Recapturing Wasted Time

wasted time

My local gas station usually puts up motivational or religious thoughts on their marquee, right below the prices. (I think it’s because when you see the price you need a pick me up after the sticker shock.) This week’s offering said, “Dear God, please help me pay attention only to what is important.” While I usually read his messages and quickly forget them, this one stuck with me. On so many levels, this is a good reminder, but it stuck with me because I’d been thinking about the concept of wasted time and juggling the things that are important to me a lot this week.

Like many people, I often come up short on time. There’s never enough time, it seems, to get everything done that I want to get done. While finding the time to get my finances in order isn’t a problem for me, I know that it is for many. I hear from people all the time that they don’t have time to create and manage a budget, clip coupons, get quotes or negotiate service prices, or create a will or other legal documents. By the time they put in an eight our work day, deal with all the chores around the house and take care of the kids, they claim there’s no time for financial management, even if it is crucial to a good life.

The thing is, many of us have more time than we think we have, if we’re really honest with ourselves about what constitutes wasted time and what’s important. Not long ago I was having trouble finding time to devote to my writing projects, beyond the work I do for Saving Advice. Among other things, I want to finally finish and submit the novel I’ve been slowly working on. But it seemed that there was never enough time to get to it. I finally had to determine that the novel was more important to me than some other things. Once I made that decision, time miraculously appeared.

I decided that my project was more important to me than TV, mindless Internet surfing, sleeping in on Saturdays, and even some household chores. It required some conscious thought on my part. Whenever I sit down to watch TV, I ask myself which is more important: The show, or the book. The book almost always wins. Whenever I find myself mindlessly clicking links on websites, I ask myself which is more important: The newest stupid viral video, or the book. Again, the book wins. Can the dusting wait one more day while I finish a chapter? Of course it can. Suddenly all kinds of time became available once I stopped wasting so much of it. I never thought of myself as a big time-waster, but it was eye opening how much time I was spending on things that weren’t important to me.

If your finances are important to you (and they should be since almost everything else in your life hinges on the health of your financial life), you need to ask yourself which is more important: Your finances, or whatever other thing you’re about to do. If you’re serious about getting your finances straight, the answer should be your finances. (The good news is that once you have your finances under control they require less time to deal with, leaving you with more free time to do other things.)

I use the following criteria to judge whether or not what I’m doing constitutes wasted time. Wasted time is time spent doing something that isn’t important to me or fails to move me forward. I know that my time on Earth is limited. While sometimes it seems like time is limitless, the truth is that it isn’t. I’ve started asking myself if whatever action I’m about to take is important or something that will get me closer to my goals. If the answer is no and I have a choice, I don’t do the activity. Your criteria may be different, but find out what represents wasted time to you and then work to eliminate it.

Paying attention only to what is important requires conscious thought on your part, at least until you get the hang of it. You have to constantly evaluate everything you do to see if it represents wasted time and attention. Once you start doing this, though, it’s amazing how much time you can recapture. I also feel better now that I know I’m not wasting my time. I thought I’d be more tired from keeping so active, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. The more I do each day that is important to me, the better I feel. I feel like I’m accomplishing more and I’m energized because I know I’m doing things that help me reach my goals.

(Photo courtesy of M$$MO)

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6 Responses to Recapturing Wasted Time

  1. Julie says:

    I can’t tell you how many time I have heard people comment that they don’t have time to do a variety of cost saving jobs (make their own lunch/dinner, cut coupons, etc) and yet they can tell you the plot of virtually every TV sitcom and they all know every contestant on Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, etc.

    I watch about 1 hour of TV per week and I might spend 1 or 2 hours per week reading on the Web. I have managed to raise 3 kids, have a succesful career, cook most meals, clean my own 4 bedroom house and grow a garden most summers. Sure, I might get everything done that is on my list at the end of the day, but I usually go to bed feeling satisfied that I made the most of the time I had.

    Personally I don’t need hours of non productive leisure time. I would much rather putter in my garden or make something interesting for dinner.

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  3. Tom says:

    Good advice here. I thought that not having a TV would mean that I would be able to avoid that particular time-sink. However, many shows are available online, through things like the BBC’s iplayer (for the Brits). So I still had several hours a day being wasted in front of my laptop. I realised that avoiding wasting time really takes a conscious effort and since I’m by no means an expert, articles like this really help me to focus on what’s important.

  4. Marianne says:

    I always try to be productive while I watch TV. I do enjoy relaxing and watching TV but I need to be doing something productive with my hands at the same time or I feel uneasy. Sometimes I knit or do other craft projects. Sometimes I clean or file paperwork..

  5. shannon says:

    I used to think I didn’t have enough time to do all the things I needed and wanted to do. It’s baloney. I recently quit my job and have all the time in the world. I still don’t get done what I don’t WANT to do. It’s can’t vs. won’t everytime. People say they can’t which really means they aren’t willing to do it.

  6. Jennifer says:

    I frequently ask myself – “is this what I need to be doing right now?” Another thing I ask myself is “what else needs to be done right now?” Both of these questions will frequently get me back on track. I think this works if you don’t have 1 big goal you are working towards, but just trying to accomplish day to day things. I love your question as it forces you to compare what you are currently doing with your big goal.

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