How To Quit Wasting Your Time
“I could do that thing I always wanted to do, but honestly, I just don’t have the time.”
Hands up, I’m guilty of having said things like this. I truly felt that there were just never enough hours in the day to do everything I wanted to do. For me, not having enough time to spend ‘pursuing my passion’ (i.e. writing), was a universal truth. With the never-ending demands of a full-time job, friends, family, and general life, how could it possibly be done?
Honestly, it drove me crazy, and for the past few years I really struggled to give my life meaning. Deep down, I knew I wanted to achieve more, but felt overwhelmed by the colossal amount of time it would take to build something worthwhile. Where could I find the extra hours? I certainly wasn’t going to force myself to wake up at 5AM everyday and write. There would be no point anyway, as my brain takes it’s time to warm up in the mornings. Most days, I cannot even speak before 10AM or at least 2 coffees.
I thought about trying to write in the evenings, but quickly told myself that wouldn’t work either. Surely, by 7pm my brain would be zonked from a full day of work, and I would just write garbage. In my mind, the perfect hours for writing were somewhere between 9am and 5pm. Inconveniently, I had to go to work during this time so I could afford very important things like rent, pizza, and fluffy pyjamas.
Unbeknownst to me, my brain was making excuses to justify my laziness. I had no evidence to back up the idea that I couldn’t write at 5am, or 7pm. Instead, I had just concluded it would be impossible, without ever trying. Similarly, I was assuming that the hours between 9am and 5pm would be magical times of inspiration for me. Actually, wasn’t I constantly doing silly things during my work day that were utterly brainless?
Everyday after work, instead of trying to write, I would binge-watch the latest comedy series, browse through hundreds of memes, and scoff junk food. When I got bored of that, I would absentmindedly flick back and forth through the same four apps on my phone, whilst half-watching YouTube videos on the TV. I was constantly ingesting information, digesting none of it, and brazenly wasting my time. Before I knew it, it would be time to start getting ready for the next day of work. I would go to bed unfulfilled, and let the cycle begin all over again the next day. Why couldn’t I make myself realise that I was wasting my time?
Harsh Truths, Forgotten
Now and then, we all have a profound realisation that our time on this Earth is incredibly short. Unfortunately, these revelations often come hand in hand with pain – the death of a loved one, a life-altering illness, or a heart-wrenching situation that hits too close to home. Like that slap in the face moment when you find out the kid you used to babysit is now terminally ill, even though he’s only fourteen. All he wants to do is be a professional soccer player, but now he’s too weak to even kick a ball. Fuck.
The pain of such ultimate truths naturally make us consider our own mortality, and appreciate the gift of life. We think about death, and come face to face with the fact that we all have an unknown, impending expiry date. We appreciate how lucky we are to be given a chance to live, and see life with intense clarity.
Terrible moments like these are the perfect conditions for an epiphany. What we truly want from our lives becomes glowingly clear (and it’s probably not sitting on the couch getting fat). That thing you always wanted to do has never been more vivid in your mind, and the obstacles in your way seem easier to overcome. The logical thing for our brains to do when we have these revelations would be to analyse how we are spending our valuable time, and to try and figure out some ways to maximise it in the future. To make sure we don’t waste it, and live a life unfulfilled.
Instead of acting logically however, what do our tricksey minds do? They say ‘Hmm, yes, interesting observation! However, that is too uncomfortable for me to keep thinking about.’ Our brain craves comfort and so to make it feel better, the shameless brain immediately forgets absolutely everything about the epiphany you just had, sits you on your ass, and acts like you have all the time in the world. Next thing you know, you’ve managed to absentmindedly scroll through your entire Instagram feed, and are 50 levels deep into that addictive game about matching candies. Mmmm, candy. Now you’re hungry again.
Something terrible doesn’t always have to happen for you to recognise that you are wasting your time. Sometimes too, without a trigger, your conscious brain just randomly emerges from the fog to tell you that you should be doing things differently. We’ve all been there. You’re casually sitting on your bed, singing along to the Spice Girls, when you are confronted with the overwhelming thought that you are just plodding along, and not working towards your goals. Suddenly, you get a giant burst of motivation and frantically start taking action.
You end up making a huge list of everything you need to do in your life – you must get some peanut butter, fix your bike, do a skydive, lose 20kg, start a charity. Next, you spend hours watching YouTube videos about becoming an entrepreneur, and illegibly scrawl your 6 year business plan on a scrap of paper. You finally order a new shower curtain to replace the mouldy one that has been hanging there since you moved in 4 months ago.
A few intense hours pass, then POOF! As quickly as it arrived, the motivation is gone. You’re exhausted, and what was once so alarmingly clear is out of your head and out of your mind. You’re back to auto-pilot mode, staring at a screen, saliva drooling from the corner of your mouth.
Don’t despair, however, for all is not lost. There are things we can do to override our lazy brain, and get in the habit of making the most out of our life. With a little conscious effort, the art of maximising your time will become second nature to you, resulting in automatic actions that make you super efficient with your time.
Practical Exercises To Help You Reclaim Your Time
As we’ve talked about, the tricky thing about time is that if we don’t consciously think about making the most of it, it’s really easy to fall back on our unconscious, comfortable, and time-wasting habits. However, forcing yourself to be always be consciously aware of your mortality is a very difficult, and pretty torturous, thing to do.
Luckily, there are much simpler ways to be more mindful of your time, minus the constant cognitive effort, and inevitable insanity. The trick is to complete some thought exercises that give you perspective on how you spend your time. Putting in the initial effort required to do this lays the groundwork for a lifetime of better decisions, and makes it more difficult for your pesky brain to be lazy. Try out the following three time thought exercises, and let me know in the comments if they worked for you!
Exercise #1 – Brick by Brick
Time is cumulative. You may think that spending 3 hours per day in front of the TV is OK, but those hours compound over time, eating into your total quota. Three hours of TV watching a day adds up to 21 hours per week, or 1,095 hours per year. By the end of the year, that means you would have spent a whopping one eighth of your entire time in front of the TV!
To begin this exercise, think of 1 – 3 different ways you spend your leisure time, that don’t add any long-term value to your life e.g. watching TV shows, YouTube, all social medias, messaging apps etc.
Monitor yourself for a week, and calculate up the hours per day you spend doing each of these things. Next, multiply the daily time by 7 to get weekly stats, and again by 365 to see how much time per year you spend on your time-wasting activities. Once you have quantified your time, your perception of how much you have truly changes. The process of writing it down makes it concrete too, and it sticks in your head.
After highlighting where you may be able to save some time, you can start making small steps toward your goals. For example, when I first did this, I continued to watch my TV shows for 1 hour a day, but also committed to writing for 30 minutes everyday. That’s only 3.5 hours per week, but over the course of a year, I had accumulated over 180 hours of writing with very minimal effort. The flexibility of this approach allowed me to be consistent too; if I missed my 30 minutes that day, I would just make it up at the weekend. Often, once I had begun, I would find myself not wanting to stop after the 30 minutes were up.
The idea is not to eliminate these leisure activities entirely from your life, just to spend your hours more wisely. It’s easy too depending on where you start. If you can remove one hour per day of a time-wasting activity, you get back 365 hours per year. That’s more than 15 full days! Turning a daily 1 hour messaging session into a 20 minute call will save you 243 hours per year. Maybe there are things that you can double up too. Do you have a long commute? Why not use this time to learn Spanish via an app! The power of this approach is that you can move things around to suit you, on your terms.
Exercise #2 – Purposeful Meditation
A lot of the reason why we waste our time, is because we’re not quite clear on the goals we want to achieve. In order to figure out how best to spend your time, you need to know exactly what it is that you need to be focusing on. So, take a few hours out from your hectic life once or twice per year to practice this simple 30-40 minute exercise.
What you will need:
– Timer set to 15 minutes
– A quiet, comfortable place to sit
– Pen and Paper (preferably A4 size)
– A Brain
Start the timer, close your eyes, and sit quietly for 15 minutes. I know this can be difficult if you don’t do meditation regularly, but just try. It feels like you can’t stop thinking, and you’ll never be able to focus, but let the thoughts come. Let them wash over your brain like a wave. Once you’ve settled in to the first few minutes, try to direct your thoughts back to what you want to achieve in life. What are your goals?
When the timer is up, sit quietly for 1 minute without moving (or until you are ready). You can have your eyes closed or open during this time. Next, grab your pen and let the waterfall of thoughts in your head spill onto the pages in your notebook, until it feels like you captured the most important things. You can set the timer again for 15 minutes while completing this if you like. Do not judge your writing, just write as fast as you can and get it out of your head.
Now take a break for 10 minutes. Stretch your legs, make a cup of tea, listen to some music. After your break, look back at all of the goals you have written down with fresh eyes. Choose only 1 or 2 goals from this list that you want to commit time to. Spend 30 minutes everyday working on making them happen, using the tips outlined in Exercise #1.
Congratulations! You have now begun your journey of time appreciation and life fulfillment. The above exercises will help you to prioritise the things in life that are most important to you, and help you find the time to get them done. Along the way you will discover other tips and tricks to help you maximise your time. Here are four of the most important ones:
1. Get Organised
Keep a daily calendar so you can see at glance how your time is shaping up, and if you need to reorganise some things. If something comes up that doesn’t fall into the category of family, finance, wellness or causes you care about, think twice before you say yes. When you do say no, mean it.
2. Consistently Meet Your Minimum
Make sure you are always meeting the minimum of 30 minutes per day of time spent working towards your goals (or 3.5 hours per week). If you are not meeting this, re-evaluate your choices. Perhaps you’re spending too much time playing games, going to the movies, or eating out at restaurants. These are all fun things to do, but will eventually be to the detriment of your health, personal growth, and deny you of a more fulfilling lifestyle.
3. Prioritise Yourself
If your friends don’t support you in your journey, be careful. Take the time to explain that you need to this to be happy. If they do not want to be a part of the new and improved you, say goodbye and move on. Worst case scenario, you will make new friends with others who have similar goals and purposes. A good friend will try to join the journey with you, and make your relationship even stronger. At the very least they’ll come around after a week or two. Just because you choose to spend your time doing what gives you a sense of fulfillment, it doesn’t mean you care any less about your relationships.
4. Restrict social media distractions
We all have days where our motivation is shit. Give yourself the best chance by utilising the very technology that is distracting you in the first place. Turn off your notifications; if it’s an emergency tell people to call. Change your settings so that you can only use social apps for a maximum of 20 minutes per day. After 2 days, you won’t even miss it. Lastly, use organisational apps to remind you when it’s time to work on your goals, and track your progress.
The Time Is Now
Once you prioritise your relationship with time, everything shifts. Now, time is my most precious resource. We all get such a teeny allowance, and we’re constantly running out of it. When your time is up, it’s up. Gone. Nada. Just like that. Prioritise the goals that you want to achieve, and make the effort required to maximise your time. Be organised, take responsibility, and live with more urgency. Your only enemy is the clock. Now quit reading this, and get after it!
P.S. Thank you for your time 😉