Time Sinks and Passion: More Thoughts on Time Management

One advantage of bringing back the short afternoon posts here at Get Rich Slowly is it'll give me a chance to carry on more of a dialogue with you, the readers.

For instance, there was a good conversation over Friday's post about how I've become a magician of time. One reader, Alex, is a college student, and he wants to know how to tell is something is a waste of time.

He wrote:

I was wondering if you, or any other GRS readers, had advice on how to tell whether something will be a “time sink” or not since that wasn't completely clear to me.

The answer will vary from person to person, of course. What is a time sink for me may be a life purpose for you. So instead of saying “videogames are time sinks” or “children are timesinks”, it's important to address this question in general terms.

I think there are two primary types of time sinks:

  • The first kind of time sink involves something you love, but which requires an inordinate amount of time. I often think of children in this category. When you have kids, they take up all your time. (Tyler K, care to chime in here?) And yes, you love them, but you recognize that you're no longer able to do other things that once seemed important. With these types of time sinks, you're generally rewarded for the time you invest.
  • The second sort of time sink is worse: You spend time doing something, but you'll never get that time back, and you don't get anything to show for your efforts. For me, watching television and playing videogames are good examples. I love to do both, but they're absolutely black holes into which my time goes and I never get anything back. This second class of time sinks is what I think of when I use the phrase “a waste of time”.

In other words, some obligations are time sinks because of what they are. Others are time sinks because of how long they take. In my life, I consider the top three time sinks to be:

  • Television — even in non-broadcast form. In early January, as I was wrestling with depression from my divorce, I shirked responsibility by devouring every episode of Community and catching up on this season of Glee. If I let it, TV can be a time sink. It keeps me from doing things I really want to do.
  • Computer games can be a huge time sink for me, especially online games. Eighteen months ago, I wrote about my obsessions with Starcraft II and Carcassonne. I was letting these games suck more than 20 hours per week from my life. They were time sinks.
  • E-mail is a time sink of a different type. E-mail is mostly productive. But holy cats! does it take a lot of time. When I'm answering e-mail, I'm not doing other things that would bring greater benefit, such as writing articles or studying Spanish. But it has to be done. It's a time sink.

I believe that certain relationships can also be time sinks. As you all know, some people tend to be toxic. They complain. They create drama. They demand attention. They can't seem to do anything on their own. I'm fortunate right now that none of my relationships are time sinks, but I've had some in the past, and they weren't any fun.

One of the reasons I've become more productive over the past few years is that I can recognize time sinks and avoid them. I try not to allow them into my life.

That's my sort of rambling definition of a time sink. What's your definition of a time sink? What sorts of time sinks do you have in your life? How do you cope with them? Any advice you can give Alex about coping with time sinks in his future?

Hell yeah!
Also in the comments on Friday's article, GRS reader Jenzer reminded us of a blog post from Derek Sivers. In 2009, Sivers gave some interesting advice. He said he'd decided to stop saying “yes” to things: “No more ‘yes'. It's either ‘HELL YEAH!' or ‘no'.”

In other words, when you're deciding what new projects and activities to add to your life, when you're deciding what to do with your time, and how to spend your money, don't settle for “just okay”. Don't do things out of habit. If an opportunity doesn't make you say “HELL YEAH!”, then you're better off not pursuing it.

By following this advice, you can gradually fill your life with the things you're passionate about. That's essentially how I've trimmed everything from my life but fitness, friends, writing, Spanish, and travel. Those are the five things I love, the things that make me say “HELL YEAH!”

This is very much related to conscious spending. With conscious spending, you choose to spend on the things that are important to you while cutting back ruthlessly on the things that aren't. Well, the same principle applies to time.

You should spend both your time and money freely on the things that matter most to you; but you should watch carefully that you're not frittering away seconds or cents on the things that are unimportant. This is how you become a magician of time…and a magician of money.

More about...Productivity

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El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

The second sort of time sink is worse “Worse” implies that the compared thing is “bad”. I think that classifying children as a “time sink” is more than slightly misguided. It’s like saying that work is a time sink or sleep is a time sink or a relationship is a time sink or school is a time sink or breathing is a time sink. Yes, children will eat up your time (more so if you’re a helicopter parent), but they are no more a “time sink” than Crossfit training or expeditions to Timbuktu. Just because something takes a lot of… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

It’s probably more PC to call kids a ‘huge time commitment’ than a ‘time sink.’ But I get what JD is getting at, certain tasks require a huge time commitment and cannot be half done at your leasure. (Sometimes I wish I could put my kids on pause) And people should think twice before commiting to these sorts of tasks.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

The thing is that time sinks are by definition time wasters, but these are not the same as time commitments. Originally it’s a gaming term: time sinks are the boring repetitive parts that take away from fun gameplay. Gamers love hours and hours of gameplay– what they don’t love is having to perform repetitive dull tasks to move up a level. Now the metaphor is moving into real life. Obviously life is not a video game, so it’s a little different, but the expression retains the negative meaning. Examples of time sinks: facebook, office meetings, email group discussions, getting stuck… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Time sink is originally a gaming term? I don’t think so. I’ve been using it for decades. And I don’t think it’s necessarily negative, which was what I was trying to get at in the post. Yes, many time sinks are. But e-mail isn’t negative. Nor is writing a blog. But they’re both time sinks.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

“Worse” implies that the compared thing is “bad”. It doesn’t. Let me demonstrate: Albert Einstein is a worse physicist than Stephen Hawking. J.D.’s terminology doesn’t bother me. A heatsink is a device that serves the purpose of *absorbing lots of heat*. There are no moral implications there. Regardless of what you call it, children do require a lot of time. But with children, like sleep, it’s not a choice. Sure, you can stretch or squeeze and spend 6 or 8 hours a day sleeping, and you can do the same thing with time spent with your kids, but you can’t… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

@ Tyler & JD — that’s what I get for learning English on the internet, ha ha ha. Ok.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
8 years ago

I agree with El Nerdo on this one, but I realize that we all read and understand things with our own personal perspective First, as to time sinks, the article divides up “time sink” without ever defining it. I do cringe when I see children classified as time sinks. Sure, they take time, but if the definition of time sink is something that takes time, the only relationship that would not apply to that definition is superficial relations where no time is spent, which means there is not much relationship to begin with. Like El Nerdo, I have a hard… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago
Reply to  phoenix1920

“Martin Luther King was a better philospher than Gandhi”.
Ergo, Gandhi was a worse philosopher than Martin Luther King. The two statements are exactly equivalent.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
8 years ago
Reply to  phoenix1920

I get that they place the two men in the same order if these were the only two philosophers in the world. I do not believe that all people will see the two statements as exactly the same. If you were having a job performance review where your boss was comparing your job as department head to all the other departments, would you prefer him/her to say “All the other departments did worse than you” or “Your department did the best”. To me, if my boss said the first comment, I would think that he still wasn’t quite satisfied and… Read more »

HC
HC
8 years ago

I make good money, sometimes high $xx,xxx – $xxx,xxx. Although I agree partially with the definitions of time sinks by you, I would also humbly disagree with some of your statements as well. I’ve actually been on this topic for a fair bit in my life and I actually enjoy playing video games. I’m able to talk to old friends that I may not be able to see everyday and also reduce stress at the same time. There are certainly other avenues of achieving the same result but this one seems to have less ‘time sink’ in it because i’m… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

Facebook is a major time sink.

Joe
Joe
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

I recently got rid of my personal Facebook account and haven’t even looked back. As for time sinks, mine is probably my blog. I’m not sure which of the two categories it falls into…

Foghorn O'Kalashnikov
Foghorn O'Kalashnikov
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

Hence all those offices blocking it 🙂 Of course, I’ve noticed my team are now just glued to it on smartphones ….

Dan M53
Dan M53
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

Even my teenage kids are spending less time on Facebook. IMHO, it has begun its slow downward spiral. Thanks, Betty White!

Heather
Heather
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

Facebook is entirely the reason that I have fantastic relationships with much of my extended family, and the way I have been able to stay in contact with many of my close friends in different time zones. Facebook is only a time suck if you let it be. Some of us use it for reasonable discourse and meaningful relationship-building.

Emily Dykstra
Emily Dykstra
8 years ago

What a wonderful and well thought out article. Thank you, J.D. and friends.

I have some great things to think about now regarding “budgeting time.”

Emily

Sara
Sara
8 years ago

I think a time sink is something that generally detracts from (or at most gives very negligible benefit to) your well-being, and takes time to the exclusion of other activities that do support your well-being. I know, this is vague, and other comments will probably cause me to reshape my definition, but this is my starting point. For example, watching a bunch of TV: Maybe the first half hour helps me to wind down from a hectic day, but hour two or three is just a time sink for me. Perhaps if I were involved in the television industry or… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  Sara

I think you should further refine your definition to “something that would never be on my to-do list”. My house gets really clean when I am avoiding some other more dreaded task, but I don’t consider cleaning a waste of time. On the otherhand surfing the internet for no purpose is never on my to-do list yet it gets done often.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Sara

Hey, breathing prevents me from stuffing my mouth with more and faster cheeseburgers, of course it’s a horrible horrible time sink! 😛

Holly
Holly
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

You think breathing is bad? Do you know how many times a minute my heart has to beat, and what does it get me?!

Daniella
Daniella
8 years ago

Having come of age in the Facebook era (I was in college when it launched), I know how easy it is to go into ADD informational overload mode. Opening a billion tabs in the browser. Getting distracted by e-mail, texts, calls, alerts, scrolling banners…. I’ve found it helps to know who you are and what’s important to you. It’s easier to get sucked into time sinks when you haven’t established that. While you don’t have to write a personal manifesto, some sort of mission statement or even bullet points can be a great reference point when you’re first dumping time… Read more »

Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
8 years ago

To me, a time sink is something you spend time on that’s not important to you and/or doesn’t help you achieve your goals. If you don’t have goals, then chances are almost everything you do is a time sink. In my life, I spend too much time browsing the internet to be entertained. I also check my email and analytics compulsively. In the past, my time sinks have been video games and TV, both of which I’ve stopped doing for the most part. My advice to Alex would be to flush out your goals and values. Once that’s done, you… Read more »

bareheadedwoman
bareheadedwoman
8 years ago

While I certainly understand evaluating a current relationship (toxic or otherwise) in terms of sinking unrecoupable time into something or someone with whom you cannot find a mutual path… In hindsight, I rarely can ultimately chalk such up to a sunk cost as much as a costly section in a series of lessons. May not would have chosen that course, but a lesson once learned ends up being more of an investment than a loss. Gardening, however, is what time is for much to my city neighbors’ bewilderment. And, online stand-up comedy is a huge timesink (just.one.more.clip…). I specifically schedule… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

You live in New York, don’t you?

I used to live in NYC and I agree that hanging out on stoops with neighbors and dogs is one of the best ways to spend your time. It isn’t high on any career-obsessed or money-driven person’s list of priorities, but so what? It’s almost magical, and I miss it terribly.

Economically Humble
Economically Humble
8 years ago

Not having a product after doing something is my definition of a time sync. … at least at work where I produce academic content. At home, I try and do things that I enjoy and have some sort of benefit out of them….. say walking the dog every day = better health and less fat around my waist. 😉 TV, however, is a tough one. If my partner, for example, wants to watch TV with me I get dirty looks if I bring my laptop over. 🙂 FOr me, TV is background material and prime time to do something worthwhile.… Read more »

Julie @ Freedom 48
Julie @ Freedom 48
8 years ago

The computer is such a huge time sink for me. I can spend hours on line… and realize I did absolutely nothing.

Chase
Chase
8 years ago

Haha, I think one of my time sinks is reading the comments on blog articles. I should just read the article and get on with my life.

Yet here I am, even adding my own comment.

bareheadedwoman
bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  Chase

LOL displacement activity vs timesink

amanda at #9 says she uses housecleaning to put off dreaded tasks, whereas if i am heavily involved in important online discussion, guaranteed there’s dishes in the sink.

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

It always concerns me, just a little bit, when people talk about things like video games and TV as automatic time-sinks and so they’ve cut them out completely. I mean, I do understand that they can be addictive and consuming. Certainly if you are replacing accomplishing your goals with sitting around and playing video games all day, that’s a problem. But most pastimes are valuable in some way, even if they don’t contribute DIRECTLY to your goals. Would you consider reading fiction to be a time sink? Reading non-fiction that is unrelated to your life goals? Looking at art? Attending… Read more »

bareheadedwoman
bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  Amy

i think what you said blends well with JD’s “hell yeah!” theory…

i think the definition of timesink is in and of itself, an activity that takes a great deal of time yet brings no added joy…distraction maybe but no joy in the distraction.

(which would pretty much narrow down JD’s types to #2, redefining #1 as time dependent rather than time sinking)

Erika
Erika
8 years ago
Reply to  Amy

I agree Amy. I work from home, and write all day. When I get stuck often my first thought it to run into the kitchen for a snack. I realized that I’m trying to destress/procrastinate with food. Now, I recognize this, note it, and take a few minutes to avoid work by reading the paper, playing sudoku, browsing the net. I keep a watch on my time and my mood. I guess maybe this is “conscious time wasting?”

Glen Tibaldeo
Glen Tibaldeo
8 years ago

In the past, I was so prone to time sinks, I can’t even begin to describe it. I thought I had ADD. Working from home full-time, I couldn’t keep my mind on my work and always had the TV on. I was constantly wrestling with my attention span. Then a funny thing happened. Well a couple of things. 1) I bled out all my savings and had to really work for a living, and 2) I started approaching 40 and really started to evaluate what I wanted out of my life. Without even thinking about time sinks, we started the… Read more »

Robert Zaleski
Robert Zaleski
8 years ago

I think this breaks down into 2 points, and J.D. only covered one. 1st is determining how much time something will be. Some tasks, such as Children, starting a business, etc. are open ended. You can’t say how much they will be. Others are more easily quantifiable, and so how much time they have play into the second. Some of these would be fine in 15-30 minute chunks if you can handle them, but more if not. I don’t get sucked into facebook, but I’ll spend 30-60 minutes once a month to check up on people I don’t talk to… Read more »

Sandy
Sandy
8 years ago

What constitutes a ‘time sink’ is different for everybody isn’t it?!?! I once told a woman that I work 36 hrs a week, study 12 hrs a week, take many weekends off to explore the country with my husband and our dog and still find time to exercise 4 times a week and read books and work on my hobby (needle work) almost daily and go to a hobby course weekly and book club monthly. And all that while keeping a clean house and spending time with friends and family and learning a new language (German) as well!! The poor… Read more »

Savvy Scot
Savvy Scot
8 years ago

I consider COMMUTING to be the biggest and worst time sink ever!

sonumarsh
sonumarsh
8 years ago

Today computer is such big time sink for everyone. People spend lot of time front the computer

femmefrugality
femmefrugality
8 years ago
Reply to  sonumarsh

I was thinking the same thing while reading! Like you talk about how email is something we all HAVE to do…which is true, but I remember a time before email and facebook and blogs. While I am left in wonder at all the positive things they do for us, I can’t help but ask, is technology a detriment to our society given all the time sinks that it entraps people in?

Lenola Road
Lenola Road
8 years ago

Henry Cloud’s book “Necessary Endings” is brilliant in it’s instruction of how to quit unproductive activities and relationships. GRS has become required rading for me every day and I’m grateful to those who post well thought comments as they are as valuable as the article. Cheers!

Jason Beck
Jason Beck
8 years ago

I believe everyone is thinking about this backwards. #29 hints at it, as the books by Henry Cloud and John Townsend generally do a good job of conveying this important point: Know what you value most. Figure out your core values, your unchangeable true self, and what you desire. I had hoped, from the title of this post, that we’d hear more about pursuing your passions. Instead, we try to pull “examples” out of the air and make them apply to everyone, knowing full well that they will not. Once you know what you value most, at any given moment,… Read more »

Kathryn
Kathryn
8 years ago

Thanks for reminding me to log out of Facebook! Gonna go work on that essay that’s due tonight.

KittyWrestler
KittyWrestler
8 years ago

I really don’t think playing online games is a waste of time for every occasion.
It’s my “escape” and “slow down” time to connect with a few of my gamer friends. It helps me to recharge. It helps me to build meaningful relationship. These friends who I play games with matter to me a lot. And playing games calm my body and soul so I get recharged and take on another day with fully rested mind.
I get really grumpy if I don’t get to play games once a while. So my husband encourage me to chainsaw a few baddies.

Christa
Christa
8 years ago

I think time stinks are all relative. Like KittyWrestler states above, video games don’t have to be time stinks to some people. Just like reading a book or watching (useful to me) television isn’t always a time stink for me. Both of these, when the book or TV show are good, are a way to releive tension. It’s actually an investment into my own well-being, if I’m careful not to overdo it!

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Christa

LOL time “stinks”?

Kylie Ofiu
Kylie Ofiu
8 years ago

I decided last week to keep a time diary of sorts just to see where I am wasting my time. I had an idea of a few things and have easily managed to stop those time sinks, but a couple of others really surprised me. I really need to learn to say no more. I find it difficult to say no to family when they need my help, but often it is detrimental to me going out of my way to constantly do what they need me to. I love helping and would not want to stop completely, but I… Read more »

victoria
victoria
8 years ago

One of the studies that examines how parents’ life satisfaction changes after having children had people rate their activities along two axes: pleasant/unpleasant & rewarding/unrewarding.

I think that’s probably as good a way as any to quantify timesinks: they’re either pleasant/unrewarding (video games, watching TV, certain hobbies) or unpleasant/rewarding (certain aspects of parenting, working hard at a difficult-but-rewarding task, home repairs if you don’t like doing them).

Pleasant/rewarding things aren’t timesinks because you feel good both doing them and having done them; unpleasant/unrewarding things aren’t generally timesinks because you find ways to minimize the time you spend doing them.

Mondo Esteban
Mondo Esteban
8 years ago

WARNING OF FUTURE TIME SINK: Diablo 3 is coming out in May.

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