Wasting Time?

If you are reading this, you are probably guilty of wasting time as there are likely hundreds of more important things you could and probably should be doing instead. But since you are here…

Wasting time is a rather subjective matter. While there are many things that we all would consider time wasters (e.g., reading junk emails from those wanting to send us their millions if only we would send them our bank acct. number) we may just as likely disagree whether or not other activities are a waste of time. For example, am I wasting time if I play video games? If I play them with my kids? Am I wasting time reading up on the daily news? making comments on FB friends’ sites? Following my favorite political blogs? Looking for just the right picture to go on my PowerPoint slides for a class? Watching a Monk episode?

How do you determine what is a waste of your precious time and what is useful? What criteria do you use? Here’s what I notice: I set an agenda most days and rarely complete even 1/2 of it. When the day is over, I routinely surmise I must have wasted time. I talked to staff, got coffee 3 times from the pot upstairs (this is NOT a waste of time as I ran up the stairs and used the stimulant to focus my train of thought), answered numerous emails, sent snail mail, edited the two blogs I moderate, got beat in a ping pong match against a student, deleted spam, worked on a chapter I’m writing, read from a new journal I received, returned calls, etc. But, I didn’t accomplish all I had on my list, so…

Notice that we often judge ourselves improperly. There are times when we should recognize time wasters and other times where we don’t do such a good job ascertaining what we really can accomplish. So, which are you? Do you overestimate what you should be able to do and therefore feel guilty for not being a superhero? Or do you tend to make excuses?

Now, get back to work, as I’ve just wasted 3 minutes of your precious work time.


Filed under Cultural Anthropology, Psychology

9 responses to “Wasting Time?

  1. ha ha but I don’t want to go back to work! 🙂

  2. I’m unemployed at the moment. And I find a curious thing has happened – I feel more pressure to use every minute of my day constructively than I did when I had a job. Part of that simply comes from the realization if I don’t find a job I’m in big trouble (financially). But part of it comes from the fact that I now get to decide exactly what I want to do with my time – no more meaningless tasks just to appease the boss.

    Since everything now is interesting to me, its that much more difficult to prioritize.

  3. karenestelle

    The whole idea of not getting your list done and wondering what you did all day is really bad when you have a newborn baby (or two at once plus a toddler). You look at the house and your list at the end of the day and you feel like you’ve worked your tail off, yet have “nothing” to show for it. I recently watched a Rob Bell video about focusing our lives so that everything we do has purpose. I suppose you could do all the same things you normally do, but if you felt like they were driving you toward your purpose, you wouldn’t feel like you were “wasting time”. So then internet surfing becomes “doing research to better understand my culture” and playing ping pong becomes “building relationships” and “taking care of my health”. Ahh justification. It’s a wonderful thing.

  4. Carmella

    I appreciate this post, as some things that are “time wasters” I value (such as reading this blog). My husband often teases me for 1. overestimating the amount of things I can do in a certain period of time, and 2. feeling frustrated when I rediscover that I am not actually a superhero. I often dismiss the idea because I internalize the guilt component of perfectionism.

  5. Jess

    Perhaps it depends what we mean by “wasting time.” If you watch an episode of Monk and find it enjoyable and refreshing, is that a waste of time? I don’t even know what “Monk” is, but I’m inclined to think that that’s appropriate.

    Some of this may be cultural. Americans tend to think that every waking moment should be “productive” — again, whatever that means. Apparently in Greece, as an example, people sit and eat and drink and talk for six hours straight and think nothing of it. Americans would likely feel internal pressure to “get moving.”

    Interesting questions and post! I’ll definitely be thinking more about it… For now, I’ll get back to work. 😉

  6. Jess

    Well, in that case, watching Monk is CLEARLY professional development. After all, you need to know about OCD, right? (If you didn’t already have your own justification formulated, feel free to borrow my logic!)

  7. I heard a very thought-provoking interview on Speaking of Faith about the neurological benefits of play/leisure: http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/inpraiseofplay/reflections.shtml

    Since then, I look at 5 minutes of playing Scrabble or reading status updates on Facebook a little differently … but I do wish I could get more done on my daily to-do list, too, alas.

  8. Bonnie

    Thanks for this post. Its casualness really diverted me from the gravity of my worries. I was worrying about my career and was afraid that I might be wasting time (hence, googling the latter).

    karenestelle was right in saying, “but if you felt like they were driving you toward your purpose, you wouldn’t feel like you were ‘wasting time.’” Ultimately, our true purpose is to return to God, not to meet the age-defined “deadlines” prescribed by culture.

    Thanks again.

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