As humans, we’re all born to different circumstances, but the one commonality we share is time. What we do and where we end up in life is most impacted by how we spend this incredibly valuable asset.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to fully appreciate this asset in your early 20s and prior, precisely because it’s so abundant at this age. And yet how we spend our time during these formative years is so important; an early investment of time in something can pay dividends for years and decades down the road.
After thinking about the various ways in which I’ve wasted and waste time, I’ve come up with the list below.
The problem with the following items is that they feel good in the moment, but don’t actually generate much happiness/utility/benefit after the fact. They’re forms of instant gratification, much like candy. You could eat five bags of candy in one sitting and feel great while doing so, but almost immediately after regret your decision to do so. I’ve found I react the same way to the following activities.
And to those who say time enjoyed is not time wasted, I agree…but only to an extent. Take an extreme example: I could do drugs all day and have the time of my life – yet we can all agree that that “time enjoyed” was certainly wasted, unproductive, and even harmful.
So, on to what I think the biggest time wasters are:
Consider a typical night out in college:
Pre-game for an hour, head out to the bar to drink for a couple hours, go to an after-party/club for another couple hours, find a pizza joint after and spend another hour eating/chatting, finally head home at 3-4 am, then wake up hungover the next day and stay in bed half the day nursing a headache.
When you repeat the above multiple times a week for several years, the hours quickly add up.
Now, yes, you may argue that all that going out serves a purpose: to meet new people and develop relationships with. But let’s face it: most people in their early 20s go out for the sake of getting drunk with a close-knit circle.
I realized pretty early on in college that I didn’t enjoy getting sloshed to the extent my peers did. So I simply stopped accepting invites to go out when I knew the event centered around consuming as much alcohol as one could. Once I came to terms with not letting these feelings of pressure / societal expectations dictate my evenings, I was free to spend my nights on other hobbies or events – reading, writing, playing poker, trying board games with friends, learning new skills, playing intramural league, or just sleeping early.
Now, none of this isn’t to say I think alcohol is bad or that I never drink – I just think it’s important to have a good relationship with it.
It’s still too early to say how this will impact my future, but I can say for certain that had I gone out more this past year, I would not have had the time to read 80+ books, learn copywriting & direct marketing, generate income from poker, and spend as much quality time with friends.
I’m also comforted by the fact that others have echoed this idea. For instance: Ryan Holiday recently credited not drinking as instrumental for his success at an early age.
Just glance at all the relationship questions on Quora and you’ll see bad relationships are one of the biggest headaches and timesucks for people in their 20s.
People stick around too long in bad relationships and try to make it work with the wrong people. This doesn’t just mean incompatible boyfriends/girlfriends – it includes negative people, people who drain you of your energy, compulsive complainers/whiners, abusive family members, etc.
Realize that you are allowed to cut people out from your life. You can stop accepting invites to go out. You don’t have to try and salvage every relationship and every friendship. As you get older, you’ll naturally be more exclusive with who you associate with. I think the sooner one realizes this, the better.
I spent my entire teenage life playing games. I easily racked up hundreds, if not a thousand, hours of playing video games. In first year college, I would routinely stay up playing Heroes of Newerth with friends over Skype. I actually essentially lost money while I was playing because at the time, my hourly rate playing online poker was $100-200 – a huge opportunity cost. The addiction was real.
I not only played for hours every night, I also studied my past games, watched streams, and read guides all in the name of improving myself. That took up another few hours every day.
Were there benefits from all this? I really can’t say at the moment. I want to believe that this compulsive drive to better myself at anything I do translates into other endeavors. But what if I had simply put my time and energy into something else to begin with?
Yes, I enjoyed playing video games in the heat of the moment. But once in a while, there would be a hollow feeling inside me. Did 3 hours really just go by? And think of all the things I’m procrastinating on… Eventually, I realized gaming didn’t align with my future goals at all. I slowly eased off of it and eventually quit for the most part.
When it comes to determining whether gaming is a waste of time or not, it helps to decide which side of the “# hours played” curve you wish to be on. On one side, you have 1000+ hours – this is if you have ambitions to go pro, enter the competitive scene, become a prominent YouTuber, start a Twitch stream, or some other way to monetize your gaming. On the other side is <100 hours – think of the casual gamer who plays for an hour every couple of days after work to unwind.
Falling on polar ends of this spectrum seems to be ideal for optimizing your time. Either you make gaming your life’s work or you use it as a relaxation tool. The problem area is the middle area in between these two poles – where you spend so much time gaming that it interferes with your regular life but you don’t spend enough time to reach the top or monetize your gaming hobby.
When it came to HoN, I fell in that middle area. I was good but not top-tier and frankly, never really thought about going pro. I spent a lot of time playing and studying, but not enough that I could monetize that time. However, it was enough time that the game affected my sleep schedule, study habits, and social life to some degree.
I could write a lot more on this topic (and probably will in the future), but I’ll leave it at that for now.
Living Someone Else’s Life
For the better part of our entire lives up to our 20s, we largely follow the instructions of others – our parents, our teachers, our peers, the media…rarely do we make a major decision without influence from others.
Left unquestioned, the result is we spend a large part of our lives living in a way that doesn’t resonate with who we really are. We may choose to do things based on what others think is best for us and discard the very things that could have led us to genuine happiness.
I have a friend who was pushed all his life to become a doctor. He studied all the sciences in high school, majored in biochem in undergrad, then entered medical school. A couple years in now, he’s come to terms with the fact that he doesn’t truly enjoy what he’s learning or the path he’s taken. Yet he feels like he’s spent too much time, effort, and money already not to continue on.
Realize that what others say you should be is based upon their own experiences and how they feel you’d be of more value to them. Neither should be the basis for determining how you should live your life.
The early 20s are a great time to question the ‘truths’ you’ve been taught growing up and figuring out who you are, what you really enjoy, and how you want to live your life. Taking the time to do so can be really rewarding and prevent time wasted living someone else’s life.
It’s supremely easy after you graduate college and get a full-time job to fall into a state of complacency. You’re making decent money, your schedule is largely fixed, you have a daily routine, and you mostly associate with the same people. Life is pretty good for the most part, and it’s easy to just coast along.
As humans, we seek this kind of comfort and stability. We wouldn’t have survived as a species till now otherwise. But comfort breeds complacency, and complacency can be dangerous. It hinders personal growth, which to me is an important aspect of life. Even moreso in your 20s, when time and energy is abundant and responsibilities are still relatively few. At no other time in your life will you have the same kind of opportunity – accepting complacency at this age can only lead to mediocrity.
What’s especially dangerous about complacency is that it’s a non-obvious timesink. You may feel “stuck” but choose to continue living within the status quo simply because it’s safe: an OK job without advancement potential because it pays the bills; a mediocre long-term relationship that you’re staying in for convenience and obligation (“I’ve already invested 5 years into this, easier to ride it out”); pursuing a degree in something half-heartedly on behalf of your parents.
Next thing you know, several years have gone by and you’re stuck in the same job or relationship or major in college discontent, wondering where the time went.