Professional Time, Leisure Time, and Wasted Time

Most of this article applies to any situation in which someone hires someone else to perform work, whether it’s paying someone to change the oil in their car or hiring a plumber to fix a leaky faucet. On that note, Connie writes in:

Your schedule seems overstuffed. Have you ever considered hiring an assistant or a housecleaner or something?

I have, actually. We earn enough right now to be able to afford hiring some additional help to take some of the hours off of my shoulder, whether it’s helping with the grunt work behind the scenes of The Simple Dollar or doing some of the household chores (dusting, vacuuming, etc.).

We haven’t done it yet, though, for one simple reason. Let’s say, hypothetically, that I hired someone to take care of ten hours of grunt work a week. What would I then do with those extra ten hours in a week?

For starters, it wouldn’t be ten hours. It would be less than ten hours because of the time invested in managing the person I hired, so let’s be very optimistic and call it eight hours.

Out of those eight hours, how many of them would I put to active, productive use? Would I spend that extra time with my family? Would I spend it on engaging work projects? Or would I just squander that time, considering I can already get all of the things done that I need to get done (albeit with little time to spare occasionally)?

I tend to think that I would just squander it.

It’s important to note here that I think there’s a big difference between leisure time and wasting time. I do get a reasonable amount of leisure time in my life – time spent in an activity that I find enjoyable and have specifically chosen to do. What I have very little of is what I call “wasted” time – time spent in no real activity at all. To me, a good life has a balance of productive time and leisure time with little wasted time in it.

What’s “leisure time” and what’s “wasted time”? Leisure time usually has a designated purpose: I’m going to play a game with my friends or I’m going to take a nap because I’m tired. Wasted time occurs when you spend time without any real activity at all: staring off into space, channel surfing, and so on.

I think “wasted time” occurs when you have an inadequate amount of professional (or academic) demands and an inadequate amount of leisure activities you actually wish to be involved in. If you find yourself “wasting time” on a regular basis, then something else is out of balance in your life. Another observation: people with a lot of “wasted time” in their lives tend to be earning far less than they potentially could be.

The only case where I can see that it is logical to hire someone to work for you is if you have a deep inbalance between your leisure and home needs and your professional needs. For example, if you have more work to do than you can possibly complete while still maintaining a reasonable balance between work and leisure, then you might need to hire someone to help with the work tasks. Alternately, if you are capable of managing your work tasks but are incapable of managing your home tasks without eliminating all leisure time, you might want to consider hiring household help.

I don’t think I’m in either camp, actually. I think I have a healthy balance of professional and leisure activities in my life. Hiring someone would merely put that balance out of whack, and the likely result of that would be “wasted time.” Thus, I’d pay someone money to permit me to essentially be idle.

This is why I’m often mystified as to why people sit in a waiting room at Jiffy Lube looking around or flipping through a newspaper or channel surfing while someone changes the oil on their car. They’re essentially exchanging productive time for “wasted time” and paying someone for this “service,” considering that an oil change is fairly easy to do at home. It makes at least some sense to me to drop a vehicle off to get the oil changed and then pick it up later as that’s paying someone to give you more time for professional or leisure activities.

Getting a grip on your professional time and your leisure time does nothing but pay dividends in your life. It helps you to avoid lots of unnecessary expenses and can often reveal what aspects of your life are in trouble and need repair.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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