How To Redefine What It Means To Waste Time

What does it really mean to waste time? It's not what you think.

How To Redefine What It Means To Waste Time
Most Saturday mornings my husband and I play video games together. Toby used to be our little couch buddy, only getting a little grumpy if I got up to refill our coffees. How can something that I enjoy so much be considered a waste?

After my recent loss and another trip around the sun, I have been thinking a lot about wasted time.

There is this cult of productivity with hundreds of thousands of books, articles, and videos about optimizing every second of your life. Tips, tricks, and hacks abound, as long as you are ok waking up at 5 am. 😉

Now, don’t get me wrong, you are likely reading this (or subscribed to my newsletter) because you want to manage your time better and be more productive. I have given myself the title of productivity consultant and I know it comes with the assumption that the purpose of working with me is to learn how to be more productive and waste less time.

But what I actually do (and the purpose of my articles) is help people be more intentional about what they do and when they do it, so they can take a more active role in how their days and weeks unfold. I help them find clarity on their values and reprioritize the things that are important to them.

The result is a calmer, healthier approach to their lives…which in turn results in higher productivity.

I believe the core of productivity is being intentional about your time… not in service of working more. A vital part of this intentionality is reframing what it means to waste time.

Everyone wants to be productive. No one wants to waste time. But what do those mean?

How to redefine what it means to waste time

The problem with wasted time is it gets mixed up in the same breath as downtime. To relax is equated with wasting time that could otherwise be used “productively”. It’s then often mired in guilt and anxiety about what’s not getting done.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You often struggle to relax because you feel like you haven't gotten enough done.
  • You sometimes don’t enjoy downtime as much as you could because you are thinking about your to-do list.
  • You feel like you should be working more.
  • You feel like a failure when you are tired, not feeling well, or you don’t get done what you thought you should.
  • You feel like downtime is wasted time.


But what if downtime was part of your productive time? What if downtime was a necessary part of being productive? What if wasted time was time spent not enjoying the things and people you love?

1. Downtime is productive time

I have waged a regular internal battle with the idea that it is ok for me to relax versus the feeling that I should be doing something “productive”. I have berated myself on days when I didn’t get enough done (whatever “enough” meant). I have often felt like downtime was wasted time. Any resulting “relaxation” was marred by anxiety and guilt…which is (shockingly) not particularly recharging.

I see the same thinking in most of my consulting clients.

This thinking is backward and ultimately unhealthy. Consider:

  • Do you concentrate well when you are exhausted?
  • Do you feel motivated or passionate when you are drained?
  • Do you feel energized when you skip meals, sit all day, and sleep less?
  • Do you feel connected and engaged with the people you care about when you don’t see them?

Humans are not built to work all the time. There are studies of all kinds about the negative impacts of overworking your brain and chronic stress. Not to mention the other risks for your physical health like stroke and heart disease. A recent study showed that three-quarters of a million people are dying from ischaemic heart disease and stroke, due to working long hours. Then there are the mental health impacts related to depression and anxiety.


In a previous article, I wrote about 4 Ways to Make Self-Care a Competitive Advantage and the argument here is the same.

Your brain and body will function better when you:

  • Give them breaks.
  • Nourish, hydrate, and move.
  • Rest.
  • Connect with others.

You have to relax, recharge, and take care in order to be productive.

Downtime IS productive time.

2. Time spent on something you enjoy is never wasted

Two of my three primary hobbies sit solidly in what could be considered wasted time.

  1. I am a big NBA fan. I watch at least a few games a week throughout the season (Go RAPS!...though not right now because they were eliminated from this year’s playoffs 😅)
  2. I play video games with my husband nearly every weekend. Most Saturday and Sunday mornings are spent collecting loot and smashing one kind of monster or another (after pancakes of course).
Penny was also a Raps fan. Can't you tell?

My third hobby is reading. I read 80-100 books a year. On its own, reading is of course considered productive. When you add the context that I mostly read fiction (fantasy and romance to be specific) then it too could be considered wasted time.

These combine into 100’s of hours each year of time not spent being “productive”.

But I have come to realize that’s not true. It wasn’t a sudden realization but the compilation of my life experiences that made it starkly clear to me that:

  • Time is not guaranteed
  • Life can change very suddenly
  • I better make the best of now

These read like fortune cookie fodder, but in many ways are simple truths that easily get lost in the noise of all the external messages of DO MORE/BE MORE we all wade through every day.

But what if you ENJOYED more?

  • What do you enjoy?
  • What fills you with energy?
  • Who brings you joy?

I keep a quote on a sticky note on my desk by Jamie Attenburg that reads:

“The one thing I know is that we are all dying every second of our life, inching our way toward the end, hopefully, but dying nonetheless, so we better use our time well while we’re here, because this is it, this is the only time we’ve got.”

This is it. You better enjoy it, and time spent on something you enjoy is never wasted.

3. Wasted time is time missed doing what you love with the people you love

Your life will not be measured in how many of your todos are crossed off your list or how many hours you worked. As is often referenced, no one on their deathbed looks back and wishes they worked more or got more chores done. People wish they spent their time with the people they love and on the things they enjoy.

When you think about what it means to waste time, think about what you want to be able to say when you look back. Think about what you can say now as you look back on the last few months or even years.

Of course, most people have to work. For some it is a source of passion, others a means to an end, and for most somewhere in the middle. There will always be chores and things to do around the house. Every day will have routine tasks and todos.

You have responsibilities and I am not suggesting you shirk them. What I am suggesting is every single day there is the opportunity to:

  • Make space among your work, chores and responsibilities to take your downtime
  • Recharge and relax without guilt or anxiety
  • Do the things that bring you joy with the people that bring you joy

There might not be a later.

Wasted time, truly wasted time, is time missed doing what you love with the people (or creatures!) you love.

Penny was a good reading buddy too. As long as I also took breaks for pets.

How to make sure you don’t waste time

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day as weeks pass and the days blur together in endless routines, work, and responsibilities. It’s easy to become passive passengers in your own life and let life happen to you.

To be productive and not waste time, whatever those mean to you, you have to be intentional.

A simple but effective way to be intentional is a daily reflection.

I have written extensively on daily reflection:

I won’t repeat the concepts here except to say you have more power over your days and weeks than you think.  

“If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.” - Maria Edgeworth

How are you going to redefine what it means to waste YOUR time? What are you going to do to make sure you take care of your moments?

Did you read this and wonder how to get your schedule under control enough to feel like you could relax? I can help.