By Roni Shae

Life is short; too short to be spending time on useless endeavors. This fact becomes increasingly apparent the longer we live. As we progress through life, we make many commitments to relationships, jobs, classes, and hobbies. Life often complicates our lives with problems and disasters, and with life’s latest curveball, COVID-19, we find ourselves lacking time to do what we value. Your time is valuable and limited, so ensure that you spend your time doing worthwhile activities.

Everyone has different viewpoints on what is a valuable use of time, but most are related to two spectra. The first being “leisure vs. work”: the measure of the intrinsic and extrinsic reward; the second being “self vs. world”: the measure of the benefit to you and the benefit to others.

A simple way to track if your time is being spent productively would be to plot all of your activities on these two spectra. Draw the two spectra perpendicular to each other so that there are four quadrants. Then, think about where each of your commitments lies and graph them on the chart. Is this more of an activity you do for fun or is it more of an activity you do for work? Does this activity benefit you more or the world more? Afterwards, consider the general cluster of your activities and consider how much time you spend on each activity. If you are happy with how you are spending your time, that’s great! You have an excellent understanding of how to allocate your time to what you love. If you aren’t happy with the result, you should see which of your commitments are least valuable to you. Here are 5 questions that you should ask about each activity to help you decide if it is something you should spend your precious time on.

  1. Is this something I want?
  2. Is this something necessary?
  3. How does this benefit me?
  4. How does this benefit the world?
  5. Could I be doing something better?

These first two questions focus on the “leisure vs. work” spectrum. Generally, if you have a specific goal in mind, more of your time should be shifted into the work category while leaving time for breaks. Conversely, if you are unsure of what you want and you don’t have a specific goal to work towards, more of your time will likely be shifted towards enjoying life while taking time to make sure you will have something in your future.

No activity should be specifically defined as leisure or work. The definition depends on what you enjoy doing and the reward that comes from doing it.

Playing games could be productive, and solving math equations could be fun. You can be paid to wash the dishes, or you can be paid to go to a theme park. Just because you are getting rewarded for something doesn't mean it's something you hate — work can be fun!

1. Is this something I want?

When thinking about an activity, consider if you truly want to do it. Question if you are blindly following what someone told you to do or if you are doing it because it is something you truly want. Allowing someone to guide your path is perfectly fine, but you must always consider if that path is one you want to follow. Obviously, not everything we do in our lives can be something we enjoy. We may have to force ourselves through many unpleasant situations to prepare for the future, but at what point should you stop sacrificing your present for your future? That is a question everyone must answer for themselves.

2. Is this something necessary?

As mentioned previously, life is full of unpleasant things that we must endure to grow as a person and to prepare for the future. Some of these unpleasantries are not for us to choose, which is why the opportunities for us to choose are even more crucial. Think of all the hardships and unpleasant times you are prepared to endure and whether or not the reward is worth it before committing to an activity that you may not love. Sometimes the reward could be hidden, like helping you step out of your comfort zone, and sometimes it can be blatantly obvious, like a large sum of money, but always make sure there is a reason for why you are doing something.

These next two questions focus on the “self vs. world” spectrum. This spectrum is generally more difficult for people to balance. It is often hard to tell whether you are too selfish or whether you are too selfless. Society also likes to interfere with our personal beliefs within this spectrum. A method to combat this uncertainty is to set hard limits for what is important to you.

Think of something that you cannot give up, a time limit on your commitments to others, how much time you want to spend on a certain project, or set aside a certain amount of time for your own well being and personal health. Always prioritize these limits above all.

A common mistake is to blend “self” and “world” time. Always allocate some time for your happiness and well being. It is unhealthy to think “I get enjoyment from helping others, so I’m helping myself too!” and leave no time for yourself. These people often find themselves burnt out and miserable. Don’t be ashamed to spend time on yourself; before you can help others, you need to be mentally and physically healthy.