The Myth of Wasted Time

A child watching TV.

A child watching TV. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a confession:  I watch TV.

I live in a house with a gold-plated Direct TV subscription, HBO, and Netflix–and those babies are not going to waste.  I watch at least an hour of TV most nights and sometimes as much as 5-6 hours.  There are shows I love almost as much as these people love Battlestar Galactica.

Now, most people who write blogs like this one will tell you a TV habit is a no-no. Why “waste” all that time consuming the creative output of others when you could use those hours to write more blog posts, create more websites, or start a movement to change the world?

This advice sounds reasonable–until you consider that by the time I get to the TV part of my day, loading the dishwasher is a challenge, never mind stringing words together into cogent sentences.  All the self-flagellation in the world isn’t going to change that.

In other words, beating yourself up for watching TV, playing video games, or reading romance novels in your low-energy time is a good way to make yourself feel guilty, but it’s not a good way to get more done.

Focusing on you spend your high-energy time is another matter entirely.

Most people have 3-4 great hours every day.  Hours when they are alert, energized, and focused.  Hours when ideas flow and work that is nearly impossible at other times of the day seems almost effortless.

If you want to be more productive, focus on how you spend this time.   Avoid meetings during these hours (unless you are running them).  Put off rote tasks until later.  And under no circumstances should you spend this time watching television or reading novels.

Instead, reserve these hours for the most generative parts of your work:  Wrestle with tough problems.  Outline a new fundraising campaign.  Conceive of a new product offering.  Write copy for your next sales page. Work on your novel.  Develop an infographic that captures both information and imagination.

When you start to feel drained, set the creative work aside and fill in the rest of your work day with the “necessary but slightly boring” tasks that accompany even the most amazing of callings.

Eventually, probably after another 4-5 hours, these rote tasks will start to feel difficult.  This is the point in the day when you have a choice.

You can force yourself to keep working and eek out a bit more of your most mediocre work.

Or, you can stop.

You can spend the rest of the day “goofing-off.”  Watch TV.  Go for a walk.  Play video games.  Listen to music.  The nature of the leisure activity is not nearly as important as the joy you derive from it.

After a while you’ll start to notice something amazing.  Allowing yourself to “waste” your low-energy time everyday has a secret benefit:  It serves as fuel for tomorrow’s high energy hours.  Which means you end up getting more done every day even though you spend less time on “productive” tasks.

Seems like a good trade to me–and not just because Game of Thrones is about to start.

Your Turn

How do you spend your “low-energy” time?

[Editor’s note:  I’m a morning person, so I start  the day at my energy high water mark and slowly wear down throughout the day.  If you are a night person, the phases of your day are likely to be reversed.]

3 thoughts on “The Myth of Wasted Time

  1. Thank you for giving me permission to enjoy my time wasters 🙂 After working from home for several years, I realized I too am only good for high focus or creative projects about 4 hours in the morning. Afternoons are fine for routine tasks but anything requiring though takes much longer. In the evening Netflix and computer games are very relaxing and I enjoy them. Now to figure out how to make the most of those morning hours!

    • Now to figure out how to make the most of those morning hours!

      That is the tricky part isn’t it! Such a delicate balance between discipline which helps and beating yourself up which most definitely does not.

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