A few days ago, I overheard an interesting scene between a father and a son. As I walked down the block, I saw the boy (about fourteen years old or so) in front of the house, doing some finishing work on a skateboard. He was sandpapering it vigorously as I approached and kept touching the finish. It looked really good, and I was impressed.
Just as I neared the house, I saw an older man (who I’d assume was the boy’s father or stepfather) come out of the house and yell at the boy, “Are you still wasting time on that stupid skateboard?” The boy seemed to ignore him, but the man walked over and kicked the skateboard as I was walking past and continued to yell at the boy for wasting his time with skateboards. I tried not to stare and just listened as I walked away from them.
Given the type of craftsmanship I saw on that skateboard, I would have strongly encouraged my son to keep it up rather than berating him for “wasting his time.” From there, I began to wonder what exactly a waste of time – or a waste of money – really is.
What Is a Waste of Time (or Money)?
One of my favorite hobbies is playing board games. Roughly every other weekend, my wife and I invite several friends over around noon and we play board games (and card games) well into the night. Not only is it a great social encounter for us, we find the games themselves very compelling and often play games against each other in the evenings.
Some people might say, “Well, that’s a waste of time.” When I hear that, I simply recognize that the person is saying that an afternoon of playing games with friends is not something that they value. Because, in the end, that’s all a “waste of time” is: time spent doing something that you don’t really value. The same is true of money.
What Isn’t a Waste of Time (or Money)?
On the flip side of that coin, what things aren’t a waste of time or money? I identify two groups of things that are not a waste of time or money.
First, things that provide genuine personal value to you are not a waste a time or money. Playing board games forces me to think deeply and it also provides a powerful avenue for socializing – those things provide genuine personal value to me. Others might find board games boring and a pretty poor avenue for socializing and thus they might view it as a waste of time.
The difference is in what provides genuine value to me, not to you. We are all different, with different skills and talents and different interests and different personal values.
Second, things that provide genuine value to others are not a waste of time or money. I’m referring to work here, but also to volunteerism and to helping friends. If others value what you’re doing (and are willing to compensate you in some way for it), then it’s not a waste of time.
I keep thinking of that young man finishing that skateboard. It looked fantastic. Skateboarders would pay well for that type of skill.
A wonderful ideal is finding a way to do something that falls into both groups: it provides value to you and to others. For me, writing falls into this category.
Success Comes From Being Alert and Minimizing the Waste
Successful people attempt to minimize the time and money they spend on things that do not provide genuine value to them or to others. They also look for ways to spend their time and money on things that provide more value to them or to others than whatever it is they’re currently doing.
This requires focus. You have to evaluate everything you do in a given day. “Why am I doing this?” “Is it something that I really personally value?” “Is it adding value to my life?” “Is it adding value to the lives of others?” “How much value am I really getting from this in terms of personal growth, financial gain, or relationships built?”
Asking those questions will lead you to some surprising revelations. For me, for example, I found that spending twenty minutes with my eyes closed in a dark room while trying to focus on clearing my mind of all thoughts was far more relaxing (and thus valuable) than an hour spent watching television. I found that making dinner for my family (and often with them involved in the process) added far more value to my life than the time spent going out to dinner with them. I found that getting adequate sleep each night was far more valuable than cutting an hour of sleep out to “get more done.” I found that practicing the piano was just as relaxing and far more valuable (for me) than that same amount of time spent playing World of Warcraft. I found that spending some time each week reading and some time writing a short story or two was more valuable than spending that time forcing myself to write something strictly based on personal finance.
And, yes, I found that playing board games with some close friends, alternating between focusing on how to win and focusing on good conversation and exchange of ideas, is an extremely valuable way for me to spend my time on occasion.
When someone tells you that what you’re doing is a waste of time or a waste of money, don’t be afraid to rethink what you’re doing. At the same time, don’t assume that it actually is a waste of time or money, because that definition depends on you, not them.
Figure out your small handful of true core values, follow them in whatever you do, and they’ll always lead you to success.