The Right Way to Waste Time

Don’t you hate wasting time? Everybody does.

I worry about wasting time less than I used to, for two reasons. First, I hate wasting time, and ironically, one of the best ways to waste time is to worry about wasting it. Second, my first year of college taught me that sometimes, wasting time is necessary—some things are just more worth wasting your time on than others.

My brother, still in high school, is a programmer. He generally astounds me with his tenacity when it comes to bugs in his program—he’ll work on a single problem for hours on end (seemingly getting nowhere from my perspective), and feel that it’s all worth it when he finally gets the bug fixed.

I’m not a programmer, and I don’t like fixing bugs. Or so I thought.

Do you like math? Not many writers do. But I enjoy it in a classroom environment, and took a calculus class last spring. By the time finals rolled around, I had a good handle on most of our concepts, and I finished my once-over of the exam in about half an hour. In the next half hour, I figured out most of the remaining problems. And then I had just one problem left and an hour remaining.

Getting that last problem perfect didn’t matter statistically. My grade would be good regardless. Yet I spent the hour doing that one simple problem over and over and over again . . . it was almost right, almost! Over and over and over . . .

And suddenly, my brother’s obsession with getting a problem solved didn’t seem so inexplicable after all.

I couldn’t figure it out, and handed in my exam with the page backs covered in pencil marks. So, it was wasted time, I guess. But math still helped me learn where diligence can get you—the great satisfaction of a problem finally solved. And even if the problem never is solved, there’s real satisfaction in devoted work.

I didn’t think I had it in me. Wasting time for a cause! And that, if I may say so, is not wasted time at all—it’s diligence.

So, it seems the key to using time well is this—forget about it. The time will pass anyway, expire just like a gift card. Find the right things to waste time on. That’s living in style.

Don't let the Fear small

P.S. Want to know what got me on that final problem? It was a fraction. A simple little unassuming fraction. Derivatives and integrals I can handle, but addition—that’s something else.

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