I have an exercise for you. This will take about 5-10 minutes. When you’re ready, take a piece of paper and create a 2-column table like the one below. On the left mark, 2-hour of chunks of time.
Your exercise is to fill in activities you did during those times on a weekday this past week. If you’re like me and can’t remember what you did 2 hours earlier today, then best to do this exercise first thing on a mid-week morning for the previous day.
|12 am – 2 am
|2 am – 4am
|4 am – 6 am
|6 am – 8 am
|8 am – 10 am
|10 am – 12pm
|12 pm – 2pm
|2pm – 4 pm
|4pm – 6 pm
|6pm – 8 pm
|8pm – 10pm
|10pm – 12am
When the list is done, review it. Likely (hopefully?) you’ll have about 18-20 hours easily accounted for with just regular tasks such as sleeping, eating, grooming, working, family obligations, exercising, commuting. What are you doing the other 4 hours of your time? How much clarity do you have of those times?
For instance, if you listed “watched TV” for 45 minutes, which of these statements below more closely resemble what your “watched TV” looked like?
- You turned on the TV, went straight to your show, watched it non stop for 45 minutes and turned it off
- Turned on TV, channel surfed for 10 minutes, found something you liked, watched it for a bit, started to look up IMDB on your phone, spent 10 minutes, decided you wanted something else and surfed some more and before you knew it, it was 9:15 and you needed to get up to put the trash out.
Here are the facts. 20 out of 24 hours (a whopping 83% of your day) is spent doing things that ‘need’ to be done, not necessarily what you ‘want’ to do. What you get is the 4-hour block, if you’re lucky, to spend on something enjoyable.
Imagine driving to a gas station close to home and filling up your tank to the brim. If you find the gas gauge showing just ¾ full by the time you get home, you intuitively know there are leaks. Any gas that has gone towards powering your drive back home, or the A/C or radio is gas well spent. The rest of the missing gas is due to wasted leaks. We are trying to identify the leaks here.
Would you rather waste your 4-hour ‘free’ time block in listless activities that don’t really give you joy (b), or make it count (a)? From the perspective of getting the most bang for your buck, I’m guessing you choose (a). Me too. And I call this ‘Intentional timewasting’. It is a fun thing to do.
I’m not here to argue over whether watching 45 minutes of your favorite TV show is actually wasted time. You are the judge of that. All I’m saying is any leisure activity you choose to pursue, regardless of how mundane (scrolling through a FB or Insta feed), is going to fill you with so much more joy when done with intention.
All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl. So, yes, we absolutely deserve the time to do nothing. We’ve earned the right to do nothing for 4 hours a day, because we’re constantly doing “something” the other 20 hours. But let’s try to not ruin our ‘do nothing’ time with mindless junk. We all need time off from the hamster wheel of life to just be. Engaging in mental clutter isn’t very gratifying.
So how do we go about doing this? By cultivating and establishing a great practice of mindfulness. Okay – got ya, didn’t I? Before you stop reading on the assumption that it’s all going to be mumbo jumbo from here on, let me say this. Yes, it would be great if we had monk-like focus reserves that we can call upon when we’re absolutely tired. However, I doubt any monks are actually reading this. So, for us simple sentient beings, I say this. True mindfulness is wonderful but takes a lot of practice to achieve and is easier said than done. The next best thing, in this case, is to foster a system around you that will limit, if not prevent unintentional timewasting.
If you already know how you poorly waste time, then sit tight while the rest of us try to figure out. We’ll discuss how to fix the problem later. Right now, our focus is identifying the issue.
A lot of us, ordinary and common folk, haven’t a clue on where our metaphorical gas leaks are. All we know is that we are supremely busy. All. The. Time. The first step then is to find out what your timewasting kryptonite is. In this digital age, I bet, for a lot of us, it’s going to be a screen of some sort either a phone with social media, Twitter and News feeds. Or, personally for me, sometimes the TV with its vast array of streaming services gets me into a rabbit hole. My husband likes to say that my favorite show on TV is finding out which show to watch.
Other than implanting a recording device within you, the only other way to track your timewasting habits is for you to voluntarily (and honestly) log a time journal in which you record every half hour of your waking time over a regular (what’s regular for you) week. Okay, if not a week, at least a 4-day window. I know it can be painful, but I bet you, the results can be lifechanging. You’ll find all sorts of hidden time windows you didn’t even know you had.
I’m going to stop right here to clarify the concept again. I’m not asking you to be productive a 100% of the time. Nope. That would make you a robot, not a human. All I’m saying is when it’s time to lounge, we should lounge well, guilt-free. Remember, anything worth doing is worth doing well including wasting time.
From experience, I can tell you this. As a type A control freak, wasted time is bad enough. Now wasting time poorly, in an unfulfilling way, is quite unforgivable.
After you have 4-7 days of your life documented, review the data. For the purpose of this exercise, we can ignore the categories of ‘need to do’ or ‘want to do’. Needed activities are what you should do for sustenance such as laundry, work, cook, clean etc. Wants are what you desire to do with your time – read, play with kids etc*. Cross off all needed/want activities from the list. Highlight all the leftover activities. If you’re the overly self-aware type, you probably don’t have much highlighted. You’re free to spend your time mocking the rest of us while we continue the exercise below.
Ask yourself this one question for each highlighted activity. ‘Did the activity make me happy or relaxed’? Take your time and be honest. Three answers are possible:
- Can’t remember
We welcome the ‘Yes’ activities. Feel free to cross those out as well or add them to your ‘want to do’ list so they don’t even show up here.
The ‘Can’t remember’ ones are likely those after which you felt a sense of blah instead of satisfaction. These and the ‘No’ activities are our timewasting culprits.
Cue Applause. What you have done so far, to continue our car gas leak analogy from before, is identify how much gas is leaking and a diagnosis of what’s causing the leak. We’ll discuss fixing these leaks in Part 2.
At this moment, though, give yourself a huge pat on your back and pick something from your ‘want’ list as a reward. You deserve it. You are now in esteemed company of not just knowing what matters to you in life but also have data on what your Achilles heel is/are. I bet you, you are now in rarefied company on this planet.
To be continued in Part 2…