Reading time: 3 minutes

The concept of wasting time repeatedly comes up in conversation with clients. It is a fascinating subject on which it appears, to me at least, there is too much certainty. “He is wasting his time” I have been assured. “That programme was such a waste of time!”

Just for clarity – I am not suggesting that there aren’t hours in most people’s days that might, on reflection, have been used differently. How endless hours on Netflix or social media will help us long-term is unclear, to say the least, but that is for each person to judge. A few hours on the couch may be what we need that day. Nevertheless, in my experience, a lot of people spend much of their time on activities that don’t really move them towards their long-term aspirations and dreams.

It does, however, beg a broader question – how do we know the time is being wasted? It seems to assume that we all have a fixed amount of time, determined at some point before or after birth and that any hour not doing something productive is thereby lost as the clock ticks loudly down to zero. The focus is thus often on the quantity of time and not the quality of time.

And yet, I would simply challenge anyone to provide their time balance – simply the number of years, days and hours they have left on this planet. I would imagine most would struggle to get such a print-out.

My point is simply that we have no means of knowing whether or how each and every decision will lengthen or shorten our lives. Who is to say what is wasted? Is the life of a monk or nun who spends hours in contemplation wasted?

In most countries there is a marked difference between male and female life expectancies with women on average living up to 6 years more than men. The traditional explanation has been that this was primarily biological. However, studies in Germany of nuns and monks living similar lifestyles looking back over 4 centuries have shown that the biological difference is no more than a year. This points to the fact that the difference is primarily down to lifestyle choices. It thus raises the question – can something that ultimately lengthens your life be a waste of time?

We take decisions each and every day that impact our health, one of the leading being how we choose to interact with time. Indeed, over-preoccupation with managing time as a resource or asset has been shown to increase stress levels. Complaints of “I don’t have time to do more exercise” or “I am too busy to meditate” plus a myriad other rationalisations may be true today – but is that the whole story when we know that healthy and less stressful lifestyles extend overall life expectancy?

I am not suggesting that anyone’s goal is necessarily to just seek to extend their lifespan but I find it interesting that our cultural obsession with not wasting time today or not having enough time to live a balanced life could ultimately cost us years on this planet.

So, the next time someone tells you something is a waste of time just ask them “How do you know?”