Productive Time Wasting. Oxymoron or the Stuff of Brilliant Ideas?

Playing with a fidget spinner


    1. Tons, I feel like I never get anything done
    2. None, my mind is always focused and I’m always getting sh!t done

I want to be the person who answers #2, but in reality, I make myself feel bad because I am definitely more like #1.

As I have just come back from a long vacation, I am thinking about time-how quickly it passes, how much you can do in a day, and what happens to our minds and bodies when we are not attached to a computer.

Now is our chance for us to rethink time and how we use. Our concept of work and life is changing. Let’s toss the concept of “wasting time” into the dustbin and instead think of these moments as creativity refill stations, oxygen for our imaginations.

We traveled through southwest Ireland where there are more sheep than people. We visited small villages with quaint main streets and a pub every 50 feet. We drove on roads the size of sidewalks, stopping for cows crossing the road. They could take their time because we had all the time in the world.

What we didn’t have was cellular service. No choice but to sit and stare at the scenery in front of us and forget the phones we had buried in our backpacks. It was peaceful. We spent quite a bit of time just looking out at the sea and the islands off the coast. We walked around ancient ruins and marveled at their construction and sheer survival.


Some of my favorite moments were relaxing at tea shops. (In England and Ireland, rarely do you find a garden or outdoor attraction without a tea room.) Sometimes we talked and sometimes we sat and watched the drama of families unfolding around us.

I had come prepared to write about each and every experience, to capture the moments and the intense thoughts that usually course through my mind when I am in a different culture. I carried my iPad mini and a small folding keyboard so I could write down my brilliance every day and turn those thoughts into blog posts. I’m a writer and I consider this to be part of my work.

So why then did I leave my iPad tucked away next to my phone? Did I waste those moments people watching when I should have been writing?

When we got back to our B & B there was wifi. Muscle memory flipped its switch and we turned to our phones. I read news and half-heartedly looked through email to get rid of the junk.

Why did I bother? I was supposed to be on vacation?

I felt a little guilty taking this time away from work. My messed up muscle memory is the kind that always puts work first, that makes me feel if I’m not working, then I am shirking responsibility. Not only to myself and my family, but I have a business partner and I owe her my best.

This oxymoronic view of life- -taking vacation only to feel guilty about not working-is just moronic.


I did a quick internet search on “wasting time” and thought I would get a plethora of scientific articles on the profits of letting your brain wander without purpose. Instead, most of the articles that came up were about how to “stop” wasting time.

I was already familiar with some of them as I often waste time reading about how to stop wasting time.

This attitude of having to stop wasting time is pervasive. It took many clicks to dig down deep enough to learn that Dickens only worked a few hours a day. Instead of writing at desk, he wandered around London or hung out with friends.

Einstein is famous for his quotes about letting his mind wander. Perhaps because he truly understood that to give our minds freedom from focus is to give them time and energy to refill, to make space, to let concepts and ideas that have been bubbling beneath the surface time to form and like steam, slowly rise to where we can see them.

Time is at its best when we forget to watch it. –Jill Pollack


As kids, we don’t know the concept of “wasting time” so staring up at the clouds has the same value as staring at teacher in a classroom.

The science tells us that letting our brains and our minds lie fallow is vital to our physical and mental health. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. But perhaps this metaphor will help you see that “wasting time” is really more like “filling up the tank.” Our brains are working every minute, even, or perhaps especially, while we sleep.

Only when the clock stops does time come to life. –William Faulkner

Only when we lose sight of time, stop watching the clock, and keep that damn pomodoro timer off, do we really have a chance at getting involved in new thoughts and reaching deeper into our own creativity.

What does wasted time look like for you?

* Falling down an internet rabbit hole searching for outdoor beverage lids for wineglasses

* Walking with no destination

* Binging on Wandavision

* Marking up an adult coloring book

* Fill in the blank:#


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