How many times have you found yourself sprawled across the sofa on a Sunday night, wishing you hadn’t wasted your weekend doing nothing productive?
If you answered, “more times than I can count,” you are not alone. Everyone has, at one point or another, felt like they’ve wasted their time. This realization often comes with a host of lovely little feelings such as anxiety, shame, and guilt. Instead of letting these thoughts get you down, let them inspire you to be more mindful of how you're spending your life. Ultimately, time is all we are given and all we have to give to others: that’s what makes it our most precious resource.
Feeling alienated from your own time
Something that sucks about time is that it often feels like it isn’t ours to spend. We lead fast-paced lives: we work, we study, we have bills to pay and chores to do. Our days are filled with tasks to complete, topped off with a few empty hours in which you can say, “phew, now I get to do what I really want to do.”
You might want to exercise to maintain your health. You might want to read to cultivate your mind, or spend more time with your family. You think about it all day while you rush around doing other things. Then in the evening, you come home after a long day… and you make a beeline for that spot on the couch.
You blink, and suddenly it’s dark outside: the laundry isn’t folded, the dishes aren’t done, and you’ve been falling down a YouTube rabbit hole for three hours. The guilt slams into you, and you start asking yourself all sorts of questions: is this really how I want to spend my free time? is this the kind of person I want to be?
It’s like a lazy, sluggish jelly monster momentarily takes over my body to do whatever it wants; and when I “wake up,” I feel like I’ve been robbed of my own time.
Why we waste time
These bouts of laziness may leave you feeling frustrated and oddly disconnected from yourself. While they certainly aren’t fun, they work as a sort of alarm system. Like many other unpleasant symptoms, they usually warn you that something isn’t right and that it’s time to make some changes.
Bouts of unproductiveness can pop up when you’ve settled into a routine. You go through your days on autopilot, which is the opposite of living mindfully. Hence, it’s no wonder you find yourself mindlessly wasting your time. It can be helpful to switch things up a little.
It can be tempting to spend your free time on the couch, but doing an activity can be far more rewarding.
You can start by making small changes to your schedule, like going grocery shopping at a different hour of the day. It sounds silly, but as you notice these little changes, you will become more aware of how you spend your time in general. Being more mindful of your time will encourage you to use it more wisely.
Put the “free” back in “free time”
A friend of mine once told me about all the things she did outside of school. As I listened to her, I thought she must be some kind of superhero. “You study full-time, work almost full-time,” I said, “and you do so much volunteer work. You must have no free time at all!” She shrugged and answered: “it’s not that I don’t have free time, it’s just that I’ve filled it all up with things I want to do.”
This blew my mind. Most people equate “free time” with the blank spaces in their schedule: this mindset can make us think we’re only “free” when we have nothing to do. But that’s not always true. Think about the last time you made a commitment to something that meant a lot to you, and maybe when it came time to do it you felt kind of lazy, but you followed through with it and felt glad that you did. Now think of the last time you had a day off and accidentally spent the entirety of it on your couch in front of Netflix. Which of these really makes you feel more “free”?
If you feel like you’ve lost control over your own time, it can be enlightening to reframe the way you think about free time. Thinking of it as time in which you’re free from any obligation encourages you to spend your afternoon napping on the couch. Thinking of it as time in which you’re free to do things that express who you want to be encourages you to actually do something worthwhile.
Cut yourself some slack
All that being said, it’s impossible to have a super productive and fulfilling day every day. Be careful not to confuse necessary rest with laziness. Trying to go at full tilt unendingly will inevitably lead to burn out, which could result in you needing to take much more time off than if you just scheduled in some low key time every once in a while.
Ironically, we waste a considerate amount of time shaming ourselves for wasting time. Let’s just accept that needing to rest once in a while is, and always will be, a part of being human. Ignoring it for extended periods of time would probably backfire spectacularly.