Time is a precious commodity. We never seem to have enough, especially for the things we want to do. Many of us feel that we are going “full tilt” all day long, and long for rest and relaxation. However, in spite of our desire to use time wisely, many of us turn to activities that are more distracting than restorative. Is there a way to resist frittering time?
Let’s begin by considering what “frittering” actually is. Here are a few synonyms:
- Dribbling away
- Spending foolishly
Frittering is when we waste a precious resource, allowing it to carelessly fall through our fingertips in small dribs and drabs. Frittering time is when we spend minutes or chunks of time doing things without intention that produce no tangible benefit. Frittering is the kind of “spending” that occurs in increments so small that they are only noticeable over time or in hindsight.
Frittering time can leave us feeling frustrated, useless, and worthless. We wonder where the hours have gone, and why we feel neither productive nor rested at the end of the day. What are some ways we fritter time? Surfing and scrolling are major culprits. Checking social media is another one, as is playing games on your phone. Time can also be frittered when we obsess about past decisions or worry about things beyond our control. It might also look like binge watching shows and/or movies.
To be clear, frittering time is not the same as pleasantly puttering. In fact, dropping into activities that bring us joy is very healthy. Any pastime you like, be it working a crossword puzzle, baking, doodling, or whatever else is important. When we pursue endeavors that we enjoy, we walk away with a renewed perspective and feeling energized.
In contrast, frittering tends to see us falling into passive activities that require little of us, providing little more than a simple escape from the pressures we are facing. In some cases, we may fritter time in ways that are not particularly “fun,” e.g., scrolling the internet about an illness we fear we may have, or watching a show we don’t even like. Nevertheless, we get sucked in. Rather than refreshing us, frittering can actually increase our stress level. Why?
- We never know what we will see when we look at a screen. It might be an image or post that makes us feel bad about ourselves or jealous of others.
- We waste time that we later regret. Shows, websites, and social media are designed to draw us in and keep us watching. When we have things that we need to be doing, losing track of time to these types of activities is like suffering a theft of a valuable resource.
- Spending time on mindless distractions keeps us from pursuing hobbies and interests that might actually improve our mood.
- The churning of thoughts in our head can produce anxiety, make us doubt our abilities, erode our confidence, and/or cause us to question our choices. All of these make it even harder to move forward in a positive direction.
Now that we understand what frittering is, how do we reduce the amount of time we spend doing it? Here are a couple of ideas.
1. Observe how you may be frittering time
Often, we are not being mindful about how we are spending time. We might not have any idea how much time we are spending scrolling through social media, binge streaming, or fretting. The first step to any change is always to take stock of where we are.
Many apps have the ability to track the amount of time we spend using them. For instance, click here if you love Instagram to see your “time spent.”
2. Identify your personal “fritter triggers”
Now that you’ve identified the “what” of frittering, consider the “why.” Take note of what might be going on around you (or within you) that makes you crave these activities. You might notice that you tend to fritter time when you:
- encounter specific people
- are faced an uncomfortable task
- start thinking about particular things that make you anxious
- are bored
Knowing when you are vulnerable is helpful because it allows you to plan in advance what you will do when these moments arise.
3. Add boundaries to your frittering time
Not all frittering is bad. Sometimes everyone just needs to zone out a little bit. Also, there are settings in which frittering is about all you can do, such as when you are sitting in a pickup line or waiting for an appointment.
The key is to make sure you have some healthy boundaries that will keep you from spending too much time on these activities that you would prefer to be using for another purpose. In some cases, the boundary is built in. If you are waiting for an appointment, you will automatically stop when your name is called. However, in other situations it is easy to lose track of time. Something as simple as setting an alarm can be all it takes to remind you to stand up and move on to something else.
4. Strategize alternative activities
Now that you have identified when you tend to “go down the rabbit hole,” you have the ability to plan alternatives. This is important because it is very challenging to change a behavior by simply stopping it. Instead, it is easier to replace it with a new behavior, which then crowds the less desirable behavior out.
For example, let’s say you have the habit of sitting down at your computer with no clear agenda every morning once everyone has left for school. There is nothing wrong with this, but you’ve noticed that instead of spending the ten minutes you intend, you frequently lose track of time and end up spending an hour or more. You are frustrated that you’re wasting so much time, and also don’t necessarily enjoy the scrolling. To change this behavior, you might choose to intentionally pour a tall glass of water, walk to a predetermined spot (e.g., a window, a comfortable chair… anywhere other than where your computer is), and stay there until you’ve finished drinking the entire glass of water. While you stay there, you will choose what you want to be doing next. This might sound silly, but taking this specific, small action might be enough to keep you from mindlessly sitting down at your computer.
Another example might be that you tend to binge watch TV on your tablet in bed. This keeps you up later than you want, rarely leaves you feeling renewed, and can make it hard for you to fall/stay asleep. To avoid frittering time in this manner, you might decide to stream shows only in a place other than your bed, such as the couch, a chair, or even the floor of your bedroom. You can also shift to reading in bed, preferably not on a digital device. Additionally, you may decide to add new activities into your schedule 1-2 nights a week that you’ve been truly wanting to spend more time on, such as painting, woodworking, cooking, talking to friends, etc.
Remember, the goal is to be more intentional about prioritizing activities that will be either more productive or more refreshing. Both of these are important.
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Time is an asset that once lost cannot be recouped. Do you find yourself frittering time that you would rather be spending doing something else? What “fritter triggers” are hardest for you?