There is a common complaint that I notice with many of my coaching clients, especially those who are tired or working through Life/Work Balance issues. They have a real thing about any kind of down time being ‘wasted time’. It’s a concept that comes up again and again. And I think it’s a new and growing phenomenon that’s leading to a whole heap of stress. I must confess to being susceptible to this Cult Of Productivity myself: I notice it when I am stuck in traffic, or when the computer isn’t working as perfectly as I would like it to, or ordering something is taking longer than I thought it would. This stressful thought keeps rearing its ugly head: ‘this is such a waste of time’, usually accompanied by it’s good friend ‘this should be quicker/easier/more efficient’.
These thoughts lead directly to a place of stress. Bad for the head, bad for the body.
It’s occurred to me that I didn’t use to feel this way. When I was younger I didn’t put this pressure on myself for every thing to have an outcome. Just enjoying or doing something for its own sake was enough. At school and university my friends and I elevated wasting time to an art form in its own right! And those are the bits I look back on with the most fondness. The endless games of cards and pissing about (car surfing anyone?!) And yet I, and so many of my clients, seem to now feel so uncomfortable with even the most limited moments of unproductivity. What is that about?
As the world has become increasingly immediate and increasingly measureable I think it’s encouraged us to lead our lives in the same way. An expectation that all time and every effort invested should show some sort of meaningful outcome. But, should it?
I think the stress that the concept of ‘wasted time’ generates is due to a perception that time is inherently limited. That leads to a perception that all time needs to count with an outcome. Which generates stress. Is the point of time well spent to get things accomplished, or is it to have fun and experience the maximum amount of joy? As adults in this increasingly technologically enabled, measurable and immediate world I think we have lost the ability to play. Or to see play as an important part of what makes life fun and ourselves happy.
Look at how children play. When children play its as a means to an end in itself, because they see time as unlimited and therefore no outcome is required. So how can it possibly be wasted if it’s unlimited?
I think there is a lot we can learn from that attitude. This is what I have learned around the concept of ‘wasted time’:
1. Just because it produces some sort of outcome doesn’t mean that it’s important.
2. Just because its quantifiable doesn’t mean I should do it
3. If the only joy in the doing is the crossing off on the list when it’s done then I should consider not doing it or getting someone else to do it for me
4. Some of the best most fun and memorable time in my life had no definable outcome.
5. Unproductive time is a fact of life. We are not built to be ON all the time.
6. Unproductive time is thinking and daydreaming and processing time. That is productive in itself.
7. Play and fun are important.
8. Resting and chilling ARE an activity in their own right. The outcome is being chilled. That’s something the body requires for health. It’s really important time.
9. Enjoyment is just as valid a goal as an achievement.
10. I need to play more.
So I am challenging myself to reconnect with play for the sake of itself: I have joined a mosaic class one morning a week. I am really enjoying it; there is something very satisfying about fitting all the tiny chards of ceramic together for no reason at all other than the simple pleasure of doing it. It’s a bit fiddly and a bit messy. I like that, and the quiet companionship of the other women in the class. Sometimes I feel guilty about all the work I ‘should’ be doing and that it’s ‘wasted time’ then I remember, I’m a life coach, I teach people about life/work balance…this is me Living It To Give It and I relax and focus on the little fiddly tiles again and the couple of hours simply flies by! It’s been good for the mind and the soul.
If you find yourself running mental loops about wasting time it’s my bet that you could do with reintroducing a bit of play to your life too. Try using the time stuck at the grocery checkout and in traffic to daydream about your next holiday or the best one you ever had. It won’t wake the queue go faster but it will make it a more pleasant and positive experience. Think back to something you loved to do as a child to play (baking, playing footie, making things, etc) and try and introduce a related aspect of PLAY into your week with no aspect of outcome attached. Play for it’s own sake, and see that if we are in the moment and enjoying ourselves then no time is ever really wasted.