A financial planner gives financial advice. Ultimately, it’s your money to spend, but they’re there to weigh in if you’d like. That said, consider me a financial planner, but for your time. Your time is yours to use as you wish. However, if you’re asking my opinion – which you are by reading this article – I’m happy to share what I know.
You don’t need my help. I am an up-and-extra. However, I do spend more time considering time than the average individual. I literally write about it for a living.
Yet many people – rather, most people – are indifferent towards their time. They move through one day after the next, unquestioning, content in their disregard. Those people don’t want to make a change. They don’t see the problem with their time in the same way an ignorant investor doesn’t see the problem with their money. And that’s fine. Again, it’s theirs to spend. Both in terms of finance and chronology. But seeing as you’re open to the idea, here are four common ways I see people squandering their time.
What is the alternative?
Saying social media is bad has become a cliche. So I won’t say that. What I will say is that I’m not on social media. No TikTok, Facebook, or the like. It doesn’t add fulfillment to my life and thus I abstain from it. I mentioned this to someone recently. Their response wasn’t what I was expecting. They weren’t surprised, curious, or even envious. Instead, they simply mused that they weren’t sure how they’d fill their time without social media in their life.
Of all the bad reasons to do something, being on social media because you don’t want to come up with a better alternative is high on the list. I am guilty of filling my time with fluff as I’m sure you are as well. It’s not always easy to be aware of. But there is no excuse when you are aware of what you’re doing. If you spend three hours a day on social media so as to run out the clock with work, consider if you’re at the right job. If you sit on social media so as to avoid talking to your roommate, consider if you’re living with the right person.
Fill your time with activities and people that add meaning to your life. If that includes social media, great. But if it doesn’t, don’t keep doing it just because you aren’t sure what a better alternative is. You owe it to yourself to figure that out.
Quitters never win
A woman speaks with her younger brother. The brother, a newly graduated adult, is about to embark on his career and has turned to his sister for advice. She tells him the following: it doesn’t matter what you do. Just pick something. Anything. And never quit. Show up each day, work hard, and you’ll rise through the ranks. After all, that’s what she did.
The brother nods and goes on his way. He forgets to ask one very important question though: are you fulfilled by what you do? If he had, he would have seen his sister’s face grimace and contort into a mocking smile. Fulfillment? Is that a joke? That would have been all the answer the little brother would’ve needed.
In an instant, he would have recognized that her advice was wrong.
You see this all the time. Someone shows up to work each day with a scowl. They clearly don’t like their job but never seek out a replacement. Or if they do, they look for the exact same type of job. They never dare to explore something outside their realm of comfort. And at eight hours a day, five days a week, for 40 years, doing something that doesn’t fulfill you is a great way to waste your time.
If you’re not doing something that adds fulfillment to your life, consider making a change. You don’t have to do anything drastic. Read books that call out to you, take courses that seem interesting, talk to friends that do something cool, maybe even apply for a few jobs. The only thing you need to commit to in this moment is a better future for yourself.
Drink the water, damn it!
A friend recently complained of hip pain. Most nights, he explained, he would toss and turn. His hip throbbing all the while. I felt sad for him and began looking up stretches he could do. But then I stopped. I had a feeling it would be a waste. I asked him what he was going to do to solve the problem. He said it wasn’t a big deal. That he would just let it be for now.
This story reminds me of one mentioned in the book 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson. In it, he cites that when people are prescribed medication, one-third of them won’t fill it. Of the remaining individuals, half of them will fill it but won’t take it correctly – either stopping early or missing days. He goes on to explain his theory for why that is. It’s outside the scope of this article though.
Instead, I want to call to mind the saying: You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
I could have spent hours researching for my friend, but I knew better. He didn’t want to solve his problem. He only wanted to complain about it. I could have led him right to the water but I knew that even if I had, he would have stuck up his snout with dismissal. One easy way to waste your time is to complain about your problems rather than solving them. Instead, see each problem as awaiting your solution. All it takes is a little effort – or in my friend’s case, a stretch or two – and the fulfillment you experience in life can be vastly improved.
It’s 7:30 PM on a Friday night. Your phone rings. Ugh… you sigh to yourself. It’s a customer calling you. Don’t they have anything better to do? you wonder. Apparently not because as soon as they reach your voicemail, they call right back. Your stomach knots. You feel anxious. Torn between enjoying the evening with your spouse or irritating a customer, you choose the customer. 20 minutes later you’re back on the couch and resume the movie with your partner.
That is, until the phone rings. It’s the customer again. And now you’re really stuck. You’d rather not answer, but you literally just got off the phone with her. She knows you’re available. You accept the call. 35 minutes later you return to the couch. The TV is off and your spouse is asleep. Date night is over.
Some professions require a great deal of communication with others. Some employers make you feel guilty for not answering the phone. I get it. That said, I operate from the perspective that you need to train others how you want to be treated. If you don’t want people to call you after six, don’t answer your phone after six. If you don’t want people hounding you over the weekend, don’t reply to email over the weekend. But let’s say you do. You answer that call, you reply to that email. That’s not a problem in and of itself. The problem depends on how you feel.
If you are fulfilled by the work and thus those calls are an extension of that, by all means, go for it. However, if what you’re feeling isn’t fulfillment but rather stress and anxiety, consider making a change.
Moving forward with less waste
When my wife and I first moved into our home, all I could see were the gaps that needed decoration. Something on this wall, something in that corner, etc. With time, I found it harder and harder to spot those gaps though. I had gone design blind. Now it’s not so clear as to what could use some updating. You’ve likely experienced this not with your home, but with your nose. As your nose adjusts to smells, it starts to tune them out.
If you can go blind to scent and decor, you can just as well go blind to your time. Maybe you weren’t aware of your time-wasting tendencies, maybe you were but chose not to do anything about them. Regardless, you are now awake and have a limited window before you tune out the issues once again. Don’t let that happen. Instead:
- Fill your time with fulfillment instead of fluff.
- Commit to purpose rather than to commitment itself.
- Actively solve your problems.
- Choose off-hour communications based on meaning, not anxiety.