A Waste of Time

I should be working on my novel, not writing a blog post.  Yep.  I can feel my blood-pressure and anxiety level rising right now.  I should be working on my latest knitting project, not surfing the net.  I have so much work to do and I’m wasting valuable time not doing it!  Oh boy, here come the palpitations!  I should be reading right now.  I haven’t read anything for weeks and it’s crucial for a Writer to be reading all the time to hone their craft.

Oh no!  What am I doing with myself?  I’m wasting so much time!

Once upon a time, several years ago, the company that I was working for paid for us all to attend a 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshop.  I distinctly remember filling out a survey to determine how much time you spent doing the four different areas of activity that was talked about in the workshop.  I tried to be honest with myself.  Lo and behold, I ended up scoring myself as spending a lot of time idling and not getting things done.  I felt terrible.

Okay, but here’s the thing.  That 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshop also talked about a habit called “Sharpening the Saw”.  In fact, other than “First things First”, which I repeatedly saw on someone’s bumper-sticker on the street where I lived, I couldn’t tell you what the other habits are.  But “Sharpening the Saw” is all about taking time off from all the work you have to do to enjoy yourself so that you are fresh and rested whey you approach the work again.

Yes, but is that what I’m really doing?  I’m not writing, I’m not knitting, and I’m not reading.  So what am I doing anyhow?  Nine times out of ten the answer is “working”, but does that count?  I could be putting this time to better use, right?

I have another issue with the term “wasting time”, a far more emotional one.

So several years ago I had moved to Alabama to be closer to my father.  He left when I was six and spent the next 25 or so years playing this game of “in my life, out of my life, in my life, out of my life”.  I moved to Alabama after my Mom died to try to rebuild my relationship with him.  Well, it didn’t work.  I moved back home to Philly.  I was having a hard time finding a job, so I called him for some emotional support.  Long story short, he told me that my life was a “waste of time” because I had majored in something useless in school (History and Theater) and worked pointless jobs, and that I should have gone into engineering or accounting or gotten married.  I hung up on him.  I’ve talked to him for about 30 minutes in the 7 years since he said that.

However, the specter of WASTING TIME remains.

I get extraordinarily anxious when I feel like I’m not spending my time the way I should spend it to get things done.  I agonize over every moment that I’m not writing, not producing.  The other day at work (and by that I mean the job that they pay me for) we had a ginormous project handed to us and I was unable to write a sentence all day.  I think I broke out in hives.  And yet technically I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  Technically the writing I do during my day job (*cough*like this blog post*cough*) is wrong.  I have nothing to feel ashamed about.

So what is it about the pressures and expectations we put on ourselves to get things done?  Or is it not really our own expectations but the haunts of the past that push us beyond the reasonable?  I thought my dad’s statement about my life being a waste of time was so ridiculously off-base and out of line that I hung up on him.  I definitely think he gets a giant parenting FAIL.  But is there a part of me that believes him?  That thinks I need to prove myself to myself every moment of the day?  …  God I hope not!

The fact is, I like to feel like I’m getting things done.  I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a novel or a pair of socks.  The victory of completion is my crack.  But I’m not completely convinced it’s healthy.  And sadly, I’m equally unsure what to do about it except to remind myself to cut myself a break now and then.  That saw needs sharpening and there’s only one way to do it.

So am I alone here?  Does anyone else give themselves a hard time for something subjective?  How do you deal with it?


“It’s bad enough that you waste time, but do you really have to kill it?” -The Phantom Tollbooth (sort of paraphrased 😉 )


7 thoughts on “A Waste of Time

  1. When I was pregnant with my son, my charming mother said,”now you have started something you HAVE to finish.” The message I got from her for most of my life was that I never finished anything! Now that I’m 62, I look around and see loads of things I have finished! I think its the glass half full/half empty syndrome. Look at all the things you have done, rather than anything that still needs some work. And yes, you dad gets a FAIL…hopefully I never did anything like that to my kids! (I did finish my son and went on to finish a daughter…well, I made them, carried them and gave birth, but hopefully they finished themselves as responsible caring adults!)

    So, you have a job, you are earning your keep, You have breaks at your work, not to do other work, but to refresh yourself so you don’t go home feeling that all you can do is sit and stare at the tube! We have to be good to ourselves, we certainly can’t rely on others to know when to be good to us! You are doing ok!

    • Ah yes, isn’t it charming how our parents give us complexes? I’ve come to the point where I feel like how we respond to those stupid things our parents said or did to us defines who we are.

      And yeah, at the end of the day I think I do pretty good. Although I would love to get this book finished by the end of the month!

  2. This is something I struggle with, too. It’s that whole “should” word that gets me. I “should” be doing this, I “should” be doing that. But who put the “should” in there? The society we live in today tells us we “should” strive to be the best we can be, to get that big fancy house and the well-paying job and 2 1/2 children and a 3-car garage. That’s how “Americans are supposed to live.” But we forget that people are different. Not everyone wants that kind of life. I’m happy not being rich as long as I can pay my bills and enjoy what I’m doing.

    It’s not just your dad (though he sounds like a real jerk). If we sit and watch tv to relax, we’re couch potatoes. If we want to play video games all day Saturday, we’re slackers. If we need more than 5 hours of sleep a night, we’re lazy (yeah, believe it or not, people think I’m lazy because I need my full 8 hours of sleep). Because it’s not what that person should do, so we shouldn’t be doing it, even if it makes us happy.

    I’m trying very hard to stop worrying about what other people think I “should” do and focus on what I need to do to get the most of out my life *for me*. I’m the one who has to live it and deal with the end result, not them. I don’t want to look back and realize I spent my entire life living it for others.

    • I need 8 hours of sleep a night at least too! So did my mom. Also like my mom I’m an early riser. It’s genetic apparently. But that means that I have to go to bed early because my body won’t sleep late. I don’t watch TV, but when you tell someone that if given half a chance you will go to bed at 9:00 they tend to look at you funny. =P

      And yeah, “should” is one of the trickiest words in the English language and one that can get you into a lot of trouble if you let it take over. Meh.

  3. I completely get what you’re saying. Maybe it’s because I majored in english writing and minored in gender and sexuality studies. I work in sales. There aren’t a lot of options that pay well right now. I’m glad that I’ve gotten back into writing in my “free” time, but there is a sense of guilt that follows me too. When I’m reading or watching a movie, I think I should be writing, I should be spending time with my friends, I should be making a well-balanced diet for dinner. I don’t have a solution, for me, it’s a daily struggle. What I’m trying to do now is treat my days off with some scheduling, so I get what needs to get done, done, and then enjoy the evening for social activities or relaxation. When in doubt, I’ve been using these rules: Wake up early, Feelings Lie (like not wanting to work out, but feeling better after YOU DO), and Life Comes First.

    • I sometimes wonder if women “suffer” from this feeling of should more than men because we are biologically programmed to multi-task. Maybe we have a more refined sense of ALL the things that need to be done, so we stress out about it. But yeah, when I get things done it’s the best feeling ever! =D

  4. I make lists and I put tings I need to do and things that just happen like a phone call or throwing a load of laundry in the wash and I check off everything I do- when I’m post this reply I’ll check off catch up on blogs. the at the end of the day I can see everything I did do even thought it feels like I never get anything done.

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