by what you do with your time.
- Start noticing the times when you contradict your own measure of positive energy
This is when we know that we feel better for it, but then contradict the positive effect by imposing a cultural norm on it: ‘ I shouldn’t go for a walk before I’ve finished this task’ or ‘ I shouldn’t read a chapter of my book until I’ve done my chores’. The give-away is the ‘shouldn’t’ – it indicates that we are taking on someone else’s definition of wasting time. So change these to: ‘ if I go for a walk first, I will finish this task more effectively’ or ‘ if I read a chapter of my book first, I will be more ready to do the chores’.
- Notice what helps you to spend your time wisely
Maybe you are more effective in the morning than in the afternoon – I know I write best after my second cup of coffee! Maybe you are more productive if you take a break every half hour. Maybe you function better if you allow yourself time to plan your day in the morning or reflect on your day in the evening.
- Allow yourself the non-productive energy givers
Getting lots done but being exhausted by t is not good for you! If you actually analyse it, you will find that it isn’t effective either; it is forced productivity at a high cost. The paradox is that if we allow ourselves that time out that isn’t productive, and spend our time wisely, we often achieve more in the longer–term, without wearing ourselves out. We weren’t designed to be robots, and just mechanically go through our days. We are organic creatures, designed to work rest and play, to ebb and flow. We are also designed to need the emotional ‘food’ of good company, time to stop, enjoying our time, to be at our best. We waste time because we are trying to push ourselves to be something we’re not designed for, and our inner wisdom rebels against that pushing.
We all have an allotted span of time on this earth. And it is irreplaceable – once it’s gone, it’s gone. Let’s not waste it, let’s spend it wisely, and make that time we have worthwhile and full of energy.