Wasting Time

I’ve been thinking about time management lately because I finally got around to reading Getting Things Done by David Allen. I’d previously avoided this book because it’s cover is so ugly and because I doubted that it could teach me much, the whole thing being if not obvious at least obvious to me: organise your stuff into meaningful projects and actionable tasks. Well duh.

(I was right to have these reservations, though I found a nugget of value in the word “trusted” when Mr Allan describes a “trusted system”. This is key. You can only stop your mind working overtime, replaying and rehearsing unnecessarily, when you trust the system you’ve set up for recording and managing your ideas. Once you trust your little system to keep track of the essentials, you can flop back into lovely, proper life with all its contingency and serendipity and general fertile mess.)

I read the book because a friend thrust his old copy into my hand but also because time management is useful to understand if you want to survive through self-employment while also succeeding as a bohemian layabout. You need to use time wisely if you want to “waste” time thoroughly.

Anyway, timely Momus posts this little thing today, summing up some my own issues with productivity and time management versus life.

Because my time is valuable, I waste it. Because I waste my time I make good use of it.

A paradoxical maxim that occurred to me as I was setting out on a cycling trip, waiting for a ferry. When you’re setting out aimlessly on a trip, you have to throw away all ideas about the productive management of time. The valuable things (a photo you spot, a new shop you discover) will be contingent and haphazard. Now, I’m as Calvinist about the productive use of time as any self-employed person has to be. But I also know that, trying to be productive, one ends up in cramped habit routines that dull the sense of being alive. To save time, to master time, is to waste it. Trying to cram value into every minute ends up making my time worthless. That’s why I hate productivity and calendar apps. I need to “waste” time — by, for instance, setting out on a pointless, objectless trip — to really sense my own aliveness. I need to surrender to contingency to reach what is essential.


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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at wringham.co.uk

2 Responses to “Wasting Time”

  1. Drew says:

    Interesting. Totally didn’t take you for a GTD type of person. This has altered my worldview. What’s next…”Rob Wringham, MBA”? Suits to match your fancy new socks? A mortgage?

    My disappointment aside, it’s worth reminding people that boredom and idle time can be really useful. How are you supposed to come up with big ideas if you’re spending all your time in “Quadrant I: Urgent and Important”? So maybe we should pair GTD with #2 of the 7 Habits and “start with the end in mind”. The end is more leisure. Organize your time accordingly. Work really hard at not working at all.


  2. Hah. What to say? I’m not a GTD person in the high-fives and post-it notes way. I just always have a bunch of projects on the go and I like to keep a clear head with regards to them. Dave Allen does say in his book that the principles of GTD are the natural way to plan and that it’s only the byzantine systems we’re taught through work and formal education that make us (wrongly) defy this natural impulse.

    God, imagine spending life entirely in Quadrant 1. A life destroyed. And the perfectly normal life of the working stiff. Too few people ask the question “what’s all this activity for, exactly?”

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