Monday, April 25, 2011

There's No Such Thing as Free Time

Since I made the decision to strike out on my own, with only my writing and projects to support myself, people always seem to assume that I have tons and tons of “free time.”  “Must be nice to have so much free time.” “Man, I wish I had as much free time as you.”  “Can’t you do ________?  You have plenty of time.”


People just assume that I’m lounging around, sipping drinks with umbrellas in them, watching TV and having a good laugh about it all.  That couldn’t be further from the truth. I still have to have time to write and get some of these projects in motion, as well as eat, sleep, and work out.  There’s little “free” time built into my schedule!  

At the end of the day, time is the only finite resource we have.  You can “spend” time, just like money.  But like money, it’s also easy to “waste” time.  You can also “invest” time and money, with the implied result that you’re creating something of greater value.  At the end of the day, though, you can always make more money.  You can’t make more time.  When your number’s up, it’s over.  At least until we all become cyborgs, but that’s a topic for another day. 

From now on, I’m trying to waste as little time as possible.  This doesn’t mean having a regimented, minute-by-minute schedule for every single day planned out ahead of time.  Such a system is pointless, as a lot of good can come from spontaneity and living in the moment.  What it does mean, though, is ensuring that I’m doing something that has the potential to be productive or lead to greater productivity down the road.  

I still watch TV and movies, and even play video games (occasionally).  I don’t consider this “free” time.  I’m borrowing against time somewhere else in my life. It can be considered “recreational” time, used to help me restore my creativity and drive, but it’s certainly not free.  Everything has its price, including that hour of TV you watch every night that could be used to work out, or that hour of video games that could be better spent reading to come up with new ideas, like Mark Cuban does.  It even includes spending unproductive time at work surfing the internet when you’ve already finished up work for the day.  “Face time” at work is hardly free.  In fact, it can be the most expensive of all, as you’re stuck somewhere doing nothing, hating it, wishing you were free to do something else.  Not a great investment of your time, is it?  Spending time with family, friends, and loved ones?  Sounds like a pretty damned good investment to me.  Same with volunteering for a cause that you believe in.  Those are things that I will always say yes to, even if I'm a bit too busy?  Why?  Because if I don't what's the point of trying to live the life I want, anyway?

There is a common thread to investing time wisely: spend it doing things that you enjoy, but that also have the potential to create something or better yourself or those around you.  For some people, this is writing.  For others, it’s working on cars or making movies.  For others still, it’s volunteering at a homeless shelter or building houses for Habitat for Humanity.  I guess you can make a strained case for “playing video games” as a “wise investment of time” if it helps you not be an unbearable dick to everyone else, but this is a slippery slope into measured mediocrity.  Much like with money, if you invest your time wisely, the returns will start compounding, and before you know it, each moment will seem to be more valuable than the last.  At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want, anyway?    

How do you invest your time?  Let me know in the comments.

Questions?  Comments?  Wondering when this turned into a personal finance blog?  E-mail me at  Follow me on twitter @djgelner.  Friend me on Facebook here.

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