Yesterday it was almost four in the morning and I was arguing with my brain. I had experienced a lack of ideas in the last couple weeks but at that time my brain seemed to be on fire. I had gone to bed at twelve o’clock and since then thousands of ideas would had crossed my mind: blog posts, future planning, problem solutions, stories… all sorts of stuff.
But I wanted to sleep so badly I was yelling “shut up!” at my brain. It doesn’t usually obey me, and it didn’t that time either, so the only thing I could do was to pick up my iPhone and write everything down. I skipped summer English school today, but I think it was worth it. I learnt more English by reading Great Expectations this morning anyway.
I forgive myself at trying to shut up my brain in such an occasion because I was really sleepy. But we try to shut up our brains many times a day for the sake of routine. For example, some of my friends have high school as their top priority and will do every assignment, every day, without rationally thinking if said assignment will help them learn anything or if it’s the best way to use their time. It is a common belief that as school -or work- is important, everything related to school is important.
Sometimes there are things that are just not worth our time. In my case, the greatest example of this is English homework. The level of my high school English class is so below mine that I will not waste a single second of my life doing any homework unless it’s something where I can be creative and actually want to do for fun. And I will gladly accept a 9 over 10 in that class (although most teachers overlook the fact that I do not do homework and give me a 10 anyway) because I know my time was better spent painting or playing basket or whatever.
When I want to do something, like painting, when I should do something else, like homework, I ask myself how each activity will affect my future. I believe that painting when I’m inspired to paint will affect me much better than doing homework when I feel I should be painting. In other words, I procrastinate or skip “important” tasks altogether, and I do it without the slightest regret.
I even skip school sometimes, when I am deep involved in a project, such as building a robot or programming a game. I want all my time for that, and I know it’s worth it. I can always catch up on school later. Some people frighten when they do something like this, thinking they won’t be able to catch up, but I don’t. I know it will all be OK because I can handle it.
Sounds great, uh? To do what you want to do all the time, without causing any damage to your life. Here’s how you can do it too:
Detecting the Unimportant
Many TV shows have what we call “filler episodes”. They don’t advance the plot, they don’t develop the characters and they are boring to watch.
The “filler time” in your life is that you spend doing things that don’t give you any valuable skill, don’t help you grow and you don’t enjoy.
Analyse a typical day of yours (if you don’t have such a thing as a typical day, congratulations: you’re awesome) and try to find that filler time. In a typical school day of mine, a filler hour is English class because I don’t learn anything, I don’t grow and I don’t have fun there.
Then, do the same every night with the day that just finished and be aware of activities you repeat that have zero value to the “plot”.
Also, when you are about to do any activity longer than 15 minutes, allow a few seconds to decide if it’s filler time.
Deleting the Unimportant
Once you have identified your first filler, try to create some way you can transform this filler time into something more useful. If you are not obliged to do that, I suggest you drop that activity (or lack of activity) altogether. If you can’t do that, try to find a way to make it profitable and enjoyable. If you could delete even half an hour of filler time from your routine, that’s a major improvement. Common activities that can easily become filler time if you’re not careful are browsing the internet and watching TV.
Avoiding the Unimportant
Planning your day in advance is a great way to avoid this. Of course, you can do things that are not in the plan (having a day fully planned is the dullest of things, but having a plan ensures that when you don’t know what you do, your time won’t go to waste).
Another “trick” is to have a wide repertoire of activities you can get on fast. For example, I’ve trained myself to identify filler time very fast so I can stop myself from wasting my time mindlessly reading jokes on the internet that I will probably not remember the next day, but then I need to do something instead. My repertoire includes reading a book, writing a blog post, writing a speech on a random topic and so on.
Dealing With the Consequences
This is what seems to be the hardest part, but it really isn’t. While detecting the unimportant, you probably were smart enough not to classify things such as “buying food” and “going to the only meeting I have with my boss this year” as unimportant, so you can’t really get into much trouble. Each situation is different so it’s up to you how you handle it, but most of them can be solved by forgetting about them. After all, they’re not that important 😉