How to Stop Wasting Time (or Believing that You Are)

In order to stop wasting time, we first need to consider if we actually are.

A reader once asked me:

Now that my children are back in school, how can I make the most of my time? I can easily spend an embarrassing amount of it reading the newspaper on my iPad and getting caught up in other stuff online. When I’m not online, tasks like grocery shopping, picking up after the kids, and preparing dinner can eat up a good part of my day. I feel I’m wasting time … and wasting away.

Whether or not you have kids, I bet you can relate, can’t you?

I know I can. Back when my daughters were younger, there were many days I could have written those words. I’ve frittered away many hours by clicking on “related articles you might like” or searching for the perfect white lightweight cardigan my daughter would wear over her new Easter dress or dress shoes I could wear to my cousins’ wedding.

But, are all of these tasks truly wastes of time? Or, are we, perhaps, undervaluing the work women do? Are we taking for granted leisure, rest, or creativity?

I suppose I wish I hadn’t spent so much time on certain tasks. Indeed, I have gotten better at online shopping once I learned how to make better choices. And, maybe there are certain tasks that are truly wasteful.

In the U.S., we tend to prioritize, or even glorify, “paid employment.” Everything else is not a good use of time.

We know, intellectually, that it isn’t true, but we are sometimes unaware of how much these cultural ideas seep into our thoughts and beliefs.

Things that are not a waste of time

Here are some things that are not a waste of time but we often dismiss or devalue:

Daydreaming: Sometimes allowing your mind to wander can help us relax or be more creative. It can reveal what we truly want.

Getting lost in a good story: I’ve argued that even binge-watching Netflix can be a good use of time. Not only are stories entertaining, but they are critical to our lives. Among other things, they help us learn, relate to others, and uncover hidden feelings.

Rest and sleep: These are not only good for our physical and mental health but they lift our moods and help us think better.

Hobbies or creativity: Doing any creative work simply for the sake of doing can help us relax, reduce stress, and give us opportunities to socialize. stimulate creativity.

Housework: This may not be enjoyable but taking care of the bills, scheduling medical appointments, doing the dishes, cleaning the bathroom, changing filters, and mowing the lawn are things most of us need to maintain our lives. If we don’t keep up, they can create problems or hassles later.

Nurturing important relationships: Humans need other people. Sadly, however, when we get busy, we can neglect even those who matter to us. Some relationships can get tricky and challenging at times, so avoiding them sometimes feels easier. Every important relationship needs time and attention.

Two things to try to value all you do

Here are tips to stop believing you’re wasting time that have worked for my clients and me:

First, cut yourself some slack. No one can operate on full blast all the time. Not every moment needs to be “perfect” or “optimal.” Believe it or not, self-compassion, not self-criticism, can motivate you to change.

Ask yourself, “Was this really a waste of time?”

If you truly think it was, try showing yourself some grace: “Well, that was not my best moment; my next one can be better.”

Second, take stock of your worth. Because so many women undervalue their work at the office and at home, they tend to exaggerate the extent of their time-wasting. To assess yourself more accurately, try one of the following writing exercises:

  • Recall the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Imagine what would happen to the world around you if you didn’t exist. What would your partner, children, parents, siblings, boss, co-workers, and friends have to do? What would life by like for each of them?
  • Pretend you are to be replaced by a cyborg. (My daughters and friends all know that much of my free time early last spring was hijacked by Cinder of the The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer.) Outline the instruction manual that programmers would use to create the cyborg’s operating system.
  • Write a job description for each of the roles you have. How much money would it cost for you to hire staff to do what you do?

What to try if you feel like you’re wasting away

Going back to my reader’s original question, there was a small phrase that is perhaps most important. She said, she feels like she is “wasting away.”

If you feel this way, there is a different question to ask: “What am I withholding from this world?” or “What gifts or talents am I hoarding?”

Everyone has a talent or something to share. You may know what that is. Or, you may take your talents for granted and they are hidden from you.

Either way, when you feel like the world or time is passing you by. It is likely you are not expressing a part of yourself that you feel you should.

Rather than worry, or feel guilty, the best thing is to do something small. If you’re not sure, try something that you enjoy.

The key here is to reveal more of your inner self to the world.

For example, if you have an idea, test it out. Do you like to sing? Try singing around your family and friends. Enjoy baking? Surprise a neighbor with a yummy treat. If you’re funny, send out a weekly joke to a few friends. Got a tip about something useful, write a product or service review. If you take good pictures, share them.

If you try one of these tips, please let me know how it worked out. O, if this was challenging, please consider a coaching consultation. I’d love to help.

An older version of this article appeared in September 2017.