How to Learn to Invest Your Time So You Don't Feel Guilty About Wasting It

Knowing the best way to use our time effectively can be a constant struggle. We know we shouldn't spend three hours scrolling through Instagram, and that there are other things we could be doing, but we do it anyway.

Investing time wisely is an art that most of us are far from perfecting. That's exactly why we reached out to time management expert and Time Stylers creator Kate Christie to learn more about the ways we spend our time and how to build better time management habits. Keep reading to find out why free time and balance are myths, and how to turn wasted time into cherished time.

Sweety High: Why can it be so difficult to properly manage time?

Kate Christie: Time management challenges so many people because they come at it with the wrong mindset. Time is not actually something that you can, or need to, "manage." Time is the one resource that every single person on earth has exactly the same amount of, and no one, no matter how wealthy or clever they are, can buy more time.

Your time is money. It is a precious resource that needs to be "invested" for the greatest possible return. I am all about time investment, not time management. Always ask yourself, "Is this really the best use of my time?"

Unsplash: Woman with long hair holding up a pocket watch

(via Unsplash)


SH: What are some of your top tips for really putting time investment into perspective?

KC: No time is "free" time. Every activity or task you perform has costs associated with it, and there are four cost lenses. First, there's the financial cost. No matter your age, you should understand that your time is money. If you have a casual job, what does your employer pay you per hour? If, for example, you're paid $10 an hour, then if you choose to spend an hour of your time on social media, that just cost you $10 worth of your time.

Second, there's the opportunity cost. For every activity you choose to undertake, there will always be something else you could have done. This is your "trade-off"—what are you missing out on because you chose to spend your time on an activity? If you spend three hours on your device, that's three hours you could have been hanging out with your friends, or at the movies, or exercising or shopping.

Then there's the emotional cost—whether you feel good or bad about how you spent your time. If you spend time arguing with your sister or your friends, how do you feel about that later? Lastly, there's the physical cost. If you spend time on an activity that causes physical pain, that's another cost.

Work out which of the four cost lenses impacts or resonates with you most. The answer will be different for each person, but this is the lens you should look through when you choose any new activity. If it isn't really the best use of your time, make a better decision.

I think it's also really important to have "me time." Identify the things you most love doing—exercise, catching up with friends, your hobbies—and make the time for them.

Unsplash by Anthony Tran - Girl with coffee reading a book

(via Unsplash)


SH: Is there a formula for finding the right balance with your time?

KC:  "Balance" is a myth! You can't perfectly balance everything you have going on in your life. I prefer to think about it as "integration." Write a list of everything you must do, such as school, homework, family stuff and sleep, and a list of everything you want to do. Lock the musts into your calendar, and with the leftover time, lock in your wants. That way, you get to integrate everything that makes up your life.


SH: How can we stop feeling guilty about wasting time? What are the best ways to avoid wasting it?

KC: Everyone wastes time —usually because we are creatures of habit and we do things in a particular way without thinking about why we do it. Only you can determine whether the way you use your time is a "waste." It helps to look at the activity through the cost lenses I mentioned earlier.

I group my time use into four different categories. First, there are the musts. These are the tasks you have to do, that only you can do for yourself, such as going to school, sleeping or working at your job. Next are the wants, or the tasks you love doing for yourself, such as exercise, hobbies and being with friends. Time spent on your wants is not a waste of time.

Third, there are the rejects. These are the silly habits we get into that we just don't need to do. This is the stuff that truly is a waste of your time. For example, multitasking. If you force your brain to try to do two or more things at a time, your productivity actually goes down by 40%. If you scroll through social media while you do your homework, then you'll only give 60% of your attention to the homework—which means it will take you longer and you'll get poorer results. Instead, do one thing at a time to make the most of it. Another example is going shopping during peak hour. There are more people and the lines are longer, making it a huge waste of time. Instead, go when the shops are quiet. I also recommend not waiting to clean your room until it looks like a bomb has gone off. That will take much longer to clean than if you do a little bit every day to keep it tidy.

The fourth category is the delegates. These are the tasks you can get someone else to do because they're better at it. This one is great if you have siblings and you all have chores. Work out what you are best at and don't mind doing and then trade the chores away that you dislike.

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SH: How can understanding our wants and goals help us prioritize time?

KC: People who write down their goals are 42% more likely to reach them than people who just think about them. A great start is to simply write your goals down! Start by thinking about where you want your life to be in 12 months across the most important areas of your life, such as health, friends, family, school and travel, and write down one goal for each category.

Next, you want to make the goal measurable (how do I know if I have reached my goal?), time-specific (when do I want to have achieved this goal by?), written in a positive way (not as a negative statement) and written in the present tense (as if it has already happened).

Don't write a goal like, "I want to lose weight" because there is no measure of success, no deadline and it's written as a negative statement, implying you're overweight right now. It's also written as an aspiration for the future, not something real that you have achieved. Instead, write something like, "On May 1, 2020, I have completed my first 10-mile run without stopping. I started this with a one-kilometer run and slowly increased my distance by one mile every two weeks." This statement ticks all the boxes.


SH: What would you say are the biggest time sucks we should all try to avoid? 

KC: Multitasking for sure, as well as spending too much time on social media. The average teen spends up to nine hours a day on their device. Put some boundaries in place and get out and enjoy the fresh air with your friends, instead!

Interruptions also swallow up time. Every time someone interrupts you, it takes an average of 23 minutes to return to the point of focus that you had when you were interrupted. That's why quiet libraries are so good for getting your homework done productively, buying you back more time for the things you love to do.


SH: What are your biggest tips for making the most of our time?

KC: For those who have a lot of school and study to do, I recommend making a great big to-do list at the start of the week. Each day, pick the two most important things you absolutely need to do that day and then lock them into your calendar. Your brain loves a deadline, but if you don't lock a deadline in, the task will just expand to fill the time made available for it.

For example, if you have two weeks to write a paper, it will take you two weeks—but if you leave it to the night before, it will take you the night before! Create reasonable deadlines for yourself so that you are not constantly doing homework in a panic just before it's due. Every day, you should also update your to-do list and choose the two most important things for the following day. That way, by the end of the week, you'll have achieved your 10 most important tasks.

It's also good to understand yourself and work out when you're at your most energetic. This is when you should do your hardest work that requires the best thinking. Avoid doing your hard work when you are tired, if you can,  because it will take longer and you won't do as good of a job.

Unsplash: Woman writing to-do list in book with coffee and croissant

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If you want to use the weekend to get a jump start, click HERE for a list of the things you should do on Sunday to lay the groundwork for a productive week.