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« Problem 5 - Lack of Concentration | Main | Reviewing an Old Favourite »

Problem 4 - Wasting Time

“I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”

―  Character from C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters

The above quote sums it up very neatly. Wasted time is time in which you don’t do what you ought to do (“work”) or what you want to do (“pleasure”). It is quite different from rest time, which often falls under both of these categories.

Typical examples of wasted time: 

  • Staring mindlessly into the fire (which is the example Lewis mentions in the book)
  • Falling asleep in front of the TV
  • Getting mindlessly drunk [Ah, that’s twice I’ve used the word “mindless” in three examples]
  • Putting up with something that’s not working properly rather than fixing it
  • Finding a heap of trivial tasks to do in order to avoid starting on one important task.
  • Drifting around at random unable to decide on something constructive to do 

Wasting time is the difference between mindless drifting and taking intentional action. It’s usually quite easy to tell the difference, but the best way to ensure that your action is intentional is to write it down. Writing down your next action forces you to bring your intentional powers into play. As I’ve mentioned often in the past, one of the ways I used to get people out of a state of mental paralysis and back into focus was simply to write a task down - any task - do it, then write another task down and do that. That in fact is the simplest form of No List system. If you find yourself wasting time, the easiest way out of it is to use this exercise.

It’s also the reason that I encourage people who are using a Long List system to put all their trivial tasks on it as well as the more serious stuff. These means you are always acting intentionally, rather than just drifting. Even if you are spending time picking the easy tasks, it is better than drifting - and it is much easier to pick up the serious stuff once your energy has replenished itself.

So remember:

Write it down! 

Reader Comments (8)

Thanks for great article.... I have one question: do you mean to write it down: write it on paper or digital to do list? Do they have same effect?

Thanks Mark....
November 18, 2018 at 20:25 | Unregistered CommenterNanda

I think both are equally effective. You should stick to the one you are most used to. Personally I tend to use paper and pen, but that is purely my personal preference.
November 18, 2018 at 20:28 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Staring mindlessly into the fire has got to be one of the best things I have ever done :)

And falling asleep in front of the TV is surely better than watching it?
November 18, 2018 at 23:49 | Registered CommenterWooba
Of course C.S. Lewis wrote that line back before T.V.'s were a common thing to fall asleep to. If you did have a T.V., they likely stopped broadcasting before you went comatose. So staring mindlessly at a fire was probably his equivalent.

I tend to think staring mindlessly at a fire is a healthy thing to do on occasion, but if your daily habit is to sit by the fireplace and just stare, and never get anywhere, that is less than ideal. The same certainly applies to mindless video watching in today's time. Frequently there are much better things to watch [or do besides watching] than whatever you chose, either want more or ought more.

Yes in some cases sleeping by a TV is better than watching, but is that really something you want to do? Surely it would be much better to fall asleep in a bed without a TV going, notwithstanding some people's addiction to TV noises and inabliity to get to sleep apart from them.

I caught myself earlier mindlessly slipping over to this page instead of deliberately. Read those paragraphs and, chagrined, went away until such a time as I would deliberately visit.
November 19, 2018 at 3:19 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Thanks for sharing Mark!

I will try the exercise when I want to get out of drifting.
November 19, 2018 at 15:58 | Unregistered CommenterChino
I use the long list but also have an A4 journal. The journal is divided into 30 minutes segments down the side of the page (one line is 30 minutes). Today I am starting at 4 am but usually start at 6 am. Incidentally starting at 4am this morning has been an exercise in futility and time wasting. I couldn't sleep so I thought I might try and get some work done, I should have stayed in bed.

Back to the journal, I write a short note on what I have done each 30 minutes, usually a couple of words eg draft document, or tv or eating etc. At the end of the day I colour in the lines where I have been productive. It then becomes very obvious where my time as gone. My productivity has seen a dramatic increase and the reason I put this down to is I am very cognizant of how my time is being spent or wasted. The guilt factor is amazing!! I now watch very little TV.
November 21, 2018 at 19:03 | Unregistered CommenterIan

<< I now watch very little TV. >>

I watch no live TV. I watch plenty of TV programmes but they are always on iPlayer, Amazon Prime or the like.

That means that I make a conscious decision to put them on my list, and I can control when and for how long I watch them. .
November 22, 2018 at 1:11 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Good point Mark, I will take that on board.
November 22, 2018 at 18:52 | Unregistered CommenterIan

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