Why Don’t We Know How to Protect Our Time?
The cognitive errors that make us waste our most valuable resource
All day, we let it happen. A neighbor comes by and babbles on about a bunch of nonsense, and we politely nod, even if we are in a hurry. Or some co-workers start gossiping about something petty, and we let ourselves get drawn in, never stopping to think about the time wasted. Or we get a message from an acquaintance that says, “Can I pick your brain?” We tell them, “Sure thing!” because isn’t it rude to say no?
Stoic philosopher Seneca once marveled at how stupid even the smartest people are when it comes to protecting their time: “No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tightfisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”
More than 2,000 years later, why are we still allowing our most valuable resource to slip from our grasp? I believe there are four reasons.
We think we have plenty of time
We’re told we’ll live, on average, to age 78. That seems like a nearly unlimited amount of time. Of course we can spare 20 minutes here or there. Sure, I’ll agree to that meeting across town that’s going to take me an hour to get to, an hour to get back from, and an hour after that to get settled back in. It’s just another Tuesday, right?
We don’t realize that death hangs over all of us. Lifespans are averages. Nothing is guaranteed. More importantly, time, like money, compounds. So when you’re wasting time, you’re wasting not only the few minutes in front of you, but all that would have been possible had you saved it and directed it properly.
We’re afraid people won’t like hearing “no”
Nothing helped me shake this off quite like having kids. I realized that when I agreed to some unnecessary obligation, the person who suffered was an innocent two-year-old. You have to understand that saying “yes” to this means you are saying “no” to that. And that is often…