Everybody has a worst fear. You might not like small spaces, or public speaking, or heights. Or maybe you’re like my friend, who’s absolutely petrified of frogs!?
The thing that terrifies me most is wasting time. Give me a queue, a stuck lift, a delayed flight, a traffic jam: these things are the stuff of my nightmares. They slow me down and prevent me from doing what I need to do and drive me batty.
But as we enter another lockdown, I realised I would have to face this fear. With so much more time in my day, some of it, inevitably, is spent doing nothing. And then I started thinking… maybe ‘wasting time’ shouldn’t be a fear at all?
After all, we all know how important it is to have downtime in your day. It’s crucial for creativity. But way more importantly, it’s necessary for being a healthy and happy human being. This is something I’ve definitely forgotten (and maybe now, in lockdown, it’s the perfect time to remember).
So, here’s my ode to the value of wasting time. It’s convinced me to think differently about those moments of doing nothing. Hopefully, it’ll help you think differently about them too.
#1: A mind at rest is a mind that wanders
Today we live in an age obsessed with productivity. With our fitbits, sleep trackers and virtual assistants, we’re moving closer and closer to total human optimisation. No moment is allowed to go to waste. That means you never have time to let your mind rest.
And when this happens, you can’t find the unexpected moments that spark a new idea. Famously, Archimedes had his Eureka moment laying in the bath. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t a period of work that Google Assistant had scheduled into his day. It was just a pause that led to one of the world’s greatest scientific breakthroughs.
So, this lockdown I’m going to think differently about moments of stillness. Instead of resenting them for being boring (I could be out with my friends right now!) or trying to work through them (must reach maximum productivity!), I’m just going to enjoy them. I might not discover the science of hydrostatics, but hopefully I’ll still come up with something good.
#2: Nothing is wasted
I think one of the reasons I hate ‘wasting time’ is that I’m results orientated, and hate coming away with nothing. I think this is quite a common thing, especially amongst small business owners!
I recently finished the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Programme, and this exact thing came up on the course. We were tasked with making a playground out of plasticine. After we’d been working away at this for five minutes, we were suddenly given a new instruction: you have two minutes to turn it into a zoo.
It was maddening! But this was a really important lesson, especially for someone who works in a creative field. After all, marketing is an iterative process: you’ll pursue a route for a while, and then everything changes — and your brilliant idea won’t see the light of day. It’s the same when it comes to pitches. You can spend ages developing an idea that you love, only to end up not winning the business. And it can be difficult not to feel like you’re wasting time.
But the opposite is true. You learn so much from something that fails — maybe more so than the ideas that succeed. And when I look back at it, the pitches where we didn’t win often led to business anyway, just later down the line.
This is a nice thought next time you feel like Covid is ruining all your plans. When things change, or don’t work, it doesn’t mean it’s a waste. It’s an investment in learning — and that’s worth its weight in gold.
#3: Happiness depends on downtime
So far, I’ve given two business reasons why wasting time is great. But the most important reason has nothing to do with business. It’s just about quality of life.
A bit of slowness is really important for staying mentally healthy. I always notice this myself when I pack out my schedule, and then find myself feeling so stressed I can’t concentrate on anything.
That’s why I’ve been trying to get into meditation recently. When I open up Headspace, I’m giving myself permission to stop everything for 10 minutes. I don’t consider this wasted time, but vital for my wellbeing. So why should any other form of downtime be any different?
Happiness depends on the quiet moments. And that alone is reason enough to learn to love wasting time.
The value in wasting time
More and more I’m thinking the idea of ‘wasted time’ is toxic. We’re not robots, we can’t be always on. The boring moments give life their texture, just like the busy ones.
So, as we head into lockdown, I’m going to embrace the dullness and the quiet, and leave all frustration and judgment behind. Instead I’ll be learning, creating, Eureka-ing and being happy (hopefully).
That means I’m now on the lookout for a new worst fear. If anybody has any good suggestions (spiders? clowns? sharks?) let me know.