You Haven’t “Wasted” Your Time, Even If You Lack Results
A much-needed PSA for creatives and overachievers
“Wasted time” likely has a different meaning for each of us. You might be thinking about a Netflix and chill session during which you binged too many episodes of Bridgerton (no judgment here).
But I’m not writing about downtime. That’s an article for another day. No, this is for us productivity-junkies who convince ourselves that every pursuit should yield results.
And if it doesn’t… If we walk away from a creative session with nothing to show for our time, we call it a “waste.”
A few weeks ago, I spent an entire workday *trying* to film a tutorial video for my email list. I hoped to film 4–5 short videos for a brief email course. And, while I’d completed the first video by that evening, I knew it wasn’t ready. It wasn’t usable.
Expectation: film 4–5 short segments (screen recordings)
Reality: filmed 1 subpar tutorial
Clearly, I bit off more than I could chew. I was so hyped that morning, thinking I’d knock out the first tutorial in a little under an hour so I could crank out the rest. I thought to myself, I’ll have the entire course outlined by tomorrow. (My tendency to completely overestimate my abilities and my time continues to surprise me, somehow.)
I was frustrated. I had little to show for my efforts (hours of work). Even worse, I’d focused solely on this project all day and neglected my other writing projects and client work.
Was the day a “waste” of my time?
It was tempting to think so. (Who am I kidding? I thought so.) There was some grumbling involved. A little while later, however, as I was thinking about next steps, I realized I’d learned a lot.
Here’s the punchline: You may be missing out on incredible learning opportunities if you fear “wasting” your time pursuing activities that might not work out.
What have you learned, either about yourself or the process?
I didn’t walk away with a polished video to send to my list. I did, however, learn the following (among other things):
- How best to record my screen
- A helpful tip for filming tutorials (record audio separately)
- I felt more comfortable with a script
- I moved too quickly in the tutorial
- My cluttered desktop was too distracting
At the beginning of the day, I assumed I had software to record my screen. Turns out my license expired. I borrowed my dad’s microphone for better audio but realized later that I’d recorded in an echoey space. Long story short, I made several observations about the overall production quality.
So, yes, I think the experience was a valuable learning opportunity.
Remember this: even when you haven’t finished something or mastered a new skill, you’ve learned something either about yourself or the process.
In my case, I walked away with a much better picture of what this project would entail. Now I can adjust my expectations accordingly.
Before, the steps were kind of murky. I thought it’d be as simple as hitting “record” and breezing through my tutorial. But as I mentioned, there were some additional steps I hadn’t anticipated… (1) set up (connecting the microphone, confirming the best software for screen recording), (2) drafting a quick script, (3) splicing audio and video together.
Now, I know exactly what I need to do and roughly how long it will take. I can plan ahead (drafting the scripts, for example) and then block off time on my calendar.
If you’re still struggling to see the value in time spent, even having asked yourself “what did I learn?” ask this instead… “What do I know now that I didn’t know before?” Sometimes the answer will surprise you.
Even if you’re still thinking, “Well, that was a giant waste of time,” there’s value in that… The lesson? Don’t do it again. ;)
Let’s recognize our fear of “wasted” time for what it is — a fear of failure.
Doing something without a guarantee of success can give me the heebie-jeebies. It’s not something I’m proud of.
In fact, it sounds silly. Like, duh, that’s what life is all about… there are no guarantees, and we don’t always know what comes next. (I don’t think I need to point out the obvious example.)
Even when we know it’s silly to ask for a guarantee, we still feel frustrated after investing time into projects, people, or experiences that didn’t give us the outcome we’d hoped for or expected.
If you’re anything like me, you look back on your life and beat yourself up for one or all of the following “wasted” time:
- Writing an article I didn’t publish. Ok, but I know where I went wrong. I have new ideas.
- A failed friendship, or a bad date. Ok, but I’m learning to recognize what I don’t want in a friend or partner, and what I should look for instead.
- A job that didn’t take me where I wanted to go. Ok, but I gained valuable experience that helped me launch my business as a freelance writer.
The reason we call it a “waste” of our time is because we wish (in vain) that we’d done something better with that time instead. But hindsight is 20/20, right? It’s not like we intentionally pursue experiences we think will fail.
We have to remember, too, that the lessons aren’t always immediate. Growth sometimes happens much later. We can’t possibly assume to know how or when the “learning” will apply to our lives.
You can still be intentional with your time and energy.
If you have a curiosity for life, there’s no such thing as “wasted” time because you’re always learning. It’s not about your output, but the process.
And this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be intentional about how we spend our time and energy. It’s simply a reminder that we shouldn’t choose NOT to do things because we’re afraid it won’t work out.
It’s about leaving room for the unknown. Investing time into something different or trying new things may lead to creative breakthroughs or unique opportunities.
We learn by doing. I needed to spend a day wrestling with that first video tutorial if only to identify the obstacles. After all, we can’t know what we don’t know.
Successful people learn from their “failures.” It’s only a “waste” of your time if you perceive it as such.