What is a Waste of Time?

I was digging through some boxes of old stuff, and I noticed something fascinating… Something that provoked a question about life that I’ve never asked before.

I stumbled upon my old report cards. After each subject was a space for a short comment. Every report card from 2nd thru 12th grade had two words describing my performance – WASTES TIME.

So I guess my teachers thought I wasted a lot of time. Looking back I suppose they were right – for me school was a waste of time.

But then I thought… Maybe I’m wrong… Maybe they were wrong too… I’ve never thought it through… I’ve never asked myself the question…

What exactly is a waste of time?

I’ve heard people say video games are a waste of time. I disagree. Video games can be the best of times.

A woman told me that she didn’t want to go to the lake with her boyfriend anymore because it was a waste of time. All he did was sit at the end of the dock with his cousin lighting bottle rockets and drinking beer. It sounds fun to me. I could spend a weekend that way.

As long as I can remember, I’ve always thought sleeping was a waste of time – a third of your life doing nothing.

My mother told me, that when I was a kid, I thought eating was a waste of time.

My two-year-old thinks going potty is a waste of time.

Some people say working hard and losing is a waste of time. Funny, I’ve learned more losing than I’ve ever learned winning.

The establishment said voting for Jesse Ventura was a waste of time because he couldn’t win. In retrospect, maybe it was a waste of time because he did win. But there is a lot to learn from his wasted time in office.

The hyper-scheduled nature of today’s world seems like a waste of time to me. I avoid scheduling my life as much as possible. When my calendar is full it seems like I have no time.

For the last month I have been trying to schedule two hours of unstructured play for my son and his best friend from school and we still haven’t found a time that works. The realization that we can’t find two hours for our 5-year-olds to play together without scheduling it several months in advance saddens me.

Which got me thinking… maybe all the time we spend trying to get everything done is the real waste of time, unless what we really enjoy is getting things done.

Do you ever stop and think… Why am I doing all this stuff?

Do you ever feel like your sole purpose in life is crossing things off lists and maintaining your calendar?

Maybe if you aren’t enjoying yourself, all your time is wasted. All that time we spend bored, frightened, angry, in a hurry, or unhappy, isn’t that the real waste of time?

For me, the time I value, is the time I have free after everything is done. The time I can spend reading, writing, playing games, walking in the woods, lighting a campfire, canoeing, or conversing with interesting people, all with carefree spontaneity.

Wasted time is relative, isn’t it?

Maybe that’s why my teachers all said I wasted time, because if I spent my time doing what I thought was valuable, I wasn’t doing what they thought was valuable. So I wasn’t really wasting anyone’s time, they just thought I was, because they didn’t take the time to understand what I valued.

Tell me what you think? I’d like to know.

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32 thoughts on “What is a Waste of Time?”

  1. Excellent post. The time you enjoy wasting is never wasted time. When I was a kid, my dad always used to moan because I wanted to go skiing all the time, saying that I had the rest of my life to go skiing, why all the time now? I’m glad I didn’t listen to him that much.

  2. Thanks for WASTING :) time for this post…
    In my school days when I used to read a complete “The Three Investigators” novel in one go, many people around me thought it a waste of time… but this habit of reading is what still helps me a lot.

  3. WOW – awesome insight. I think you are absolutely right in pointing out our calendar and to-do list addiction. I struggle with that myself, and after spending some time thinking about it, I believe it is at least partially a feedback issue.

    When we tick off an item from our to-do list, we get an instant hit. We feel good, and can give ourselves an “ataboy” for getting the job done. Many of the other, more important, areas of our lives don’t give us that immediate feedback. If we don’t learn to see the value of a weekend on the lake shooting bottle rockets, we will never get the positive feelings that reinforce us seeking out those experiences.

    My big question is, how do we change our perspective so that we see and feel the value in those “time wasters”?

  4. Great post. It’s something I struggle with as well, people telling me I’m wasting my time. To some, even blogging like we do is a waste of time. As you said, I think it’s just a matter of perspective, and that they just didn’t understand or see where I was coming from. But there’s no way I could have written it out and explained it like you did. =).

  5. Un-related and yet related: if you are into lucid dreaming or astral travel, the night time can become a great learning place and no longer needs to be perceived as wasted.
    But then again, that is also relative.

  6. Fortunately I can say about myself that I’m not wasting time general. But that lies in the eye of the beholder I suppose. If it’s right for me… then it’s not a waste of time. Now the calendar and crossing of things that you want to do… that’s a whole different story and I can’t say I would say it’s a waste of time. After all it is what I do to live a happy life. Just so long as I remember to sit back and relax every once in a while and appreciate it all. :)

    Now school to me is a waste of time too… that’s why we homeschool. ;)

  7. It’s pretty obvious to me that the only time I’m sure I’m not wasting is the time I’m spending doing what I want. Other things might or might not turn out to be valuable, but doing what you want is always relatively optimal since nobody can know better than you.

  8. @Michael,

    That’s true for me too. The only time I can be sure I’m not wasting time is when I am doing what I want.

    But what if doing what I want doesn’t provide any value to anyone else? Like shooting bottle rockets and drinking beer?

    I realize very few people (including me) would enjoy doing that for more than a day or so but what if you are in that minority. Don’t we all need to provide value to someone else in some way?

    Most of what I like to do, I believe does provide value to others. But what if it didn’t?

  9. Even if you didn’t contribute with the things you were doing you would still be contributing if what you were doing made you happy. The world needs more happy people. People who are at peace with themselves. Happy people who are enjoying life spread joy around them. That is not a waste of time :-)

    BTW, this was a very timely post as I just finished a stream of consciousness writing with the words, “Why does it matter so much?” Everything is based on perspective. Anyone can consider hours spent typing posts about “personal development” on a blog and even more time spreading the word about it a waste of time. Everyone, except the person to whom it made a difference.

    Same with a listening ear or a weekend with your cousin on the docks.

    Awesome post,
    Nneka

  10. That was a perfectly good waste of 5 minutes of my life and I’m grateful for it. What I needed to read, when I needed to read it.

    And here I started out by just clicking on the stumble button. Amazing how things work.

    Thank you!

  11. “But what if doing what I want doesn’t provide any value to anyone else? Like shooting bottle rockets and drinking beer?”

    But you have a choice, don’t you?

    Nobody’s *forcing* anyone to provide value to others. There’s only incentives (you’ll do better if your actions are valuable to others). That’s the beauty of it.

    But in the end, it all comes down to what is valuable to you, even what’s valuable to others usually has a value to you because you either get paid or get satisfaction from it. So if taking a break and drinking beer has value to you, and at that particular moment you decide that you’d rather do that than work for the weekend, nobody’s better positioned than you to make that choice.

    As Mises would say, human action is a a priori science. you don’t judge what people should do but rather what they actually do. People can argue that you should work instead of drinking beer, but if when faced with the choice you pick beer, it must have had some value to you. And who’s to say that in the long run it won’t have been a better choice for you and others (more relaxed, more productive, more creative, whatever — or maybe turn into a lazy drunk bum. Can never know.)?

    IMHO.

  12. To waste time, you have to know what you are trying to accomplish here on earth. Schools and society stress “being successful” as the ultimate goal, i.e. doing well in school, getting a good job and making lots of money. So to them “just having fun” is a waste of time.

    If one of your goals is to enjoy life then shooting off bottle rockets is not a waste of time. :)

  13. @Stormy,

    I understand and agree completely. It all depends on your purpose and goal.

    @Micheal,
    Well written. I couldn’t agree with you more. I wish more people understood the difference between “incentives” and “force.” People confuse these concepts and it distorts public policy, usually under the guise of fairness or safety.

  14. Sometimes when you tell other people “yeah, I’m just wasting time”, but you say that jokingly with a smile. You know what you are doing is a waste of time by some people’s standards but you know you are the only having one and they are the one missing out.

    What is a waste of time? I think, to a degree, many people think that if you are not working towards being happy, then you are wasting time. However, for some people, sitting around and playing would be totally worthwhile, while some people think you should work hard. That doesn’t necessarily mean they think hard work is what brings happiness, but what hard work brings, maybe money, maybe wealth, maybe achievement, maybe a great family, is what make you happy. So that means they are thinking long term (or so they believe) so they are delaying that enjoyment. In that sense, you are wasting time. The people that think you should work in order to be happy in the future will think that the minor happiness right now is not worth the later hardship. In that sense, it’s a trade-off, but who’s right? That will probably depend on your values.

  15. I guess being happy is what it matters. If it’s time that I like to waste and that makes me feel good, I shall do it.

    Great example with skiing, up there. I was in the same situation :)

  16. Steve:

    Great post on what it really means to waste time. It means different things to different people. I’m fond of saying that it’s all a matter of perception.

    For instance, I’m a pilot but not just any pilot. I’m totally deaf – from birth. When I first wanted to learn how to fly, I had people tell me it was a waste of time. What?@?! After I got my pilot’s license, I decided I wanted to become instrument rated (which requires radio use – something I cannot do naturally). More chorus of “you’re wasting your time.” Six years after I first expressed my desire to earn the rating, I became the first deaf pilot to earn it.

    A waste of time? You decide!

    Great post! I’m stumbling this blog and adding you as a friend if I can find you at SU. :)

  17. “Where you go , iz where you are.”
    Awesum perception. Finally another human being willing to loze himself to find himself!
    Amazing Steve…

  18. Interesting thread. It seems that “waste of time” carries an implicit assumption that any one moment is somehow more “valuable” than another. To be attached and not see things as they are in this moment is suffering, i.e. moving away from happiness and may be seen as a waste of time. Letting go of attachment relieves suffering, so awareness of waste of time could become the realization that might lead to enlightenment and the waste of time could become very rich indeed. And Rumi would respond, “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”

  19. Yeah…
    I like this post Steve!
    So true… it’s not wasted if it valued, time that is…

    Friends and co-workers ask, “What cha doing this weekend?”
    My favorite reply… “Nothing”…
    Just saying it makes me giddy saying it!
    It means freedom, spontaneity, and no obligations!
    Translation= Bliss!

    My time is my choice…
    Whether I am building puzzles with my 8 year old,
    sitting at a college football game, canoeing,
    watching movies, working out, or hiking…
    If I’m smilin’… nothing’s wasted!

    It’s all in the perspective…
    Maybe the teachers were wasting their time (and ink)…

    Hmmmmm… the only true waste of time I can think of…
    Checkout lines… standing in line to give your money away!
    Wouldn’t it be great to that decade back?

    Thanks Steve!

    Tami

  20. Ive thought alot about this question and I can think of only one thing that is unarguably a waste of time: Drugs.

    When you get high, you are eliminating that 3 or 4 hours of productivity (any kind of productivity) from your life and replacing it with 3 or 4 hours of feeling high.

    Unless feeling high is a goal in your life, something you are striving for, then drugs are a waste of time.

  21. Great reminder for those of us not appreciated what we are doing then its waste of time.

    Time flies with clip of eyes, that life I guess,
    as long as we do appreciated all these while , then its worth of what so call
    Waste Of Time

    To your success,

    Tracy Ho
    wisdomgettingloaded

  22. This was a good reminder to me as I have been talking about “wasting time” with one of my students. I think I will share it with her. I tell her that all her arguing and complaining to avoid getting down to work is wasting time that she could have used for herself when she finished. Looking at it with new eyes, I see where she may well be using her time quite wisely.

    I have always put “nothing” at the top of my to do list so that I will at least have accomplished item number 1. How embarrassing to be the one calling another a time waster.

  23. I agree with you completely. Wasted time is never wasted if it is spent doing what we enjoy. Take reading for example; I enjoy reading a bit but I don’t think reading is as important as it is made out to be. Sure, it increases our vocabulary and can enrich our minds, but if someone doesn’t enjoy reading how important really is it to them? Is reading viewed as ‘important’ because that is what society tells us? I personally believe that doing what makes you happy is most important, and if reading is a chore, then why feel that you have to do it? I am in my final year of college and am deciding what to do at university. Two of the four subjects I am currently studying are English Literature and Sociology. For a long time now I have always believed I will study English at university, but recently I have been questioning this. Will devouring books all day really make me happy? I feel as if it will be more of a chore for me than something I will enjoy. Am I choosing this degree because it is more prestigous, and having studied books will make me a appear a smarter person? English may be a more highly regarded degree than Sociology, but Sociology is what I really enjoy. There are aspects of English that I do really love, writing for example, but reading is not my passion. As I said, I do enjoy reading to an extent, but I will never be the type of person that reads all day, every day, and I will never read ‘War and Peace’. Why should I? Because society will view me as a more clever and intellectual person? Who’s to say those who spend their days travelling and exploring or with the ones they love are less correct in what they do then the ones who are constantly engrossed in books? I do not feel that we should be made to feel bad if we do not enjoy reading. We are constantly confronted with lists of ‘100 books to read before you die’, and we are made to believe that if we do not attempt to read these books our lives will have been wasted. I personally will not measure my life on the number or depth of books I have read. I will measure it on the amount of time I have spent with the ones I love, how I have treated others and how much time I have spent doing what I enjoy, not what other people have told me I should enjoy. If reading is what YOU enjoy then it is not a waste of your time, and it is not my place to tell you that you should be spending your time doing other things. All I am saying is that, in my opinion, it is all a matter of personal preference.

  24. great post! I’m at the part of my life where I need to decide how I’m going to make money and be happy. I’m 20 and part of me says that everything is a waste of time and whether I cure cancer or work at McDonalds is irrelevant in the long (looong) run. The other part says that it doesn’t matter what I do as long as I’m happy, but that feel’s so… useless, because I’m the type of person who likes to get things done on the weekend and feel a sense of accomplishment everyday. One thing is for sure though, making money is a waste of time.

    hmm

  25. re: James’ comment: Making money isnt a waste of time IF the way you earn it is enjoyable and makes you happy. If for example the person who values curing cancer feels they’re doing something really important, and this makes them happy, then the way they are making money is not a waste of time to them – nor to the people for whom they are finding cures.

    re: Kelvin’s idea above that some people see being successful in work as being a valuable use of your time vs having fun – this reminds me of the fisherman story. It’s a really good one: see –> http://www.noogenesis.com/pineapple/fisherman.html (this is not spam – i genuinely think this adds to the discussion :))

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