The easiest way to waste time isn’t goofing off and pursuing leisure activities, it’s focusing on unproductive work. Train yourself to see unproductive work as easily as you can see when you’re just goofing off.
Paul Graham, an essayist and programmer, discovered a strong parallel between managing money and managing time. It’s easy to see when you’re spending too much money, very few of us could spend tens of thousands on material goods and not have something tangible and highly visible to show for our wild spending. On the opposite side of that, however, is investing. It’s easy to move large sums of money around in investment vehicles without really setting off any alarms in your mind that you’re shuffling about huge sums of cash. He writes on the similarities between the two:
A few days ago I realised something surprising: the situation with time is much the same as with money. The most dangerous way to lose time is not to spend it having fun, but to spend it doing fake work. When you spend time having fun, you know you’re being self-indulgent. Alarms start to go off fairly quickly. If I woke up one morning and sat down on the sofa and watched TV all day, I’d feel like something was terribly wrong. Just thinking about it makes me wince. I’d start to feel uncomfortable after sitting on a sofa watching TV for 2 hours, let alone a whole day.
And yet I’ve definitely had days when I might as well have sat in front of a TV all day-days at the end of which, if I asked myself what I got done that day, the answer would have been: basically, nothing. I feel bad after these days too, but nothing like as bad as I’d feel if I spent the whole day on the sofa watching TV. If I spent a whole day watching TV I’d feel like I was descending into perdition. But the same alarms don’t go off on the days when I get nothing done, because I’m doing stuff that seems, superficially, like real work. Dealing with email, for example. You do it sitting at a desk. It’s not fun. So it must be work.
It’s painfully easy to see how playing Xbox 360 is not work, but it’s just as painfully easy to get caught up in doing things at your desk that are no more productive and a lot less fun than just sitting around playing Halo. What part of your daily routine looks like work but is really just sucking away time you could be spending on something productive? Sound off in the comments with the daily time sinks that slip under your radar.