Wasting time comes in many guises. There’s time spent on “frivolous” activities like watching TV or playing games on your phone. There’s time spent on projects that don’t go as planned or have unexpected results (lace shawl I can’t seem to knit, I’m looking at you). There’s time spent mucking about when you are trying to create something new that results in nothing but a stack of awful sketches or pages of writing that you can’t actually use.

Our society isn’t at all friendly to the idea of wasting time. Every minute should be productive. We should have something to show for our hours. If someone asks you what you accomplished today, the last thing you want to say is “nothing.” But it’s unrealistic to expect to be productive every second of every day.

Any complicated activity requires skill, and to develop skill we must practice. To create, we must explore. Practice and exploration can look unproductive and wasteful, but they’re a necessary part of the process. We still come up against “time wasters” that are hard to justify, but we just need to look at them in a different way.

Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.

Auguste Rodin

After I found this quote, I realized all I needed to do to keep any activity from being wasteful was to discover what exactly I got from it. What did I learn? Here’s what I’ve discovered.

  • I play games on my phone when I am exhausted, in pain, or overwhelmed. I am distracting myself to cope, but it’s not always the best choice. I can wind up headachy or cranky if I spend too much time on my phone. Thanks to this podcast , I am working on a list of activities to do instead, activities that are both self-soothing and true self-care.
  • I can’t figure out the lace border on the shawl I am knitting because the stress of our strange times is affecting me. It’s hard to admit this, but I see that it’s true. While I’ve knit lace before, this is a new pattern to me and the novelty is especially challenging right now. If I want to figure out this border, I need to work on it while I am doing absolutely nothing else. I can’t listen to a podcast and knit this lace at the same time, at least not yet.
  • Writing drafts that do not yield usable text show me what I’m really trying to do. What I’ve posted here is only one-third of the writing I did on this topic. I was beating my head against a wall for quite a while before I discovered what I really wanted to say.
  • My NaNoWriMo drafts are experiments that have helped me find my subject matter. Some I will never revisit, because I learned that that genre or story idea isn’t right for me. Others have only pointed at the story I was going to write without actually containing much material I could carry forward. But I wouldn’t have found my way to the stories I am writing without writing these unsuccessful drafts first.

So all these things that seem like a waste of time are not. They hold lessons for us, and if we look, we will discover their true value.

What do you do that feels like a waste of your time? Have you learned important lessons from “frivolous” activities?

6 thoughts on “A Waste of Time or a Lesson?”

  1. I loved this introspective post. It helped me to understand that the black bird on my shoulder is perhaps not there to remind me of the end of my creativity. It might instead be reminding me that my thoughts can take flight if I let them.
    Thanks, Kit!

  2. I have actually been spending time on things I want to do, projects to catch up on, things I want to make… I actually find it freeing and notice that I have been thinking about moments when I was younger when I took time to do these things. So far mostly positive and I am never bored.

    1. That’s fantastic! I have many interests to keep me busy, but apparently at least some of them are out of reach at the moment. I can do routine stuff (knit a sock pattern I practically have memorized) but if I try something novel, things do not go well. I’m not sure what’s going on with my brain, but it doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders. This is why I reach for the less satisfying but easy to play phone games and such. It’s something to do that I *can* do. But I’m working on finding easier versions of my usual interests to take their place.

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