Perfectionists know the question extremely well: Is what I’m doing right now good enough? Is it the best possible way I could be spending my time?
When we ask ourselves this question, we shift our focus from performing the task at hand to thought. We begin worrying about whether the time we spend on an activity will be justified. We perceive time to be an infinitely valuable resource, and so we try to wield it flawlessly. We believe that if we can just get a hold of how we spend our time and learn to spend it perfectly, then we’ll be happy, successful, and able to take action. Like many things when it comes to thought, this is a cycle. And it helps to visualize it. I’m gonna graph what we expect of our rumination, and what we actually get.
If you find yourself in the latter cycle, that’s completely normal. But we need to know where we can interrupt the cycle so we can achieve our desired action. And that’s after you spend your time poorly but before you think about how to improve.
Thought cycles like this one not only get in the way of achieving greater goals, but as soon as you doubt the validity or utility of what you’re doing, your resolve to continue is shattered. You try to reach a conclusion so that you can continue, meanwhile not doing the thing you set out to do or doing it without your full focus.
While thinking about whether you’re using your time “properly,” you may feel like you’re solving the problem. But it’s impossible to reach the conclusion you so badly want because it doesn’t exist. And this is because, by ruminating, you throw yourself into that cycle. You will only need to do a few things to interrupt the cycle: change your attitude about time, change your attitude about yourself, and trust a process that you’ll never fully understand.
CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE ABOUT TIME
To people of the 21st century, time is sacred. As technology progresses, the number of ways in which we can fill a day increases exponentially. Because of this, we fall under the impression that time is sacred.
I propose that time is not very valuable, at least in the traditional sense. What is valuable is how you use it in comparison to your peers and in comparison with yourself. All you can do is make marginal adjustments to the way you spend your time and see how they benefit you somewhere down the line. This can either be through the addition of positive activities or removal of unnecessary ones.
You will never use your time perfectly. You will never be able to worry extensively one day and have a step-by-step blueprint to riches, happiness, and success the next. It’s easier said than done, but when it comes to time, it’s crucial to stop worrying about perfection.
Your only goal, both grand and daily, should be to improve the way you spend your time. Imagine how much better off you’d be if you spent your time just 10% better, keeping in mind that you would benefit every day from it.
My rule of thumb for figuring out if what I’m doing is beneficial is to ask myself a ridiculously simple question. I ask myself, “Am I ruminating right now?” If my answer is “No,” then I keep doing what I’m doing and hope I can benefit from its completion. Trust the more logical side of yourself that decided to participate in the activity in the first place, not the nervous version of yourself tying to weasel out of it. I promise, the key to spending your time better will never be to think about it more.
We all have give-or-take 16 hours a day, so all we can do is marginally improve the time we spend in comparison to ourselves and others. Time spent acting, whether it leads to success or failure, is better than spending the same time thinking, thereby guaranteeing failure.
CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE ABOUT YOURSELF
I’m not perfect and you’re not perfect. But, we can both try our best to make the best decisions we can. Anything that improves clarity or quality of thought is unequivocally worth it.
Sometimes, particularly in school, I wanted to be the kind of person who didn’t have to try and still got great grades. I didn’t want to study because it made me feel dumb to not know the information, and I didn’t want to spend 4 hours on homework a night, because that would make me a try-hard. But by having this mindset, I was doing myself a severe disservice. I recognized I wasn’t doing my best and I did nothing about it.
If you care about yourself, you should be willing to put time into that which you think can help you. But know that you won’t be able to make any progress without effort, as I once vainly hoped I would.
TRUST THE PROCESS
When you spend time acting as opposed to thinking, you’re out on a limb. You won’t ever know just how great the actions you’re taking are. But every single time, if you’re moving, or focusing on the task at hand, it is better for you, and more productive for your thoughts than just thinking about it.
Here are some ideas for activities you shouldn’t ever have to worry about being helpful:
- Writing prose, poetry, or journal entries
- Taking a walk
- Riding your bike
These activities are not always the best choice, considering your circumstances, but when you do them, you can be comfortable with the knowledge that you’re making a good decision, or at least a fine one.
If there’s one thing to take away from this post, it’s this: it’s a waste to be concerned about what the perfect way to spend your time is. Learn to be content with doing as many things that are at least a tiny bit helpful to you as often as you can. That’s all you can do, so try to let go of the rest.
You will probably also find that as you focus on spending your time in ways that are more positive than negative, some of the gaps in your mind will fill themselves in. When I focused on this attitude, I became more confident to take risks with other things that had the chance to help me and others, like starting this blog. I don’t know where it’ll be in 3 months or a year. But what I do know is that focusing on it is worth the time, even if I ultimately fail.
Is it the best way for me to spend my time? I don’t know, but I know that it’s good. And that’s good enough for me.
If you have any questions or suggestions, comment or message me directly. I believe anyone can learn to use their time better. When in doubt, do something, anything, because ruminating will always create a new cycle of inaction.