Are You Using Your Spare Time…Or Just Filling It?

are you using your time or just filling it?

Do you ever wonder where your time goes? Do you find your leisure time slipping away? Do you have projects or skills you want to work on but just can’t find the time?

Maybe you need to ask yourself an important question: am I using my time…or just filling it?

We can all be more conscious of the ways we spend our time. In this post, I’ll examine the differences between using time and filling time, reasons to use your time wisely, and a few tips to help you get started.

Note: you can use your time in a million ways, but in this article, consider the phrase ‘using time’ to mean ‘using time in a proactive way’ and ‘filling time’ as time-wasting.

What’s the Difference?

The primary difference is this:

Using your time adds value to your life. Filling your time adds nothing.

Using your time means

  • being proactive with how you spend your time.
  • choosing to work on something that’s important but not necessarily urgent.
  • working on something that helps you meet your long-term goals.

Filling your time means

  • doing something to alleviate boredom.
  • engaging in whatever activity is right in front of you.
  • going through the motions and doing the same tired activities.

Over a long period of time, filling time removes value from your life. You miss out on opportunities to improve  your skills, work on your projects, and strengthen your relationships with the people around you.

Examples of time filling include hours of television gazing, mindless web surfing, excessive video games; all the varieties of digital crack. You could also add vices like drinking, drug use, busy work, and meetings.

Everyone has their own time-fillers. Mine is mindless websurfing and excessive sleep.

When not used to alleviate boredom, these time-fillers are usually just a form of procrastination and avoidance.

Why Use Your Time?

You may delay, but time will not. – Benjamin Franklin

Using time is all about being proactive with how you spend your leisure time. By using your time to work on skills or projects, you’re investing in your own experience. You’re taking responsibility for your time, your focus, and your happiness.

Time well-used makes people happy. According to research from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow, people report the highest levels of satisfaction when they’re engaged in an activity that challenges their skills and abilities.

Most people do not report this level of happiness while simply filling time. The person filling time might not be in pain or bored, but they aren’t necessarily excited or engaged either.

Here are some other benefits of using your time instead of filling it.

  • By regularly challenging yourself and your skills, you can make growth and improvement a long-term habit.
  • You can work on projects and activities you can be proud of.
  • Self-employed people will have greater success in their chosen endeavor.
  • You can actually interact with the people in your life (rather than just fill time together)
  • When you control your time, you control your life.

How do you know if you’re using your time or just filling it?

Each person has to figure out for themselves whether they’re using their time or just filling it. Usually, you can judge the quality of an activity based on its after-effects. You need to become skilled at monitoring yourself and your systems. Here are some general guidelines:

Time filled usually leaves you with a very ‘meh’ feeling. Filling time requires no thought, no concentration, and no skill.

Time well-used leaves you satisfied and fulfilled, if a bit exhausted. Using time requires skill and concentration.

When you feel hazy after a long period of ‘relaxation,’ chances are you’ve just filled your time.

How to Use Your Time (Instead of Just Fill It)

You must recognize that time is a finite resource. We only have so much of it, and if you have things you want to do, you must begin to make good use of your time. Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • Keep a time log for a couple days. Identify your time-fillers and time-wasters.
  • Don’t try to eliminate all time-fillers at once. Start small. Choose one activity to cut back on.
  • Identify what skills or projects you’d like to work on. Make a list, listen to your gut, and choose one that works for you.
  • Work on your skill or project in blocks of 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Every week, review what you have done with your time. Then decide how you will use your time in the coming week.
  • Finally, ask yourself if the ways you use your time are helping you reach your goals. If they are, great. If not, you’ve got some work to do.

Our time is limited. Make yours count.

Over to You

I’d really like to hear from people who have made a serious effort to make better use of their time. Why did you decide to stop filling time? And how? What steps did you take? For everyone else, I’d like to know how you fill your time. Finally, a hypothetical question: if a day had 25 hours, what would you do with the extra hour?

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tony C. November 16, 2010, 3:15 pm

    Do you mean using your time all the time? Maybe you could make a distinction between work time and free time/ play time. For somebody who works in an office all day, the idea of coming home and doing more work doesn’t sound so appealing.

  • Seth M. Baker November 16, 2010, 3:20 pm

    Welcome back, Tony.
    You’re right, sort of. I meant to suggest this use of time is for ‘spare’ time. For a person who works at home, this could be any time during their working day, during the hours they set for themselves, between the tasks they have to complete.
    For someone with a day job, this is more applicable to the time they want to spend working on their projects. For example, say they want to spend a little time learning piano in the evenings. To do that, they need to be conscious of how they will use their spare time.