What is wasted time?

Pierre-Marie Poitevin
3 min readJul 13, 2022

Oftentimes I hear that “people are wasting their time watching TV” or that I am wasting time doing X or Y, but I wonder, what exactly is wasted time? And also what time isn’t wasted?

I recognize that there are a lot of activities that I consider that my time is wasted on. For instance, I play games on my phone sometimes. Why do I even do that? It doesn’t make any sense from a rational point of view, since I probably have 100 different other things to do that would be better for me.

I also want to recognize that the same activity can be wasted time for someone and not wasted time for someone else. Coming back to video games, if I use it only to “kill time”, this is wasted; but for someone else, if they interact with the gaming community around them and build a network of strong relationships, then it can be worth it for them to keep playing video games.

We can agree then that time wasted depends on a perspective and an attitude, along with the actual activity being done. This must be because there is something deeply personal about the time we spend and how we value it. In the case of activities that are not seen as wasted time, we are able to see something positive in the outcome.

Therefore, I will simply define wasted time as any activity spent that doesn’t produce or isn’t likely to produce any beneficial outcome for the person doing the activity. On the other hand, non wasted time is any activity that is likely to produce good outcomes for the subject.

I recognize that I waste time on a lot of occasions throughout my day, and also that we live in a complex world in which I am not always able to tell which activities are wasted time and which ones are not. I can put a lot of effort in the hope of a promotion that may not happen. I can try very hard to lose weight and fail. I can try to have no wasted time in my life and (very likely) fail.

I would then try to split the time spent into 4 categories, according to the predictability of their outcome:

Predictability/Outcome matrix

And here are some examples for each of the activities:

Activity examples according to predictability and expected outcome

This is only my personal opinion about these activities, and to illustrate the previous drawing, you might feel differently about these activities and that’s okay. Now before you start your day or a particular activity, try to put it somewhere on the predictability/outcome matrix to know if this is the right choice for the day.

I try to stay as much as possible as I can on the right side, like everyone else I assume, yet sometimes I fail. Why is that? Why do I keep doing things that I know aren’t good for me?

One explanation could be that bad activities, producing bad outcomes, provide enough short term pleasure or excitement so that you still want to do it right now, to fill a short term need. Another related reason is a possible addiction to some activities that could have been useful at some point, but are not useful to you anymore, and the failure to recognize that they are now detrimental.

What’s fun with this graph is that once you eliminate all the activities on the left (for instance), you can keep going by identifying the activities that on average provide little value to you (like “clean dishes” for me) and start eliminating them. For instance, I have a dishwasher, and I could spend more time sleeping instead of cleaning dishes.

What does your activity map look like? Let me know :)