A Waste of Time

Outside of collaboration, the application of the phrase has an air of contempt, disapproval or even disgust about activities or life choices that an individual is engaging in.

Many people believe they possess superior wisdom and, therefore, feel qualified to offer such advice. However, this is often not the case.

N.B. In the context of business when you’re trying to achieve an outcome, the phrase is perfectly valid and helps to create discussion around focusing on the right problem or trying to ensure value delivery against time. This post is about unwelcome opinions about how we spend our own time.

Activities examples

  • ๐ŸŽฎ Gaming is a waste of time
  • ๐ŸŠโ€โ™‚๏ธ Swimming (or, insert your chosen sport) is a waste of time
  • ๐ŸŽถ Creating music, is a waste of time
  • ๐ŸŽญ Performing arts, is a waste of time
  • ๐Ÿซ That degree is a waste of time

No, you’re not more enlightened - the loudest voice in the…

If you were to challenge a person that said this to quantify what a ‘waste of time’ actually was, you’d get some answers in the region of:

  1. Doesn’t have an output
  2. Could be doing ‘better’ things with the time
  3. Because you’re just sat there
  4. There’s no money in it

This is all wrong of course, but where does this mindset come from? There’s a prevalent societal notion: first get educated, then land a job. That’s it. Therefore, if we aren’t working towards this, some activities are construed as ‘timing wasting’ during our younger life.

The joy of chance

The only chance you’d have a defining if something was a waste of time would to be an all knowing deity which knew the beginnings and ends of everything for an individual and their choices. I’d argue even this is very tricky due to the butterfly effect, and negative outcomes have some positives ones.

Into Chaos Theory

Every micro decision we make shapes our life, for better or worse but ultimately we can’t know that. So therefore, how could someone know an action can’t justify the time it takes? Taking time to do things that give us joy is not only the best thing for us, but can grow to making connections, relationships and all the things that make us human.

  • Ryan, a shy somewhat introvert young man binge watches a TV show by his favourite director
  • A few weeks later, there’s a conversion at work lunch, Ryan unusually jumps into the conversation
  • There’s someone else who also adores the show and the director, from this a friendship is formed
  • Several months on Ryan is invited to his co-workers (now friend) BBQ, he gets talking to a girl…

The ‘wasted of time’ watching a TV show led Ryan to friendships and opportunities he wouldn’t have had overwise.

In defence of

However, despite the criticism, there could be some justification here. One could argue that excessive time investment in a particular task is what they’re trying to highlight, but how do you define excessive? I think the simplistic approach is to the detriment of everything else or activities that likely have equal or greater value than what’s being pursued. In addition diminishing returns could play a factor, think 80/20 rule.

  • Studying 12 hours per day


  • Studying 6 hours, getting exercise for 2 and preparing nutrient dense foods, other activities for the remainder

Sometimes, the former is the best course but as a default choice? Other things will suffer with the higher percent of 24.

To conclude

Telling people they’re wasting their time is the wrong approach. If you wish to help, perhaps suggest ideas to nudge the individual into a less weighted time expenditure.

There’s quite an irony in writing this post, but not knowing where it will lead, is the exact reason it should exist.

Ash Grennan
Ash Grennan
Snr Software Engineer

Deliver value first, empower teams to make technical decisions. Snr Engineer @ Moonpig, hold a BSc & MSc in software engineering & certified AWS Solutions Architect (LinkedIn). A fan of Serverless computing, distributed systems, and anything published by serverless.com ๐Ÿงก