Have you ever stopped to think if you’re spending your time wisely or wasting it?

Time is the only thing we can’t get back. We have a finite amount and, at times, I’m acutely aware of this. That’s when I’m most motivated and productive.

No dithering.

Just getting down to business.

But even with that mindset, at times I’m wasteful.

How I Wasted My Time

On a recent trip to Arizona, I arrived at my hotel hot, tired and thirsty. The ice cold bottled water in the lobby sold for $4.50 per bottle – outrageous in comparison to $1.50 at the supermarket. As hot and as thirsty as I was, I refused to pay that much on principle.

So, you know what I did instead?

I walked to the nearest supermarket under the searing Arizona sun (a 30-minute round trip) and bought three big bottles for the same amount of money.

“Yay! I win!”

I felt pretty smug… until I had to lug them all the way back in the heat. I returned so sweaty that I had to take a shower.

All told, almost an hour spent on saving $3.00!

That would have made some sense when I was back in college with no income. But now, I’m certainly earning more than $3-5/hour, and there are better things I could do with the time. Like writing my next blog post, reading a book, or chatting with my family on Skype, just to name a few.

My decision-making was based on flawed thinking and outdated information.

Thanks to that experience, it’s finally hit home that my circumstances have changed such that I shouldn’t think twice about spending an extra $3.00 for the payoff of time and convenience. (And the hotels have to make money too.)

This made me step back and think about all the ways I waste my time, whether by spending it on things that don’t matter, or simply giving it away without realizing it until too late.

4 Takeaways for How to Spend Your Time

If you want to make better decisions on how to spend your time, here four takeaways I’ve discovered for improving your outcomes.

1. What’s “worth it” is in the eye of the beholder

When it comes to your most valuable resource – your time – the foundation for making good decisions is knowing what matters most to you. The more you care about something (or someone), the more you’ll feel good spending your time on it.

The key here is to make sure it’s something you care about, and not be swayed by others. Because value is in the eye of the beholder and only you can determine if something is worth your time.

For example, when I was 15, I wanted to be a concert pianist. So I practiced four hours a day, six days a week, for two years. Friends thought I was crazy to spend that much time playing scales and getting that one troublesome passage right. It meant turning down lots of invitations and not being on any sports teams. But for me, it was worth it.

For you, maybe it’s that others think you’re crazy to take two years out of your career and pay six figures for an MBA. Or perhaps your family thinks you’re nuts to buy a sailboat and spend every weekend sailing.

But when it’s what you care about and want to do, you’ll feel it’s worth it.

Don’t be swayed by what others think or say. The only opinion that matters is yours. And only when you see the value can you persuade others to support you in how you spend your time.

2. What you value may change over time

Recognize that what you care about may change over time, usually because your circumstances change.

That means last year’s good decision may be a bad decision now.

Back to my piano practice, it was only when I realized I was never going to be a virtuoso like Arthur Rubenstein that I stopped choosing to spend my time practicing. And just like saving $3.00 stopped being so valuable, playing scales for hours a day was no longer worth it.

Roll the clock forward, and what matters to me has changed again, as has the way I spend my time.

Now, I’m committed to helping people get to the next level of their careers and be the best they can be. So I carve out time to coach, speak, and write every single week to share my knowledge and experiences (I’m over 200 blog posts in a row now!).

I’m also committed to staying fit and healthy, so I work out and practice yoga every week, even when I’m travelling.

So remember to adjust your ‘rules of thumb’. Otherwise, you’ll still be marching to last year’s drumbeat and that probably won’t get you to your new destination.

3. We tend to undervalue our time

It’s tempting to think, “I’ll just do this myself” when someone else doesn’t get things right. Or when you’d rather avoid asking someone else to take on a task. Or when you’re a control freak (something I know all about!).

But when you take on tasks that others can and should be doing, you’re basically saying that your time is less valuable than theirs.

And what about all the extra hours spent on making things perfect when “good enough” is good enough? As a recovering perfectionist, I can tell you that that’s a major time waster. I’m cringing at the thought of just how many hours of my life I wasted that way.

The thing is, all those tasks you add onto your plate, and the extra effort to make something perfect, can take up a lot of time when added up together. When you keep piling that time on without thinking about the cost, it means you’re not valuing your time properly… if at all.

Time has an opportunity cost, which is all the things you’re not doing but could be doing. Things like having dinner with friends, taking a walk in the woods, or starting a side business to diversify your income.

4. Never underestimate the rejuvenating power of joy

No matter how hard you work and how dedicated you are to achieving your goals, it’s essential to take breaks and bring joy into your life.

Frankly, it will help you be more productive when you’re back to work.

I’ll admit I’m the original “Grinch” when it comes to indulging in fun when there’s work to do (and in my book, there’s always work to do!). But even I have come to appreciate the rejuvenating energy that comes from doing something that is joyful.

For me, that’s dancing, working out, and belting out tunes with a karaoke machine. For my former colleague, who’s a partner in a Venture Capital firm, it’s playing keyboard with his band. And yes, they play gigs all across Manhattan.

So as you strive toward your future vision, remember to invest some time in activities that bring you joy.

What is your outlet for joy?

What will you do?

Since time is finite, make sure you’re spending it wisely.

How are you investing your time? And what do you need to do to make better decisions?

Leave a comment – I’d love to know.