How to Spend Time Meaningfully

My husband likes to give me a hard time about supposedly not being able to relax. Whenever I fall a slight bit ill, he is quick to blame it on my stress.

The thing is, while I acknowledge that he is partially right, I also find it hard to totally agree because I have had a tendency to merely maintain an appearance of business by wasting time, rather than actually working to get anything meaningful done so that I can fully relax later.

I have to give myself credit, though, because I’ve been getting a whole lot better with time management as I’ve been seeking employment, as I’ve become more serious with my writing, and as I’ve gotten to know myself better, but wasting time is still something that plagues me. Now, though, it’s more because I have a broad definition of what it means to waste time, than because I’m actually still sitting around wasting a lot of time.

When I’m honest, wasted time is only time that’s spent on things that don’t bring me joy.

When I’m being a harsh self-critic, though, wasted time is anything that doesn’t produce some sort of quantifiable result.

This is where my husband likes to prod at me about relaxing, and this is where I can agree that he’s right.

I picked up this desire to remain ever busy, or appear to be ever busy, from my dad, who picked it up from his dad. I admire my dad and grandpa, and I want to make them proud, but they are a little too extreme in their efforts to spend their time purposefully.

My grandpa has been the property manager of a block of apartments for as long as I can remember, and he always has a project to do over there. When he’s not working hard on the apartments, he’s got a project at home. My dad has a long list of projects, too, lest he be caught idle for one second. I have a distinct memory of him, having just barely recovered from back surgery, hastily planting a tree in the backyard. He didn’t further injure himself, but if he had, then he really wouldn’t have saved any time by getting to work on the yard sooner than the doctor recommended.

When I was younger, if I didn’t have something that I had to do, I was constantly bored.

I even had a list of activities, much like my dad and grandpa have their lists of projects, so that I could stay busy when there wasn’t anything to do. But, I didn’t usually enjoy the way I spent my time. It always felt like I was doing things just to fill the hours until there was something I had to do, which is a habit that stretched long into my adulthood.

As I’ve discovered more about myself through writing and challenging myself to try new things, I’ve grown less anxious about wasting time.

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This is largely because I’ve developed hobbies that aren’t mindless scrolling or binge watching, and because I actually enjoy these hobbies, I’ve stopped seeing them as ways to waste time.

I can now sit down to read, more often, without thinking “I should be working harder on my own novel,” or I can sit down to write without thinking, “I should be doing the dishes,” or I can sit down to practice my calligraphy without getting antsy to clean the house, or do those chores that I used to feel were more important.

Plus, in getting to know myself better, I’ve learned that I thrive in a more structured, routine environment, and I can relax better at the end of a day if I’ve accomplished a few goals. Sometimes those goals do involve cleaning, but more often, now, they’re creative or personal goals.

I’ve been able to create an effective structure for myself with these four strategies:

1.Set Intentions

At night before I fall asleep, and/or in the morning while I journal, I make a plan for the day. It doesn’t have to be in-depth, and it’s usually nothing more than: “Today I will ___ and ____ and ____.” But, even having a few intentions for the day helps me to accomplish meaningful things, which helps me to relax easier when I’ve fulfilled those intentions.

2.Limit or eliminate multi-tasking

I’m terrible at multi-tasking, as I think we all are, but it’s always a good to have a reminder to stay present in the moment and focus on one task at a time. The more energy I put into the task-at-hand, the more I can get out of the process, and the sooner I can move on.

3.Experiment

I’ve tried different kinds of daily routines, different browser applications to block the Internet, and different timer techniques. Nothing has stuck, but I continue to experiment. Some days, I need to set a timer to get things done, and some days I don’t. I used to have email and other distracting sites consistently blocked for several hours during the week, but I would just find workarounds by going to different browsers, so now I only use the option where I can block the Internet for an hour or more at a time when I’m really struggling to stay focused, but, to be honest, since I took the daily block off the Internet, I haven’t needed to to block the Internet much. I guess it’s the whole, what is forbidden becomes more appealing concept.

I continue to experiment with ways to avoid distractions, and I have found so much freedom in allowing myself to try different techniques, rather than relying on one.

4.Stop to reflect instead of deflect

I mentioned something similar in my last posts about goals and procrastination, but I’ll mention it again because it has been working so well! When I start getting incredibly distracted, it’s most helpful when I shut things down or turn things off, and consider why I’m having so much trouble focusing, because when I deflect, I waste time.

It seems like reflecting would be the real time waster, but it’s not.

Maybe I’m working on the wrong thing that day. Maybe I need to take a prolonged break. Or maybe I just need that moment to reflect, and then get back to working on something meaningful (or those occasional obligatory tasks).

Having a structured routine in which I can accomplish some goals has, paradoxically, given me freedom.

When I went about my days without any intentions, I was much more rattled by anxiety about “getting things done,” and by the evenings, I would feel bad that I hadn’t accomplished more with my day. While I don’t think it’s wise to only permit myself to do things I enjoy after I’ve accomplished a certain amount of things, I do find so much more joy in relaxing and exploring my hobbies when I’ve worked at a few goals or fulfilled a few intentions. When my husband badgers me about relaxing, he’s not saying that I should sit around and do nothing, he’s saying that I should invest my time in things that bring me joy, and I can agree with that.

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I’m curious to know about your relationship with time and routines. Do you find yourself worrying over wasted time, or does it not phase you? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

16 thoughts on “How to Spend Time Meaningfully

  1. Point2 , I find I work on 5 or so blog posts at once . Flitting from one to the other. Sort of works as I don’t get bored with them. Overall though for longer things, routines can be a problem? Have you tried meditation? Seem to work to give me some space and distance and be more relaxed to plan more.

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  2. Hey Tim – I’m glad that you are able to work with yourself so that you don’t get bored, but personally, I find it too difficult to sustain multiple projects at once. I’m also glad that you find meditation so helpful! I know that a lot of people seek a great deal of refuge in meditation, but I prefer general mindfulness to meditation. I don’t feel as though I am not relaxed, generally, anymore. I meant to convey, through this post that I am finding a lot of freedom and peace through having a structure and routine. I know that it doesn’t work like that for everyone, which is why I am careful to write my blog posts only from my perspective because I don’t want to tell anyone how they should live their life. I am only saying that routine and structure have worked for me. It sounds like maybe for you, having a routine makes you feel a bit too boxed-in, which I can understand. I feel that way sometimes, too, but I have found that I actually feel worse without some rough scaffolding of a routine. It doesn’t have to be exact day by day, but at least a little loose structure so I can maintain some level of discipline toward writing and accomplishing my goals. But, again, that’s just what works for me, at this point in my life. Someday, I expect it will change.

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  3. I hear you. I do need a routine but I found a way to allow my mind to dart around within it. It All worse better not beating yourself up about things – as I used to,not saying you do

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  4. Oh yes. I have battled with beating myself up about it, too, and I’m sorry you’ve dealt with that. I definitely agree that speaking kindly to yourself is top priority. I certainly worked on my self-talk for a long time before I was able to settle into a decent routine.

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  5. No worries, we all use time differently. Sunday is my day not to work on business. I enjoy working on the yard, watching the sun rise, and what ever I do, I find something interesting and it pushes me in new directions and different ways. I know we all have our own ways. Nothing is ever a waste unless we are just not paying attention.

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  6. I learned the habit of being busy in order to feel valuable or productive. I also used it as a way to keep entertained.

    When I switched over to a less demanding role, I struggled a lot. And then replaced the concept with distractions. I am now dealing with the consequences of it.

    It’s a balance or harmonious battle.

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  7. Hey Juan. Yes. Productivity is easy to conflate with worth. I have been struggling to disentangle the two, and have honestly grown to loathe the word “productive” because it seems people use the lack of productivity as a way to punish themselves, which is what I was doing (and sometimes still do). I hope that you are able to disentangle yourself from the distractions as it sounds like you’re not enjoying the consequences. I wish you luck and strength.

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  8. Ooh, there’s lots here I want to respond to!

    Thing 1: I feel like there’s a big distinction for me between things are fulfilling “time wasters” and things are easy and compelling time wasters, and sometimes a single activity can go back and forth between those depending on the day and my mood. Am I playing this video game because I enjoy it, or am I playing it because it’s an easy distraction from some stress or anxiety about getting other things done?

    Thing 2: As much as I deeply appreciate Bertrand Russell as one of the few tolerable and even clear-thinking philosophers, I don’t think that quote actually came from him, at least from what I could see. BUT! Its misattribution makes sense, because he wrote an essay called In Praise of Idleness, which you should definitely read if you haven’t already (I can imagine having bothered you with it before, though I can’t remember actually doing so). It’s only 10 pages, and well worth the read!

    Thing C: I like your list about how to deal with this, but number 4 is the only one I have anything to say about. It’s actually a habit I have been in before with when I’ve practiced mindfulness more consistently, to follow a feeling, thought, or worry step-by-step back to its source, and see what’s truly at the root of it. It’s an activity that tends to take all the power away from it, because these feelings tend to only have strength as a snowball effect, not inherently. It’s actually the process I used to get rid of my awful temper. I didn’t think to apply it to all other bad mental habits at the time though, though I wish I had. I also have been driven to do this kind of searching back to the root with good feelings too, and this is mostly by anxious thinking. “But WHY do I feel this kind of happy?” My experience of it years ago was that it tended to obliterate the happiness it claimed to want to understand, but I can’t say that would be how it would go for me now. It may just be that my anxieties of the time took apart the happiness at each step.

    Thing Q: Saying how having a structure has given you freedom is paradoxical reminds me of a quote from the Dune series:
    Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.
    I feel like you’re ringing the same bell from different sides. It’s a concept that’s stuck with me ever since I read it, and I’ve always found it to be true for me personally. The more I commit myself to disciplined action, particularly mindfulness and fitness, the more I am free to do what I CHOOSE, rather than what the impulses and patterns of my mind compel me to do.

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  9. Thank you for pointing out the quote misattribution : / I’m a little embarrassed! But, it’s a good reminder to stay diligent with checking the validity of my sources. Thanks! And, yeah, it is strange how a little structure really helps sculpt a sense of freedom. I don’t think it’s true for everyone, but I can imagine it being especially true for people with anxiety, or people who have strong aspirations. Also, I don’t tend to reflect when I’m feeling happy and focused. I just experience it for all its worth because it could be gone soon.

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  10. How strange, when I started reading your post I thought “Wow, this sounds like my dad, I’ll have to forward this to him” – and then you mentioned your own dad and grandad! I wonder if it’s a dad thing?

    It’s not something I’ve inherited from him, but when I do relax (i.e. take time out and do things that I enjoy), I always feel a little guilt over thinking that I’ve “wasted my time”. But what you said about wasting time only being time you’ve spent on things you don’t enjoy, that speaks to me a little: I’m so used to thinking of sitting down and reading a book, or drawing, or writing as being ‘wasted time’, purely because I’m doing things I enjoy, but you’re right, it’s not time being wasted, it’s time being used and enjoyed by me.

    And that’s made me smile this dreary Monday!

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  11. Hey Ashleigh! Yeah, it must be a dad thing! My father-in-law is the same way. Dads. Lol. And I’m glad that my post was able to make you smile! It is dreary here as well, and your comment made me smile, too! I hope that you have a good week, doing things you enjoy and NOT feeling guilty about it ❤

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