Not Wasting Time


If I were to ask you what you hold dear in life, you might tell me about people you care about, or activities you enjoy, or perhaps possessions that are precious to you. I imagine I would answer in a similar way. But one thing that is so valued and so valuable, but does not always spring to mind, is time. How we spend our time influences so many things. How often do you hear people caution against ‘wasting’ time? Or making sure we use it wisely? Or wishing we had more?

There seems to be a drive, particularly in ‘work’ time, to spend each moment of that time to its best potential, and to squeeze productivity out of each drop. I’m guilty of this. Being freelance, it feels there is an added, albeit internal, pressure to make each bit of time count even if it is not time spent on client work. This can mean as freelancers we forget to include in our day time for things we need to do in order for us to be ready to actually start work.

In the days when I worked for organisations as an employee, I had, probably without realising it, a very specific routine for when I arrived at work. You could call it my settling in routine. I suspect most of us have them. Working for a health and social care charity, my morning routine involved greeting my colleagues when I arrived, setting up my computer, checking my ‘to do’ list, and then making my coffee. A simple process but one without which I could not start my day. Especially the coffee bit. And it couldn’t be coffee I had before work and it couldn’t be coffee I bought on my way in. It had to be made at work. I never saw this as a particular ritual but when I look back, I did it every day. And going back even further, when I worked at a theatre, my morning routine had to involve saying Good Morning to the Stage Door Keepers and then walking the same route behind the stage and through the theatre building to the Green Room to get my milk, and then making my coffee. In that order, every day. If the order went awry, it felt like a peculiar day.

Now, I have been in denial about having a new routine as a freelancer and only recently came to accept that I do have one. In the early days of freelancing, I would find myself going straight from the school drop-off to the nearest supermarket to buy an iced coffee before I began to work. After a while, I started to tell myself I was wasting valuable work time visiting the supermarket when I had a perfectly good kettle at home, which was acceptable for the rest of the day, and that this was just a silly indulgence. So, I stopped the little trips. And I found I felt like something was missing from my ‘getting ready’ routine. I couldn’t quite settle. I needed some kind of ritual, some separation to tell me that this was now work time. That little trip to the shop did that for me. I guess you could say I’d redesigned my own settling in process for working at home.

I’ve come to see it now not as wasting time, but using it wisely, to get me ready to work and focus. I wonder what rituals others have to get ready for work time. Early morning exercise? A particular breakfast you need to eat?

However you spend your working time, don’t underestimate the value of the bit before. You need to be set up for your day in the best way possible. So, if that is the daily trip to the supermarket, don’t feel it is time wasted. All time has its purpose.