How Not to Waste Your Time

by Shannon

I think we can all agree that twenty-fours is not enough. Especially when you spend about a 1/3 of it sleeping. For optimum productivity and creativity, the recommendation is at least 8 hours of sleep. So, 1/3 of your day spent being unconscious.

How we parcel out the remaining sixteen hours varies. We have meals to eat, chores to do, errands to run, work to do, and children/pets/and spouses to care for, among others. But with everything we have to get done, it’s hard to find the time to work on our writing. And the worst part is when we find ourselves in situations that “waste” our precious time.

This week, I went on several job interviews for positions that weren’t a great fit for me. These included selling things door to door. Since I didn’t get the job, it’s easy to look at that time as wasted. But if there’s anything I came to a conclusion about this week, while walking for hours and hours, it was that the concepts of “wasting” and “using” time depends on our mindset.

One of the most obvious places to re-purpose time is while doing physical work. If you’re running in the neighbor, forced to go on a hike you want no part of it, or going door to door like me, you’re provided with plenty of opportunities to exercise your brain. While your body works, you brain is essentially hanging out. Put it to work puzzling over the solution to your writer’s block, determining the next plot point in your work, or more simply, describing things. While I was going door to door, I was afforded a view of the American workforce I didn’t usually encounter. It never really occurred to me how many people are needed to work a business, or that your job title could literally be, secretary to a cabinet company. While I was walking around, I saw a company that makes caskets. I watched the workers offload some off the truck and, while I realized someone obviously needs to make the caskets, it never before occurred to me who exactly those people might be. And beyond that, how does one end up in that line of work? All of those experience are ripe to be mined for future writing projects.

Stuck in a waiting room or in traffic? Describe the things around you. Invent lives for other people. Look at the splotches in the carpet and think of how many different words you could use in place of “green” or “orange”. Notice damage on the car in front of you on the freeway? Think of a mundane explanation for it. Then, think of a fantastical explanation for it. What do you think really happened?

While obviously, most of this re-purposing of wasted time isn’t going to give you your lost minutes and hours backs, or even directly affect your writing, it helps your brain. You exercise your brain in ways it wouldn’t normally work, helping you become more observant, more accurate in your descriptions, and ultimately, more creative.

I’ve been doing a 365 photo project in 2012. While I don’t take particularly stellar pictures everyday and some days I forget or cheat a little bit, I’ve noticed a marked difference in my observation skills. I notice more oddities and striking things than I ever did before. Among my great observations for this year, I count: a girl on the bus with a broken arm, sprained wrist, and hospital ID bracelet around her ankle; another girl on the bus reading sheet music and tapping out the finger positions with one hand; a guy riding his bike with a baseball mitt on his head like a hat; and the words ‘WHISPERS RUN’ scratched on the concrete floor of a woman’s bathroom at an out-of-the-way fairgrounds in rural California. Do I live a more interesting life than I did before? No. I learned how to see better. I learned how to be more present in my world, instead of walking through it, following the same paths I do day after day. Do I still need improvement? Of course. I recently noticed one of the boards on the deck of the house we’ve been renting for a few months is a different color than the others. How I didn’t notice that, I don’t know. So, while I feel my eyes and observations getting better and sharper, I, too, can use more practice.
Most people would cite “wasting time” pretty high on the list of things that irritate them. But instead of letting yourself get annoyed and angry (the enemies of creativity), use the time to do something constructive. Take a moment to really look at what’s around you, while honing your writing skills. Not only will you emerge a better writer, you’ll become a more thoughtful and observant person, while achieving greater satisfaction with your own life.

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4 Responses to “How Not to Waste Your Time”

  1. I only sleep four hours a night, and that is still not enough time.

  2. I try never to think of myself as “wasting” or “killing” time–it’s too destructive. Within every moment lies endless possibilities. Whether I choose to explore them or not, as long as I’m aware of the moment, I haven’t wasted it.

  3. Door to door, definitely NOT a job for me. Nor should it be for you, you’re far better than that. I lasted about four days doing door to door sales because I just walked off. Absolute joke it was.

    Anyway, I probably waste time more than anyone else, I’ve been out of work for nearly four months now and it’s rare I do anything constructive with that time, I probably could have written four novels by now, there’s no excuse for it. But you’ve definitely given me something to think about 🙂

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