How to Resist Frittering Time

woman Frittering Time looking at her phone
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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
  • Idling
  • Squandering

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.

*     *     *

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?

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22 thoughts on “How to Resist Frittering Time”

  1. Having healthy boundaries around how we engage with our time is so valuable. And as you said, if we don’t, it’s pretty easy to mindlessly “fritter” our time away. I also appreciate how you’ve left space for some frittering. We used to have occasional “blob days” when the kids were growing up. On those days, we stayed in our pjs, ate what we wanted, and binge-watched movies or shows. This was in exact contrast to our typical days when we worked on projects, household stuff, homework, or creative things. But allowing ourselves free reign to indulge completely guilt-free for a day, reenergized us to be more productive and engaged the rest of the time.

    1. I love the idea of a “blob” day! And when they are intentional, what an indulgent delight, right? It’s all about feeling that we are choosing how we spend our time, instead of mindlessly wasting it and then feeling regret.

        1. I love getting outside. That seems to refresh me in a unique way. Of course, we are heading into a season where it is too cold for me to do that, but in the warmer months it is my most renewing pastime!

  2. I especially love your suggestions on intentionality. If you are aware of the time you are spending with less valuable tasks or numbing, then you can change to a more valuable use of time. I especially see this as a procrastination tool and that “frittering” can be turned to a warm-up to that task instead.

    1. Love that idea of transitioning a numbing experience into a warm-up. I know you have so much experience with this, and that is a great way to reframe thinking!!

  3. I have a reminder on my vision board that says, “Savor or Squander”. Occasionally when I find myself scrolling through Facebook, I remind myself that I am squandering my time – not savoring it.
    First thing in the morning when I turn on my computer, I do a quick check of emails to see if anything has come in that will impact my day. Then I check my digital calendar and make any updates. I do try to work into my calendar break times for lunch with my husband and a quitting time.
    Jonda Beattie recently posted…The Best Motivator for Getting OrganizedMy Profile

    1. What a great phrase! We are losing so much time to squandering, and it isn’t even making us happy!

      I have a similar approach in the morning. I see what has come in over the night, so I can process that into my schedule. Then I step away and exercise, catching up on the news while I do so. Exercise, then, becomes my “soft entry” into the day, which has really worked for me personally. Everyone is unique, so the key is to find what works for them.

  4. Thought-provoking! Your comparison of frittering vs. puttering is an eye-opener. I didn’t think either term had a positive connotation until I read this. And, you’ve made it easy to remember–‘puttering’ and ‘positive’ both start with P! I am going to keep a sharp eye on the frittering I sometimes do, look for my triggers, and remember the letter ‘P’ when I want to make a change!

    1. I love to putter. Sometimes I pain, sometimes I hunt recipes, sometimes I cross-stitch (my old fashioned craft!). I think the difference between the two is how I feel after I’m finished. If I’ve been frittering, I feel like I’ve wasted time. After puttering, I feel renewed, like I’ve had fun. I must confess I wasn’t intentionally using the letter “P” twice, but now that you mention it, it is a helpful little memory trick! I love a bit of alliteration:)

  5. ‘Frittering time away’ is such a great expression. I love how you point out that sometimes we fritter time away worrying about something out of our control (or endlessly researching something). Setting boundaries is important as is acknowledging that some frittering is good. You advice about how to go about changing up some behaviors is well put.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…6 Gifts For The Organized Person In Your Life That They Will Truly AppreciateMy Profile

    1. I’ve been in relationship with a couple of people who are struggling with the obsessive worrying and churning, which is part of what got me thinking on this topic. This activity was taking up considerable time, and afterwards people just felt drained and bad about themselves. There are other choices we can make, right? It’s worth the effort!

  6. Ugh, yes. It’s a nighttime thing for me. The daytime is an adrenaline rush of trying to care for kids, care for myself, maybe work, do some house stuff, errands, etc. At night I WANT to continue with work and I WANT to do something enjoyable and unplugged, and instead stare at my laptop until I fall asleep sitting up!
    Tamara recently posted…Apple Cider in an Apple CupMy Profile

  7. This is so darn-tooting good! I’m hyperaware of when I’m frittering. Unlike most people, I think, I have just too much free time. Yes, I *could* be spending more time on marketing or researching or writing, but I reach a point where I don’t want to expend more time on business, but (especially since COVID), even after doing client work, research, writing, practicing Italian, and reading lots of books, I run out of things I feel like doing. And so I fritter (almost entirely on social media, for that darned dopamine hit). I know when I’m frittering and what my triggers are, and I’ve (mostly) got good boundaries. I think I have to go deeper into finding those alternative activities. Thanks for the great reminder!

    Also, “fritter” is fun to say!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…How Professional Organizers (& Hair Stylists) Reverse Some Intolerable ProblemsMy Profile

    1. Practicing Italian – impressive! You are a woman of many talents!

      For me, I need to get up and (weather permitting) go outside. Another trick that gets me off the screen is to put music on. When music is playing, I’m more likely to putter than fritter. Everyone is different, so it is about finding what makes you feel best, right?

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