Stop Spending Time on Things You Hate

The other afternoon, in an effort to avoid doing my work, I picked up Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. It turned out to be a fitting choice, as Thoreau has quite a bit to say about wasting time. “The cost of a thing,” he wrote in Walden, “is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

Thoreau’s point is not that we should be all work and no play—he was one of history’s most prominent critics of that way of living. Rather, he argued that we waste too much of our lives on things we don’t value. Without thinking about it, we are spectacularly failing some cosmic cost-benefit test, as measured not in money but in what matters most: time.

This argument is hard to refute. Many of the pastimes on which we while away huge portions of our lives feel good in the moment but bring us anxiety and regret when we manage to tear ourselves away. The average American spent three hours and 43 minutes every day watching live TV in the first quarter of 2020, according to Nielsen. That’s a lot, but still less time than the three hours and 46 minutes people spent staring at their smartphones.

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