Updated on 09.22.14

What Exactly Is “Wasted Time”?

Trent Hamm

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.

1. Things that provide genuine personal value to you

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.

2. Things that provide genuine value to others

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.

Where Does Success Come From?

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.

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  1. Des says:

    I think this also depends on the opportunity cost of the activity. Maybe playing board games and sanding a skateboard are fine activities when you have nothing better to do. But if your baby is crying, the water is boiling, and you’re running late to a vet visit, then at that time playing a board game IS a waste of time, even if it is an activity you personally value.

    If that young man was failing his classes and not completing his chores (read: not fulfilling his obligations), then no matter how great his sanding skills are, he was wasting time.

    Also, first hand experience working in a board shop for a number of years: no, sanding a skateboard is not a skill for which anyone pays highly.

  2. kat says:

    Trent, one thing that would not be a waste of time is noting the street address of the child with the skateboard and calling social services. Kicking the skateboard was an act of violence, and between two adults, the kicker could be charged with attempted assult. If the man kicks the boy’s belongings in public, who knows what he does behind closed doors
    how you would feel if someone kicked something you were holding. I would feel pretty danged threatened, and would assume I was going to get the next kick.

  3. lurker carl says:

    I can relate to that father’s exsaperation, although it seems a bit misplaced and unwarranted. My experiences with teenagers, in general, leads me to think the boy uses the skateboard as an excuse not to perform his household chores, school assignments and other duties. Skateboarding skills are irrevelant when you are using them to ignore your family, that is a sign of poor core values.

  4. George says:

    What’s important depends on who you’re asking. Obviously a parent has different priorities than a child. A boss isn’t interested in your home life unless it negatively affects your work.

  5. Stephan F- says:

    The boy has likely found his passion, too bad it isn’t an acceptable one to his dad.
    We know how this will play out. At best he’ll become a good little office drone, and have a secret little hobby that allows him to finish wood.
    He’ll die never having fulfilled his potential.
    So instead of doing something he obviously loves, he’ll end up in a job he he hates, spending money on things that won’t bring him happiness because they aren’t skateboards.
    No waste of time or money there.

  6. Anastasia says:

    This post reminds me of the one a couple of weeks ago about when your kids spent their allowance on the grabber machine. Maybe that would be a waste of money to you if you didn’t win, but to them, maybe making the attempt is worth the 25 cents.

  7. Nothing like turning a blind eye to abuse Trent. Bravo!

  8. Johanna says:

    Usually, when the phrase “wasted time” comes up in my life, it’s not because somebody’s telling me I’m doing the “wrong” thing with my leisure time. (Who are these people who tell you that playing board games with your friends is a waste of time? Why don’t they mind their own business? I guess the people I know are more respectful than that.)

    More often, it’s in the context of other people wasting my time (say, by dragging out a meeting at work when I have other things I need to do), or me making a stupid mistake and having to waste time rectifying it (say, I walk halfway to work and realize I forgot my lunch), or wasting time pursuing a goal that turns out not to be successful (say, by reading a paper that doesn’t actually contain a particular piece of useful information I expect to find in it). “Follow your true core values” doesn’t help me avoid wasting time in any of those senses.

    Also, I agree with Des and lurker carl.

  9. DiscoApu says:

    Trent is correct. Dont let other derail you from your passion. BUT dont let this passion become an addiction. What we know from this story is that the kid made a great skateboard. What we dont know is what is the back story. Is he skipping school? Does this consumer 10 hours of his day? We have no idea if the line between addiction and hobby/passion was crossed. What if trent had changed the story and the kid had just finished zelda for the 100th time? How would our opinions change?

  10. “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.”

    This struck a chord. And thank you for using your time this way. When I only have time to read two blogs, it’s yours and J.D.’s. I’ve been enjoying yours and finding value in it for what seems a long time!

  11. Gretchen says:

    What, exactly, does a fantansic skateboard look like?

  12. Nicole says:

    For what it’s worth, my mom says that age 10 is the ideal age for a child to have his or her first own pet (that he or she takes primary responsibility for).

  13. Nicole says:

    oops… wrong post open… sorry!

  14. Todd says:

    I agree with the previous comments, but my gut tells me that if I had a father who would come over yelling and kicking my skateboard in full view of another adult walking by I might want to spend most of my time outside with that skateboard too.

  15. anna says:

    This parent reminds me of the numerous parents I seem to run into while doing shopping at Walmart. If you will scream at your small (under 8 year old) child in a public store for “touching you” than what are you doing at home?? I feel extremely bad for children whose parents don’t support and love them. I was lucky enough to have supportive parents, many people unfortunately don’t.

  16. Brittany says:

    While Des and luker carl have a good point, I’d be more inclined to consider it valid if he stopped at calling the skateboard a waste of time. Even if the kid is neglecting other responsibilities, that doesn’t make the violence okay.

  17. Matt says:

    When it comes down to it if you’re doing something you truly enjoy then how can it be a waste of time? Even if it is an activity that costs you money.. how can it be a waste of money? Granted I’m not referring to the truly negative things in live like drugs but if you really enjoy watching movies then who should take that away from you. Yes you can always take it back to opportunity cost of the time spent and crap like that but we all have one life to live and if you want to spend the time sanding and making the perfect skateboard then all the power to you.

    A little side note – I wish I was that kid sanding the skateboard he might have found his passion right there (assuming its not beaten out of him later).

  18. I think that both of these concepts are self-defined by nature. What might be a waste of time (or money) to me may not be to you. Only you can determine that.

    And I think we should stay away from judging others in these areas, unless its an employer-employee setting.

    I can basically define “wasting time” as anything that takes up time in my life that is not generating me income, or providing value and/or pleasure to myself or my family.

    Its a broad definition, but I know that I personally cannot stand wasting time, and I try to utilize each and every day to the utmost

  19. littlepitcher says:

    The skateboard develops balance, coordination, spatial skills, and, in its creation, manufacturing and artistic skills. The exercise gained riding the skateboard sharpens the mind.
    Admittedly, the kid should do his homework. The father, though, should treat the property and opinions of others with respect.
    It would be a favor to the child if you, or someone else who knows the score, would write a letter to the child’s dad and mom citing a study or two on cognitive development. Chances are that a b*@&# of this type will ignore it, but the parents need an education and probably one will thank you for the input.

  20. matt says:

    Wow, calling child abuse with no context? I think more parents need to hit their children, It sure as hell straitened me out as a child, and most of these ‘precious snowflakes’ could use it. Kicking a skateboard is not violence, how about you look in a mirror before judging others, if you think that is child abuse, you have no idea what real abuse is.

  21. Jeannette says:

    Equating kicking a skateboard with child abuse?

    Seems like there is some serious projecting going on here.

    Is the behavior necessary and/or appropriate? Probably not.

    But to assume, without context, the presence of abuse? A very big leap. And I am someone who advocates taking action if one suspects either spousal or child abuse and would not hesitate to do so IF i truly had witnessed it.

    Most of us see plenty of parents verbally abusing their children. How many people call social services? Not many. Because as damaging as it is, verbal abuse is not something that triggers a call to social services.

    Perhaps this was not the best example to give for “waste.” (More an example of how to discourage a child from following their passion.)

    Even if the child had been neglecting chores and study, there are ways to address that without being disrespectful to the child AND by taking a positive stance: Son, you’ve done some fine work on your board. However, right now you need to make time for your chores and your studies. They are your key responsibilities and when you’re through with them, you can spend as much time as you have on your board.

    It doesn’t have to be either/or (it’s wasteful or it’s not).

    That’s the problem with others judging/commenting on how we spend our time.

    But “wasteful” is about what else is going on in your life and what needs your attention.

    Let’s be honest. Most of us humans spend way too much time in “diversions” and shadow pleasures, often to compensate for other challenges or pain in our lives.

    How many folks, for example, have a solo activity, that while enjoyable, is really about getting away from someone (kids, spouse, partner, etc.)? is that wasteful? Yes and no. Perhaps some of that time could be spent on finding real solutions to ongoing issues and making an effort to improve relationships. But part of that time may be how people decompress and allow themselves to readjust their thinking and get back into their routine? It’s a fine line.

    I think I might have phrased this as not about being “wasteful” but about what is the best use of your available time? And perhaps prioritizing how we spend our “free” time? We don’t have to give up what we love but perhaps put it into context.

    FYI: Trent, I don’t know how, with two kids, that you and your wife have such a solid block of time to play games with friends. Are your kids elsewhere? The only way we could ever spend that much time doing anything was when the kids were away, visiting their grandparents.

  22. Bill says:

    I wouldn’t kick a kids skate board, but what I knew when my kids where 3-5 was completely useless when my kids where 12-15. Your experiences with your kids, does not give you advance knowledge what happens when they are older. It is a given, that they will not grow up as you predict or hope;

  23. Brittany says:

    Kicking a skateboard IS violence. It is not child abuse in itself; however, that kind of violent loss of control due to anger is a red flag/possible warning sign of abuse, which is why so many people are concerned.

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