Sep 14, 2013

Time Unwasted, After All

As an adult, I've learned there are many things we're supposed to feel guilty about.  Social obligations, cultural expectations, and, most importantly, wasting time.  We learn that it's bad to spend too much time sleeping, or reading, or playing games, or simply sitting around and thinking.  We learn that our time needs to be structured and that free time to ourselves is somewhat akin to a crime, seeing as it has no productive value.

I've experienced this phenomenon several times.  The story is always the same.  I decide to be more organized and more productive.  Thus, I have less free time overall.  But in spite of the extra things I'm accomplishing, I become even more critical of my free time.  Each free hour is analyzed until I can't bear to "waste it" on a movie or a game, but attempt to knock yet another item off my growing to do list, and usually end up in a slump, browsing the internet and reading the most worthless sites and getting no enjoyment out of it in an attempt to make the next task seem less onerous.

At this point, I can't bear to continue being productive, because I'm stressed and tired and completely unmotivated, yet I can't allow myself to simply take the free hour for personal enjoyment.  This, to me, is truly wasted time, for reasons I'll explain further.

There are also contending definitions of "wasting time" that we need to deal with.  Having given up on the productive lifestyle once again, I had picked up a couple of hobbies, just for fun, one of which was an ongoing game with a couple of friends.  One friend dropped out after the first session, citing as her reason, "I don't want to waste time sitting around when there are other things I could be doing."  She further explained that it would be a more productive use of her time to be outside and active.

Having run across this "productive" word again, I launched into a multi-day, making-deep-realizations-about-myself thought process that my family would quickly tire of hearing about (yes, these are frequent).  I knew what this friend used her free time for.  She sat by the pool, or watched TV, or went out drinking with friends.  Why was this more productive than gaming?  The end result was the same - no tangible end product or completed tasks, just enjoyment.  And the light bulb came on with a big flash!

Yes, enjoyment could be a "productive" end result of an activity.  Because if you live your whole life productively, accomplishing major things, and always checking things off a to-do list, but aren't happy, then what is the point?  We all need to take breaks.  And we should all be happy.  If it takes 6 hours of gaming every day to make you happy, then do it!  You might have to sleep less, or take away from some other activity, but that's where prioritization comes in.

So for this friend, the level of enjoyment she received from games was less than she would get from other activities.  Thus, in her mind it was not a productive activity.  Obviously, the rest of us would beg to differ, because we have continued to get enjoyment from the game and have no plans of quitting to pursue "more productive" activities.  But the definition is different for everyone.  And everyone should do what makes them happy, rather than doing something simply because their friends want them to, as in this case.

The major change I've made in my lifestyle is to start scheduling time for fun.  I'm not going to just squeeze it in where I can.  So if you ask me last minute to go to the bar or run errands with you, it'll be too late.  Because gaming is on my calendar, it IS a priority, and I will no longer give up the activities I enjoy for perceived obligations and socially cultivated guilt.  And I'm certainly not going to spend any more time browsing the internet in a state of stressed and anxious procrastination, dreading but forcing myself to continue on to the next "productive" activity.
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