There’s no such thing as ‘wasted’ time | Sunday Observer

There’s no such thing as ‘wasted’ time

A few days ago, I witnessed a disturbing encounter between a father and a son. As I walked down a street in the neighbourhood, I saw a young boy around 15 years in the front garden of his house, doing some finishing touches on a wood carving. It was a block of wood converted into a frail old man with a walking stick. It looked really good, and I was impressed.

Just as I neared the house, I saw an older man (who I assumed was the boy’s father) come out of the house and shout at the boy, “Are you still wasting time on that stupid carving? Have you forgotten your exam is in May?” Since the boy seemed to ignore him, the man walked over and kicked the carving. I was shocked, but kept on walking away from them.

Given the type of craftsmanship I saw that day, I would have strongly complimented and encouraged any young boy to keep it up rather than berating him for ‘wasting his time.’

Waste of time

That encounter made me think. What exactly is ‘wasting time’? One thing I know, most of us worry about ‘wasting time,’ about the minutes and hours sliding past, about what we intend to do with our lives. I personally believe we shouldn’t worry.

Take for example, my favourite hobby - playing board games. Whenever, I meet a few friends I invite them to play board games. Not only is it a great social encounter for us, we find the games themselves compelling. We often play games against each other in the evenings and for a change, rotate the venues.

But, a few of my friends call it a ‘waste of time.’ They believe it’s not ‘productive.’ In other words, an evening of board games with friends is not something they have placed any value on. In that sense, they cannot be blamed, it’s their perception. Doing something that you don’t value is a waste of time. Let me quote another example. Indika was one of my batchmates in the Indian University where I studied for my Bachelor’s Degree.

In the second year in the university, we were given the option of studying a subject non-related to the main stream we were following. I selected journalism while Indika opted to learn Spanish. What a waste of time, his friends told him.

They said, he was crazy to select Spanish, instead of French or German. Still, he continued to putter around with Spanish, finding a deep affinity for it. He qualified in the Spanish language and eventually wrote a book about Buddhism for Spanish readers. It was a minor masterpiece. In other words, it was the Spanish language that opened up for him a whole new universe of concepts and ideas. Who can call it a time wasted?

John Lennon, English singer and songwriter who co-founded the Beatles, said, “Time you enjoyed wasting was not really wasted.” He was right.

So, what isn’t a waste of time?

I have identified two groups of things that are not a waste of time.

1. Things that provide genuine personal value to you

Playing board games forces me to think deeply and it also provides a powerful avenue for socializing which is of genuine personal value to me. Others might find board games boring and a pretty poor avenue for socializing, and thus, view it as a waste of time. The difference is in what provides genuine value to me, not to you. We are all different, with different skills and talents and different interests and personal values.

2. Things that provide genuine value to others

I’m referring not only to work, but volunteerism and helping friends. If others value what you’re doing (and are willing to compensate you in some way), then it’s not a waste of time. I keep thinking of that young man finishing that carving.

Traders who handle quality handicraft would pay well for that type of skill. A wonderful ideal is finding a way to do something that falls into both groups: it provides value to you and to others.

Where does success come from?

Successful people look for ways to spend their time on things that provide more value to them or to others than whatever it is they’re currently doing. It requires focus. You have to evaluate everything you do on a given day. “Why am I doing this?” “Is it something I personally value?” “Is it adding value to my life?” “Is it adding value to the lives of others?”

“How much value am I really getting from this in terms of personal growth, financial gain, or relationships built?” Asking those questions will lead you to some surprising revelations. For me, for example, I found that spending twenty minutes with my eyes closed in a dark room while trying to focus on clearing my mind of all thoughts was far more relaxing (and valuable) than an hour spent watching television. I find that spending some time each week writing a real-life story for the newspaper was far more valuable and enjoyable than spending that time forcing myself to write something strictly based on business management or personal finance.

And yes, I find that playing board games with some friends, alternating between focusing on how to win and on good conversation and exchange of ideas, is an extremely valuable way for me to spend my time on occasions.

The design of life is perfect. There are no mistakes in reality,  only in our perception of it. There really is no such thing as, ‘a waste of time.’ It’s all stuff you had to go through to get to where you are right now. All it takes is one single insight to totally change everything in your life.That day, you’ll understand it was all worth it. 

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