When it comes to what you spend, your money on you should focus on things that appreciate instead of things that depreciate. For example, if you buy a house for a fair price, it will generally be worth more in 15 years than what you paid for it. If you purchase a sports car, it will generally be worth less. When it comes to how you spend your time, you have to think in the same way. Some activities are inherently more valuable than others. Activities that make you more valuable or create something that will produce an income for later make for a better use of your time than activities that produce no lasting benefit.
A common trait I see in successful people is that what they do for entertainment often gives them benefits that go well beyond the simple entertainment value. According to Nielsen, the average person watches 4 hours and 35 minutes of television each day. A small percentage of those are watching educational programing and another percentage are probably watching television while they exercise, but most of them are probably just killing time with a passive activity that adds no value to their life. Interestingly enough, the lower your income, the more time you will spend in front of the television. One could argue that rich people go to the movies instead of watching the TV at home or perhaps lower income earners can’t afford the expensive entertainment of the higher classes, but I would guess there is more of a causation factor here. People who are successful and have higher incomes often spend their time doing activities that are more rewarding than watching TV.
I’m not trying to just pick on television here. It illustrates the point very well, but in truth, there are a number of activities that can easily crowd out more valuable activities. There are many activities that aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves. Their detriment comes from what they prevent you from doing–particularly when done in excess. Playing a video game isn’t necessarily bad, but spending more time gaming than you spend with your kids is definitely not a good thing. By organizing your life around activities that have lasting value, you can reduce the amount of time drained by non-valuable activities. I’m not saying you should never watch TV or play a video game, but you will be far better off if your primary entertainment activities aren’t centered around those two things.
Let’s look at some different types of valuable activities.
Reading is one of the primary ways we learn about things that are beyond our normal day-to-day experiences. Yes, you can learn by talking with others, watching a video and going to experience something for yourself, but reading is still the activity that gives you access to the greatest amount of knowledge.
In particular, reading books is a valuable activity. The Internet is a valuable resource and there are types of information that lend themselves very well to the web format, but for in-depth, extended study of a topic, books are still the best way to learn.
I’ve seen some statistics saying that 42% of college graduates don’t read another book before they die. The average conversation uses significantly fewer words of vocabulary than even children’s books. You are unlikely to increase your vocabulary through talking with people, and most media isn’t much better. Other studies suggest a strong correlation between above average vocabularies and above average salaries. If you want to increase your vocabulary, books are going to be your best bet.
Beyond just increasing your vocabulary, books contain the knowledge you need to get a raise, start your own business, be more efficient, better parent your children, invest your money, etc. Your ability and discipline to obtain that knowledge is what will determine whether you fall to the left or right of average in many areas of life.
Exercise keeps you in shape, makes you look better, makes you think better and extends your life. It is funny that one of the biggest excuses for not exercising is “I don’t have time.” In a broader context, you don’t really have time not to exercise. A brisk walk for 30 minutes five days per week can add 3 years to your life. That is nearly another 9,000 hours to live with only a 130 hour per year investment.
Even if exercising didn’t extend your life, it will help save you time. Exercise helps make it easier to learn and keeps your mind in good shape. Even small amounts of consistent exercise have been shown to reduce your chances of Alzheimer’s and dementia by 33%. Exercise has also been shown to make it easier to handle stress and to make you more productive.
Exercise is an investment in the way you look. The way you look does influence how people treat you. Even more importantly, it influences how you feel about yourself. Both of these factors can play a big part in your ability to succeed in life and in the opportunities made available to you.
If you can do something for fun that brings in an income, it makes your time go further. Here are some ideas of hobbies that can also be a business:
- Blogging – Like this site. It started out as a hobby, but now makes a non-trivial amount of money each month.
- Travel – Some people leverage their travel to write books, travel guides, etc.
- Watching Movies – Sound crazy? The guy who started www.imdb.org had quite a business and eventually sold it to Amazon.
- Gardening – There are people who have turned their small gardening hobby into a profitable way to raise and sell herbs.
I’m not saying you should never do anything just for fun, but there may be a way to monetize something you love and turn it into a business. In the end, that gives you more time to do the things you enjoy because you are getting paid for it.
Doing things that make you smarter pays great dividends. Not only does it teach you new skills and new knowledge, but it helps keep your mind working sharp and helps you avoid certain types of mental problems as you age. And it isn’t just a matter of studying something really hard. There are lots of things to learn that can be entertaining as well as educational. Here are some ideas.
- Educational cruise -There are cruises that are designed to teach you everything from how to use your computer to understanding the culture of the places you visit. Semester at Sea is a company that partners with universities to offer credit for these trips.
- Cooking classes – If you and your spouse enjoy cooking, a class or two can be a great way to do something fun while learning a skill you can use for the rest of your life.
- College classes – Taking a class or two can be a great way to enrich your life in a fun, beneficial way. With night classes and internet-based programs, there are a lot of options available.
Doing things with your family is one of the best uses of your time. It is easy to get caught up in work and social activities and overlook spending time with the people you value the most. When you are 80, there are probably very few things you will wish you had done other than spending more time with your family.
Nothing but BS snobbery here. The writer predictably looks down his nose at the expected hobbies while misunderstanding that anything, no matter how puerile, can be turned into an enterprise.
Painting with a broad brush
Correlation is not causation but really, I think it is
Reading is cool
More misuse of statistics
Exercise is cool
A counterproductive example (spend 10,000 hours doing something to extend your life by 9,000 hours?!?). How about you invest $10,000 with me so I can give you $9,000, how can you afford not to?
Maybe now correlation means causation
If you like doing something then get the most out of it. End.
Mark Shead says
Wow. That’s quite a comment. Keep in mind that most people won’t start walking 30 minutes per day when they are a baby. Walking 30 minutes 5 days per week from age 40 to 80 only puts you in the 5,000 hour range. But of course those are waking hours and some of the three years will be spent sleeping.
If you absolute hate going for a walk with your spouse then maybe the extra three years really wouldn’t be worth it regardless of when you start. If you do enjoy going for a walk with your family, an extra three years to enjoy life is a pretty good payback for doing something fun with the people you love.
I’m interested in your summary, but I’m afraid I can’t seem to match your criticisms up with the part of the text you are referencing. Well other than “Reading is cool” and “exercise is cool”.
If you feel I misused statistics in a way that will lead people astray, please point it out.
Sid Savara says
I like how you were able to pull so many different types of activities under the umbrella “valuable”
As you noted, it’s not just about the balance sheet – and in the end, every activity we do has a long term value and meaning in our lives. I’m known to put off exercising and time with family as well, and try to ensure I work it into my schedule so that I don’t end up in a situation where I have to choose between work and other activities that enrich my life long term
I guess what the author meant to say is to be productive while being idle (am i right?) Even though these are healthy and helpful tips, I still think people are allowed to choose what they do with their extra time as long as it makes them happy–may it be watching tv or playing video games. And I don’t agree that if you read a lot, you would be a great conversationalist. Some people who are generally shy tend to read a lot–and they read a lot because they have so few friends–therefore are not very good conversationalist. Or maybe I’m stereotyping.
And it’s a good idea about exercising. 30 minutes a day is hardly a sacrifice–that may be just a few rounds around the block or something. It helps you think and circulates your blood flow.
PS. Here might be another way to boost productivity while being idle. http://budurl.com/k772
Downtown Dan says
I think the theme is being overlooked here. The theme is productivity. There is more value if you take a walk, spending time with family, perhaps on your way to a weekly class you participate in.
I don’t think Mark is saying “this is how you have to do it”. He’s saying that too many people bitch about not having time to read – yet reading 20 minutes a day, average pace, average size book, puts you at about 20 books a year. It’s a matter of choice. Despite the statement “you don’t have a choice”, I think the translation is “your argument against it doesn’t make sense”.
It seems like Mike simply set out to attack the post, rather than read into it. Sure everyone will enjoy different activities, but sometimes it’s the obvious ones that people overlook, bitch and complain about. The reality is that people love to complain. It’s one of the biggest time-wasters of all. And people complain because a large majority of the population enjoys being miserable. You devote your energy where you choose. If you want to be miserable, go ahead, but Mike seems to be saying that you choose where to focus your energy. There will always be excuses.
Regardless of some folks feeling the need to troll this post (and use a bit of econ 101 in the process), I could see where this point could be one that might be a bit lost on your usual audience, simply because it is so obvious to those that seek to be productive and this is Productivity 501, not 101.
But basically, you’re saying that your recreation should be additive to your life. We all see the need to unplug, unwind, relax as part of maintaining long-term efficiency…but that doesn’t mean that those activities have to work in the opposite direction of being productive or advancing our lives.
I’m not so sure what is snobby about exercising or reading, but they are very good examples. And the benefits of increased vitality and efficiency that comes with a strong body were mentioned, but they really are significant beyond the longevity.
And as far as correlation v. causation…in regard to your vocabulary example, there are ample studies to prove that reading increases your vocabulary, and that an increased vocabulary is a good predictor of overall life success (Google it if you want to argue). So even a correlation between the two is enough to warrant the effort.
Keep up the good work!
Craig Thomas says
Nice post. With television, I can really stand but what educational programs these days. I feel so unproductive and wasteful if I watch something for the sake of passing time. As you’ve said, other valuable activities require the time.