Are you wasting, spending or investing your time?

We all know that there is never enough time to do everything we want in life, but there are ways to maximize the time that you do have. Learn the difference between wasting, spending and investing your time, and how you can apply it to increase your efficiency, use your time more effectively, and create long-term, lasting results.

Last winter I took a job running a media lab at Metropolitan State University of Denver. The assistant directorship provided so many of the things that I wanted: a steady paycheck and benefits, a media environment that would let me go home and be with my family at decent hours, and most of all, the opportunity to work with students and young professional.

I’ve always loved working with people in or fresh out of college. Most of them are eager, enthusiastic, and willing to learn, and my meager input into their lives always reaps amazing rewards. What could be more satisfying? Then there are those who are obstinate, arrogant and just don’t get it, but you know what, they learn, and in those cases I pat myself on the shoulder for keeping both my temper and them from hurting themselves.

My last group of students was particularly challenging and I found myself really struggling to keep up both with my daily obligations, my extracurricular activities and the influx of students whose lives were in flux. Unbeknownst to me, the university I signed up with attracts a lot of untraditional students–returning students, single moms and career changers–and with them, their own set of unique challenges. Before I knew it, more than 50% of my time was going into developing my students and my to-do list expanded from a sticky note to my Moleskine planner, to an excel sheet, and finally, an 11×17 inch poster. My nerves began to fray, my sleep began to suffer, and my interest in helping others, the very reason why I had taken this job–began to fade. FAST.

While sitting in a five-hour board meeting to recruit our new student leaders, I found myself growing frustrated by being stuck in yet another meeting when I could be doing more productive things. As I stewed about how much time I was wasting when I could be out kicking butt, I realized that I was wasting my time. First and foremost, I had to be there. A poor choice could bring about much more work in the long run. But I also realized that my time was finite, and that if I was going to accomplish all of my dreams, I had better start using my time more wisely. The other finite-resource commodity I’ve been thinking about lately is money, so I decided to apply the same paradigm.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Time wasted is like money wasted: you get nothing in return for it.
  • Time spent is like money spent: you get something out of it, but the returns are far greater when spent well.
  • Time invested is like buying stocks: you have to think about it, make good choices, and take a risk every now and again, but when you work for it, it will work for you. The results aren’t always immediate, but almost always worth it.

With this simple paradigm shift in mind, I started making conscientious decisions about how to use my time.

Rather than wasting time proof-reading résumés for students who were too lazy to do so themselves (teacher will do it!), I invested the time in having a talk with them, telling them how to write the resume, why they need to proof it before bringing it to their boss, and even giving them tips on applying for jobs. This took about three times as long as just editing the damn résumé, but the results were exponential: student number one was hired by CNN, and soon thereafter, other students started seeking his advice, so within a month, I was no longer wasting my time, energy and soul on doing mundane tasks, and instead was fielding questions from budding professionals, learning and succeeding with them along the way.

Things started to change at home, too. My husband, the entrepreneur, takes monthly “business trips” at home. What does that mean? He mentally checks out from anything that isn’t his project du jour, and I’m left feeling lonely and frustrated. So this time, instead of stewing (wasting time) and throwing my classic guilt tantrum (spending time, since I get immediate results but they don’t last), I sat my dear hubby down and gave it to him straight. I told him what I needed, when I needed it, and that I was sick of getting upset. The talk was longer and the results are slower and require more maintenance, but then again, my stocks and home aside, he is the most long-term thing I’ve ever invested in it, and even if the reward isn’t huge at first, I don’t mind sitting back and waiting for my big payoff.

So where are you wasting your time? Are you spending enough of it to be happy? And are you doing enough investment to ensure that you’ll always have time to spend doing the things you love with the people you care for?

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