We all have exactly 168 hours in a week. The way we choose to use our 168 hours determines how rich we become in the things that matter, like health, integrity, loving relationships, connection to nature and overall happiness.
At the same time, we all need to relax, and have respite from our responsibilities. I’m a glutton for steaming-hot baths before bedtime, in which I read novels I love and have read many times before (currently Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver — I bet you’d love it, too.)
I think relaxation that renews us is different from timewasting that saps our mental energy and leaves us wondering where our day, week or year has gone. I don’t know for a fact that you should avoid all the ten timewasters I name below. It’s context-sensitive. We know it’s a timewaster when it’s become a distraction or escape from doing the things that give us integrity and make us feel good about ourselves.
1. Celebrity-watching. Has following the news of the Kardashians, or the British royals, or almost anyone else who’s famous, ever helped any of us to live a more worthwhile life? A key problem with celebrity-watching is that their lavish consumption becomes normal in our eyes, when there’s nothing normal about it. And research shows that the layers of income that move people from comfortable to rich do not create more happiness.
2. Spectator sports. I risk at least half the nation booing angrily at me when I suggest that watching sports for many hours per week is not necessarily a great use of time. I know that millions of folks bond happily by rooting for their beloved teams together. It can create unity and shared excitement. But why not find unity and shared excitement, at least sometimes, in being active together, rather than spectating together? Spectating perpetuates Sitting Disease, which my chiropractor calls the new smoking. Getting off the couch and being active vanquishes Sitting Disease.
3. Climate deniers. This is a different, larger-scale twist on time-wasting. Denying that climate change is happening has wasted humanity’s time on the most epoch scale possible. The biggest perpetrators of climate denial are Big Oil and Big Coal, and ExxonMobil leads the pack. For decades these corporations have denied climate change and put their own profits ahead of the entire planet’s health. Science has made abundantly clear that climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels. Most fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens are making great use of their time by working and demonstrating for that path.
4. Shopping as a hobby. We do have to shop and consume in order to live – for things that we need, like groceries. Lots of our shopping in the first world, though, is for wants, not needs. More clothes, shoes or accessories, or more perfect clothes, shoes or accessories (see 10.) can consume hundreds of hours per year. How do we want to choose?
5. Facebook for more than, say, 15 minutes/day. I do think that Facebook can build people’s connectedness. So I’m open to debate on when it tips into time-wasting. Small doses, is my personal mantra here.
6. Fighting the aging process. Some things in life need acceptance, not problem-solving. We’ve all known older people who are comfortable in their own skin and are emotionally available to those around them, and older people who reject their own skin, devote great energy to trying to look young as long as possible, and have little energy left over for others. Which do we want to emulate? Here is my traumatic experience I had last year around aging, and the peace I decided to make with it.
7. Control. This one is tricky, since there are many things we can influence, or partially control. But we cannot ultimately control people, places or things. When we try to, we waste great amounts of time, and we alienate those around us because we’re not respecting their right to make their own choices, or to contribute in their own ways.
8. Grandiose claims by advertisers. “This weird little trick made me lose ten pounds in a week.” “Three-minute workouts with this machine will make you fit for life.” “78% return on investment — get rich without working.” Buying into grandiose claims by advertisers sends us on wild goose chases, even if just within our own minds, for easy fixes that don’t exist. Our lives work better when we’re grounded, not grandiose, in our expectations.
9. Checking email. While doing some email is a necessity, like some shopping, checking it constantly is not. Most emails are not that time-sensitive, and many are trivial, destined for deletion. Better to be fully present to what we are doing and the people we are with, and deal with email intentionally, just at times, rather than all the time.
10. Perfectionism. This is a huge time-sink. Yet we generally don’t even realize we’re being perfectionistic as we pour time into final tweaks that make barely perceptible differences. I have been known, ahem, to do this with my writing. Others do it in pursuit of flawless gardens or immaculately clean houses. Letting go of perfectionism can save us hundreds of hours each year. It’s about seeing that we’ve delivered the goods, and have now reached the point of diminishing returns. I think I’ve reached that point with this post (OK, maybe I passed it an hour ago). Time to hit the publish button, and get ready to bicycle with Thor to Easter services, first at Lincoln Street Methodist, then at First Unitarian.
What do you see as a timewaster in your life?