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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