The world wants us to believe that some of our needs aren’t important, so they call it “wasting time.” I’m here to explain how you can unpack your so called wasted time, and understand why it’s important and useful to you.
Your time is your own to do with as you wish. It’s your life. If you want to go fishing for 7 hours, or play games for 3 hours, or watch YouTube for 9 hours, or mess around on the internet for 2 hours, or go for a walk for a 5 hours, do it.
Why Do You Want to Waste Time?
Well, the problem comes from the term itself.
Wasted time is usually defined as time that’s not productive in some way. Maybe it’s doing something that doesn’t earn you money, or doesn’t make your home cleaner. How you’re using your time right now might meet someone else’s needs, but if you ask yourself honestly, is it really meeting yours?
What Are Your Needs?
Our minds are needs-meeting machines. An obvious example is being thirsty, which happens when our mind is letting us know that our need for water is not being met.
A less obvious example is needing to go fishing for 7 hours. Doing this might meet your need for “space,” in order to process your emotions.
What Happens if You Never Fully Meet Your Needs?
If we’re not meeting our needs, our minds let us know through our body. In the example above, we develop thirst because we lack water.
But, what about if we didn’t go fishing? We might experience sadness, anger, resentment, overwhelm or even depression because fishing was meeting a need.
How Does a Need Differ From a Want?
It’s important to differentiate a need from a want. You might need air, but want a new outfit. If you don’t have any clothes and you’re cold, your need for warmth might be unmet. So, clothes can be a need, but it’s contextual.
So, asking yourself a simple question can help you differentiate needs from wants:
Will my quality of life be improved with this, or will I experience significant negative emotions if I don’t do this? If it’s the former, you definitely have a want. If it’s the latter, you definitely have a need.
As with everything, it’s a little grey in the middle though.
How Do I Discover My Individual Needs?
Knowing that you’ll experience negative emotions when you aren’t getting your needs fully met is the route to discovering your what they are. When you understand your needs better, you’ll understand why you’re spending some of your life on so-called “wasted time.”
A List of Popular Needs
You can have a good stab at working them out just by looking through lists and asking yourself “how often do I need this?” or “what would life be like if I never got this?”
Here’s a list of the popular needs that humans experience. You can see a fuller list of needs if you want to explore them more. I’ve not included our very basic needs of subsistence and security. These would be items like water, food, shelter and warmth.
Meeting Your “Freedom” Needs are Not Wasted Time
Freedom is highly desirable for some, and some people require as much autonomy and independence as they can get. If they don’t, it’ll trigger significant negative emotions. They often use this time to replenish their energy levels, particularly if they have an introverted element of their personality or were given too much responsibility as children.
So, you might “waste time” going fishing, for example, to have some time to yourself where you can make all of the choices that you want, being calm and away from any responsibility.
Meeting Your “Connection” Needs are Not Wasted Time
As some deeply need freedom, for others, connection is a deep need, and rejection or disconnection can be incredibly uncomfortable, causing them to act irrationally.
You might spend significant amounts of time looking for connection though the likes of WhatsApp or Facebook. Often, these types of connection aren’t deep enough and don’t provide the closeness you need, so the need is unmet. This causes even more time goes to looking for the connection you crave.
Meeting Your “Meaning” Needs are Not Wasted Time
Most of us require some meaning in our lives, and often we get this through our work. But, the meaning we desire can be significantly different from person to person. A lack of meaning can lead to mild discomfort, all the way to depression if this need is not met. Spending time on any of these – such as discovery, learning, creativity or internal peace – should never be seen as wasting time.
You might choose to spend your Sunday drawing, or reading a novel. Some may class this as wasted time, but to plenty of people, this is the sustenance that keeps them going.
Other Needs You May Have
There are a few needs which don’t fit into the major categories. In these areas, someone may choose to “waste time” on meditation, charity, or personal growth.
How Does All of This Relate to Wasting Time?
Well, hopefully you can begin to see that the real problem is that the term “wasted time” comes with a negative connotation, that you’re not earning, or doing chores, or something else that’s deemed as meaningful. In reality:
If you consistently don’t get this need met, then you’ll become unhappy, and ironically, less productive. So, it’s really not wasted time at all. You’re living the life you want, on your terms, and your needs should be important to you.
How Can I Stop Wasting Time?
It’s simple; stop seeing it through the lens of “wasting time,” which is someone else’s judgement on how you’re using it. Start to see it as you meeting your needs, which is very healthy.
Immediately then, you’re no longer wasting time. It becomes impossible for you. You’re just choosing to meet your own needs in your time, and allowing others to spend their time however suits them.
If others choose to see how you’re spending your time as “wasted,” it’s fine. They’re welcome to that opinion. But you know better.
Why you have these needs is a more complicated question, but it’s certainly not wasted time, for you.
Others might not have the same need, so it would be wasted time for them, but for you it truly isn’t. One of the most amazing things about humans is how different we all are to each other.
When Might Meeting a Need Become Wasted Time?
I mentioned above that the idea that someone might need connection, and thus spending time on social media, doesn’t fully meet their need for closeness. They still feel empty inside.
It might be like being so thirsty that you need a pint of water, but you only have a sip. The sip is better than nothing, but it’s not really enough to meet this need.
So, you might start to spend more and more time on social media, so you get as many “sips” as possible. You might choose to define this as wasted time because it’s not really even meeting your need.
This can lead you to recognise that no amount of social media is ever going to meet this need for you, and that could cause you to try something else, such as joining a club of likeminded people. This might begin to meet your need for closeness as you develop friendships.
Common Questions About Wasting Time in Life, and How to Answer Them
When you start to seeing wasting time through a different lens – whether your needs are being met – you can see common life situations, such as relationships and work, differently.
If you’re worried that you’re wasting your time in these, looking at them through the lens of needs can help, but some questions can also aid you in making a decision.
Are You Wasting Time in This Relationship?
Here are six questions you can ask yourself to help you work out if you’re wasting time on a relationship:
- Is there at least a 5% chance this will work out long term?
- Are you still in it because you’re worried you’ll be alone, and you’ll find that uncomfortable?
- Will the other person every change into what you want them to be?
- Does this relationship bring you more joy than sadness?
- What do you get from this relationship, and is that worth the time in your life that you’re giving to it?
- Are you learning about yourself, and will this help you in your future life?
These questions are as relevant to a friend as they are to a romantic partner.
It’s important to stop holding back from finishing a relationship if you decide that further time would be wasted.
Are You Wasting Time with This Job / Role / Business?
People can derive huge amounts of pleasure from their work, but sometimes we feel trapped in a job that doesn’t fulfill us.
Here are six questions you can ask yourself to help you work out if more time would be just wasting in this job:
- If you had your time again, would you take the role ?
- Of the two, does your work fill you with more position emotions like happiness, or negative emotions like sadness, stress and frustration?
- When you look back on your career, will this be one of the 3 roles you’ll really want to talk about?
- Are you still growing as a person or in your knowledge or skills in this role?
- Do you want to still be doing this role in 5 years?
- Would your friends say you’ve gone as far as you can in this role?
Meet Your Own Needs Consciously, and You’re Never Wasting Time
Just like meeting your need for water is never a waste of time, neither is playing games, going fishing, playing sports, painting, reading, spending time on social media, or anything else that you need in life.
Allowing your time to not be ultra productive – as it’s defined in a capitalist sense – will lead to more happiness in life, and that will create the conditions where you’ll work best, be most creative and find effective paths forward.
You’ll succeed more often, and more completely in your life.
So stop giving yourself a hard time. Waste some time! It’s OK! You’ll be more successful because of it!