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SALT LAKE CITY — The title of this article may catch you off guard. I don't blame you. You may be asking, "How does that even work? Isn't wasting time the opposite of productivity?"
The answer is yes, it is. But sometimes two very opposite ideas actually complement each other and make each other better. Consider colors on the opposite end of the spectrum, like black and white. The two are polar opposites, yet when they come together, a fashion statement is born.
To understand this concept, first we must discuss that feeling we all get when we are putting off a task or obligation. It's that feeling that is all too familiar for most of us: A mix of dread and frozen with a sprinkle (or shovel full) of anxiety. It is really easy to criticize yourself when you can't get up and complete a task. In fact, that is usually what happens. We know we need to get something done, but we feel overwhelmed and can't do it, and so we beat ourselves up. But do we ever stop to consider what may be causing that dreadful, frozen feeling?
Our nervous systems communicate with us regularly, although we often don't hear them. They communicate through the language of sensation through the body. When you have that feeling of putting something off and the anxiety and/or frozen sensation that accompanies it, your body is trying to say something. It is my experience that often what is going on is that people are overwhelmed or have been habitually hyperaroused which then results in a consistent state of freeze (i.e., "I can't move or get anything done").
To address this issue, we must first listen to the body's protest (as described above). We must not only hear it, but also acknowledge and validate it. We then have a choice: We can continue to engage in the cycle of self-criticism (that doesn't often help one to get more motivated), or we can do something different.
If your body is trying to tell you that you are overwhelmed, it is wise to then take a step back.
If your body is trying to tell you that you are overwhelmed, it is wise to then take a step back. This is where the "time wasting" comes in as a valuable tool. What if, instead of criticizing yourself, you instead gave yourself permission to stay on the couch and continue watching the Netflix marathon of that silly show that you find so amusing?
I have found that when people give themselves permission to "waste time," what can happen next is relief. Isn't it better to be fully present and engaged with that silly show you like instead of only half paying attention because you are simultaneously beating yourself up and wasting more precious energy? By saving that energy, you give yourself the chance to fully recharge your batteries, which will ultimately give you more energy to do the things you need to do.
It is important to note that to make "time wasting" as effective as possible, it needs to be a deliberate decision in which you are giving yourself permission to engage in an activity that is both enjoyable and that helps you to decompress. For the purpose of recharging, I encourage activities that are mindless, relaxing and/or laughter inducing. You have to decide what works for you.
Make a schedule
Once you can do this in the moment, I would encourage you to up the ante: Try to purposely schedule "wasting time" every day. "But I'm so busy!" you might be thinking. Yes, this is a true statement. Life is busy and we all have a million things to do.
But how effective are we really if we are completely depleted and only able to give a portion of our attention because our brain is distracted trying to figure out the other 999,999 things we are also supposed to be doing? We are better off setting obligations aside for a time to recharge than we are trying to give only a portion of our energy to a bunch of tasks.
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Once you start noticing the benefits of "time wasting," you may be able to see it in a different light. Maybe we can even change the name from "time wasting" to "taking care of yourself" or "time to decompress and recharge."
I think it was said best by Marthe Troly-Curtin, who wrote in the 1912 book, "Phrynette Married": "Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." Anastasia Pollock, MA, LCMHC, is clinical director at Life Stone Counseling Centers. She specializes in treating trauma, anxiety, and dissociative disorders. Learn more about her by visiting lifestonecenter.com or email email@example.com.