How much time do you think you’ve wasted today?
Just the other night I spent about six hours watching Doctor Who while playing 2048.
I don’t think that’s something most people would admit without quickly adding something along the lines of “I hardly ever watch that much tv!” Entertainment tv, especially in extreme amounts, is bad. It’s time wasted, right?
Add in all of our other time wasters – social media, digital games, organizing task lists (you know what I’m talking about) – and it starts to look like we’re wasting most of our time, even while we complain about never having time for ourselves.
So I’m going to admit that I took this deep-dive into fandom land (and have a tendency to do so frequently) because I want to explore just exactly why we “waste” this much time, and show you how small tweaks every now and then can make you feel like you’ve actually had time for yourself.
Why Do I Keep Wasting My Time?
It’s easy to just think “Ugh, I waste so much time watching tv! Scrolling through Pinterest! Playing games on my phone!” It’s easy to think you just need to stop and do something “more productive”.
But take a moment and ask yourself: Why do you spend your time that way?
For my fellow introverts out there, maybe your brain needs a break from thinking about all the things. Or between the kids, your partner, and work you’re just kind of proud you didn’t kill anyone today, and you’d like some relaxation and entertainment. So you turn on the TV and sink into your favorite chair with a cup of hot tea. Or something stronger – no judgement here!
Or maybe you’re an extrovert, and what you’re really craving at the end of the day is some quality social interaction. You know, the kind that doesn’t generally require words like “poopie” and commands to “keep that out of your nose!” So you plump up your pillow behind your back and start scrolling through Facebook.
However you spend your time it fulfills some kind of need, even if you’re not really aware of it.
So What Is That Need?
Psychologist Abraham Maslow observed that we have to have certain needs met before we really start to care about other more complex needs. You start to feel anxious and tense if your most fundamental needs aren’t met.
Maslow’s hierarchy is usually represented in a pyramid diagram. The bottom four layers of the pyramid below represent what Maslow called the “deficiency needs”.
- Physiological needs (food, water, warmth, rest)
- Safety needs (security, safety)
- Belongingness needs (intimate relationships, friends)
- Esteem needs (prestige and feeling of accomplishment)
These are the ones that make you feel anxious when they’re not met.
The great news is that you don’t have to meet each layer 100% before you can do other things (although slacking on that first layer definitely will put a damper on your day).
In fact, there seems to be a certain point where each category of need is met enough. And at that point you start to desire satisfaction in the higher categories. At any given time a certain need probably dominates your attention, but you’re never completely focused on that one need, forsaking all others, and you can feel anxiety over more than one category of needs at a time (duh, I know).
So it’s actually a lot more helpful to think of your needs as having an overlapping flow, like this:
So, after all that, take a moment to think about your favorite “time wasters”, and the need(s) they might be trying to satisfy.
I can tell you right now that the need I’m usually trying to fill when I sink into a geek-tv fueled haze is a deep physiological need for rest. My brain needs to rest from the work it’s been doing, and fantasy/sci-fi worlds are my favorite form of escapism.
Your turn! What need(s) are you trying to fill?
If You’re Trying to Meet Your Needs, Are You Really Wasting Your Time?
Once you know what need you’re trying to meet the question becomes: Is your attempt actually working?! Here I see two possibilities…
Option 1: Worrying About Wasting Your Time is Wasting Your Time
It took me over 30 years to have this epiphany: I enjoy watching tv… and that’s okay.
I know, I know. Research shows all kinds of negative outcomes associated with high digital media consumption, and I’m not going to pretend the correlations don’t exist. (Although we also used to think writing would lead to forgetfulness, and too much education would make us go crazy. So there’s that.)
But these assumptions lead us to treat tv watching like a dirty little secret, rather than the legit hobby it can be.
So I’ve spent most of my life glossing over my tv consumption and refusing to put “watching tv” on any list of hobbies or interests, and trying to change how I spend my time in the evenings. Despite the fact that I really, truly enjoy watching it, and it actually does help me meet my needs sometimes.
All this to say that it’s entirely possible your activities actually do fulfill your needs, but you don’t feel like they’re good enough due to social pressure. In which case the solution is to embrace the way you spend your time, and make sure you stay present and alert to any changes in how it makes you feel.
Which brings me to…
Option 2: You Might Be Wasting Your Time
If by wasting your time we mean using it to do something that only kinda-sorta meets your needs.
Maybe, after herding cats all day, you collapse on your couch and grab the remote. It feels almost automatic, right? And that’s because it kind of is.
It’s your default go-to relaxation method, and you’ve done it so often that you don’t even really think about it anymore. It becomes the easiest course of action because your fried brain doesn’t have to make any decisions. Your body knows just what to do, reflexively.
But it’s not always exactly what you need, is it? So you start to feel twitchy, just like Maslow said you would. Damnit, Maslow!
For example, I know that there are times when I don’t just need to turn my brain off for a little bit; I also need silence. So when I continue to follow my usual routine, it starts to feel like there’s something wrong. This usually results in me staying up way too late because my brain can’t relax enough to let me get sleepy, and that creates a not-so-fun cycle of exhaustion.
Luckily, it only takes a few small tweaks to stop wasting your time.
How to Turn Wasted Time into Quality Me-Time
Step 1: Identify what you really need.
This takes some practice, so try to be patient with yourself. Take another look at Maslow’s Hierarchy, and try to pinpoint where you’re at right now.
I’ve already identified my need for rest, and know that fantasy and sci-fi help my brain take a break from reality. But if I go deeper I might find that what I really need (at least sometimes) is quiet rest, and even the sound of the TV is too much stimulation.
So maybe a good fantasy novel would fulfill my needs even better!
Your Turn: What need are you trying to satisfy? What activity would satisfy your need best?
Step 2: Choose a new trigger.
Your trigger is something that you can set up ahead of time that will help lead you toward your new goal. It doesn’t just remind you of what you want to do, but helps you make the transition to doing it.
Take a look at what needs to happen before you can practice your new habit. Consider what could get in your way.
Maybe stretching out on your yoga mat requires clearing some space on the floor and unrolling your mat. Is there somewhere you could have it already unrolled, just waiting for you?
Or enjoying a hot cup of tea requires cleaning out your favorite mug. Is there a way you could make sure it’s clean and waiting for you each evening?
For me, reading in the evening requires having a good book available that I’ll look forward to picking up. So I need to choose and obtain a book that sounds interesting ahead of time. If I need to choose something in the evening, it’s probably not going to happen.
Your Turn: What’s required for your new behavior? What could possibly get in your way? How could you set yourself up for success? What would make this easiest?
Step 3: Trace your usual path.
What steps do you usually take before you end up doing the behavior you’re trying to modify?
In my case, I follow the 37 steps it takes to get my toddler to bed, close her door, walk out into the living room, and collapse on the couch. I give the remote a death stare for being all the way across the room, and vaguely wish I could learn to use the Force. Or at least develop telekinesis.
Luckily my phone is usually stuck somewhere between the couch cushions, and I can use that to control the Apple TV. So I switch on my show-of-the-moment, crossing my fingers that the volume doesn’t need adjusted because then I’d actually have to get back up.
And that’s how I get from point A (putting my kiddo to bed) to point B (spaced out in front of the tv).
Your Turn: What are your steps? How do you get from point A to point B?
Step 4: Place your trigger right smack-dab in the middle of your usual path.
Now you’re going to make this change as easy as you possibly can for yourself, by placing your trigger where you can’t possibly miss it.
So I take my chosen book and set it on the table right next to my spot on the couch. Or maybe I stick it down in the cushions because then Little Bit doesn’t see it and want to “read” it, and that’s how I end up with crayon scribbles and Nella the Princess Knight stickers in my books.
You see, I put my book right where I’ll conveniently run into it while on my quest for a tv-controlling device, so it interrupts the flow of my routine and introduces a new option.
Your turn: Where can you put your trigger so that you’re sure to run into it?
And that’s it!
You’ve set up a new trigger to help lead you into your new behavior. And with some practice it might even become your new habit.
Enjoy your new quality me-time!
P.S. Don’t think you have time for yourself? You need the Make Time For Me Workbook!