Don’t Count Time

Time matters, but obsessing over it is pointless.

A first-stage filter to assess someone is to see how they value their time.

A lot of people feel guilty about wasting their time. They seem to think they always have to be doing something productive.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to feel this way.

It’s becoming increasingly common, but it’s still not the norm. For many people, time hangs heavy on their hands, and they welcome any distraction that helps in killing it.

That’s why this is a pretty decent first-stage filter in assessing someone.

A person who thinks this way is likely to be more conscious and aware of themselves than someone who’s never thought about how their life is passing by.

You can also get more done if you’re one of those who feel guilty about wasting time than you would if you were a chronically lazy, unmotivated person.

Feeling “guilty” on wasting time at least shows two things.

One, that you value your time, and two, that you have some ambition to use your time to achieve some goal, howsoever hazy and ill-defined.

That’s why feeling guilty about how you spend your time is a good first filter – it separates some from the rest. I’ve seen it usually indicates intelligence more than the median.

But it’s only a first filter because it doesn’t go far enough.

If life was a video game, and an average person was still on level 1, someone who thought like this would have probably cleared level 1, but might not have reached level 3.

The Efficiency Fallacy

Feeling guilty of time passing by you means you’re thinking about efficiency.

This is usually a misplaced optimization.

The feeling of guilt arises because you’re trying to optimize efficiency.

You can take efficiency as the percentage of time utilized : (time used “productively”) / total time.

Attempting to optimize efficiency means you focus on maximizing the use of every second.

The problem with trying to optimize every second is that you’re trading down.

It’s penny-wise but pound foolish.

A short term optimization isn’t usually a long term optimization. For a mathematical function, a local maximum isn’t necessarily a global maximum.

Trading down means you’re optimizing the way you spend your pennies at the cost of your pounds.

There are two problems.

The first is that optimizing for pennies doesn’t always mean optimizing for pounds.

Trading down means the seconds are spent well but the stress means you lose hours, days, weeks, months or years.

It’s not always true that the most efficient use of your day lies on the same trajectory as the most efficient use of your week or year or life.

The stress is the pressure of a machine trying always to optimize.

Because you optimize seconds and not days or weeks, you give up things that help in the long term but carry short term costs, for things that help in the short term but carry long term costs.

Sleep is the easiest example that comes to mind, but I think in general it means that the urgent takes precedence over the important.

This is the outcome of a very narrow tunnel vision.

You can’t ever see beyond the day-to-day, what’s right in front of you.

You either ignore the larger picture, or assume there’s nothing wrong and if you just handle the seconds everything else will take care of itself – after all, what is a day but 86,400 seconds and a year just 365.25 times of that?

It’s like a company faced with two projects – one costing $10 million and giving $13 million in a year with a 30% profit, and another costing $100 million and giving a much smaller profit of 5%.

Assessing them independently of the outside world, you’d go for the first one, but that only works in theoretical examples.

There’s a chance the second project leads to new projects in future – but if you only assessed it based on the next year’s results, which most employees do because that’s how their performance is judged, you’ll miss out.

You trade down when you focus on efficiency instead of effectiveness.

Effectiveness beats Efficiency

It’s a tired old cliche, but I’ll repeat it anyway.

Efficiency is doing the thing rightly.

Effectiveness is doing the right thing.

A light bulb might be super efficient with near zero resistance.

But if it doesn’t even work, what’s the point of it? I’d go for the one that works every time, even if it’s highly inefficient.

The first step is to understand that you don’t want to optimize for efficiency, you want to optimize effectiveness.

Efficiency is pointless without effectiveness – like being the fastest runner but running in the wrong direction.

It doesn’t really matter how many seconds or hours you used; it only matters what you do in them.

The quantity of time itself is irrelevant; two good hours can be worth more than twenty average ones.

I think understanding the fact that time isn’t proportional to results is the first step to losing the stress of not utilizing each moment optimally.

The second step is to understand that you optimize effectiveness by giving up some efficiency.

The optimum level of efficiency is that level beyond which any increase in efficiency comes at a cost of effectiveness.

It’s the old inverted U curve you see everywhere, which for some reason is thought to be very informative. It’s very common – too little of most things is usually bad, and too much of most things is also usually bad.

So if your tax rates are too low, you get no revenues, and if your tax rates are too high, you also get no revenue, because no one will work when you take everything away from them as tax. The optimum is somewhere in between.

Ditto for efficiency and effectiveness. Too little efficiency means you don’t do anything at all – you can’t be effective. Too much efficiency and you risk self-destruction in the long term, which again destroys effectiveness.

I’ve drawn it like this because I’d guess the optimum efficiency for most of us is somewhere to the right of 50%, rather than at 50% – meaning it’s not a symmetrical graph.

Let’s go with 70% for this example – it’s just indicative, everyone has to find their own optimum.

Therefore, if you understand and agree with this, you’ll actually cut down on your efficiency anytime it creeps up above 70%, because you know it’s going to hamper your effectiveness.

This is trading up.

This is the second step. Understanding that trying to optimize every second is actually detrimental for you and reduces your efficiency – therefore accepting some inefficiency is in your interest.

You intentionally give up using some of your seconds optimally so that your hours will yield more, and you intentionally give up hours for days, and even days or weeks or months.

To trade up, you sacrifice seconds for hours and hours for days, you sacrifice days for weeks and weeks for months and months for years. And you can sacrifice years and decades for your life.

It’s OK to waste hours talking to friends or reading books or watching movies. Even if you learnt absolutely nothing, just the recharge you get is enough.

That recharge means you utilize the coming hours and days better.

Again, to appreciate this you have to stop measuring inputs and measure outcomes.

It doesn’t matter how many hours you study or draw or code, it matters what you learn or produce.

Working 10 hours while tired could be far worse than 2 hours when you’re rejuvenated.

You just have to know how to trade up – when to “waste” your seconds and hours and days.

The simple answer is – as far as possible, do it on your own terms. Pick a time when you see your performance flagging – when you’re constantly distracted by the internet or phone, or falling asleep, or just not in the mood.

You can call it sacrifice or wasting or whatever – but whatever it is, it should rejuvenate you. And you won’t feel guilty about the waste because there isn’t much else you would have done with that time.

A lot of things worth doing aren’t easy ; they take all the motivation and mental or physical effort you possess.

You need to be near your peak to draw or code or exercise well; you can always get by unconsciously on a bad day but you know it isn’t up to par.

That’s one reason to eat clean and sleep well – it affects performance. You’ll waste much more time if you feel like crap all the time.

So when you’re tired or just not in the mood – why not do something else? “Waste” that time without feeling guilty about it, because you’ll come back better the next day.

Shun Self-Importance

It also helps not to take yourself, or anything really, too seriously.

If I waste a couple of hours – it’s not the end of the world.

If I didn’t waste them, nothing would be really different.

A lot of people who’ve done something great spend a lot of time doing things that might be considered a waste. Mark Zuckerberg’s schedule impresses me because he gives so much time to other stuff than work.

I’m not that important that my time is so precious every second needs to be monitored. and doing something that isn’t “work” would be a calamity.

It’s a balance between not devaluing yourself to such a low that you splurge your whole life away because “nothing matters” and between taking yourself so seriously that “every second matters”.

But if you got this far in this essay, you probably don’t have the problem of devaluing your time – it’s the other extreme that’s the issue and so you need to over-compensate if you want to get rid of this habit.

Why overcompensate? Because of that graph above – you might be compromising your effectiveness because of your efficiency.

Metrics aren’t Goals

And more importantly, because if it’s making you unhappy, then it’s a pretty stupid thing to do.

Efficiency, effectiveness and any other metric are just metrics – the point is that they should make your life better. If they don’t, then why use them?

One of the most common mistakes we make is to mistake a metric for a goal.

GDP growth rate is a metric.

It tells you how the final value of goods and services produced in your country has grown with over a given time period, that’s all.

The goal is different – it could be economic prosperity or equality or anything else.

It shouldn’t become your goal – because it doesn’t perfectly align with the real goal.

A 1% growth from industries or agriculture could benefit more people than the same from services.

Or GDP might be growing fast, but the gains could come from the top 10% only.

But setting a goal like 5% GDP growth rate is pointless – who cares if GDP grows at 5% or 10% if it doesn’t help in achieving the real goal?

It’s just the same for any metric like efficiency or effectiveness. What’s the point of a highly efficient or effective life if you hate every moment of it?

That’s why I said feeling guilty of time passing by is only a first-stage filter for assessing someone.

A second-stage filter would be someone who understands that a metric like efficiency or effectiveness is meant to be your servant, not your master.

Which means it should never deduct value from your life – and therefore you should not feel bad about it.

You should worry about it if it’s a symptom of a larger problem – but also recognize that it’s not the real problem per se.

If you’re doing well and you’re happy it doesn’t matter if you waste 90% of your time sleeping. But if you’re not doing well or you’re not happy with how things are, then it’s unlikely you’ll be thrilled by the knowledge that you’ve used every second efficiently.

This also makes it hard to distinguish someone who clears the second stage filter from a random person – because both don’t obsess about every second and constantly feel guilty about using it well.

It’s good to appreciate there’s no reason to be efficient or effective unless you want to.

If you want to, it’s your choice, and you don’t need to feel guilty about it – because it’s voluntary, not a compulsion.

Diversify

One way to try and keep both efficiency and effectiveness high is to have many things going on.

That way, when one thing exhausts you, moving on to the next can recharge you.

So in between working on something else, you can always write essays like this one or learn investing or play an instrument or build a following or whatever.

It’s like having your cake and eating it too.

You can aim for both efficiency and effectiveness in your life, just not in the same thing.

If you spent your entire day sprinting or drawing or coding you’d see performance fall after the first few hours; if you hopped between different things you could do better and probably enjoy it more too.

What this meant to me when I understood it was that I could function better if I have more things to do, rather than putting all my eggs in one basket.

It’s obviously person-specific – many great athletes and performers dedicate their lives to their craft. But you should know if you’re one of them before aping them.

When you’re tired or bored of one thing after a few hours, you can jump on to the next – it could be reading, writing, singing, playing games, investing and so on.

Recognize when productivity falls in one thing and move on. You’ll do better and won’t feel bad about wasting your time. And you’ll never have an excuse that you’re bored or you have nothing to do.

You just have to order things – bundle high and low effort tasks. Something that’s less taxing should follow something more taxing.

And still sometimes you won’t feel like doing anything and that’s OK – everyone needs to recharge sometime.

Summary

This essay isn’t as clear as I’d want it to be.

It might be because I haven’t understood this as well as I’d like to, or perhaps this is just a complicated subject.

It’s easy to find contradictions here.

Value your time, but don’t take yourself seriously and fret over it.

Efficiency isn’t what you want to optimize, and wasting time might actually help you, but efficiency still has a correlation with effectiveness up to a point.

Effectiveness matters more than efficiency, but there’s no reason to worry about it if you don’t want to, and if you do decide to, you shouldn’t let it take over your life.

You can focus better if you pick one thing and perhaps end up doing great in it (although that’s a gamble that might not pay off). Whereas, you can have both efficiency and effectiveness if you choose multiple things, but there could be slightly less chance of excelling (that’s debatable). The usual trade-offs with portfolio diversification.

I like to think the contradictions exist because this all of these ideas are a continuum and you just pick a point on it that suits you – based on what you value.

This essentially boils down to:

Optimize effectiveness over efficiency if you want to optimize anything.

Effectiveness means a focus on outputs rather than inputs – on results over time.

Quality of your time usually beats quantity – a few good hours are worth more than many average ones.

Short-term optimizations aren’t always long-term optimizations; penny wise is sometimes pound foolish.

Too much efficiency can compromise effectiveness.

Don’t take yourself too seriously; you’re not that important that a lost hour is a calamity for the universe.

Having more things to do will keep you from squandering time.

A metric is a servant, not a master – it shouldn’t take over your life.

38 comments

Kirti

I like the idea of consciousness of coexistence of the different things in the same Universe

Nikita Gadakh

Thank you it is really helpful.. I always felt guilty whenever I wasted my time but after reading this I realised effectiveness & efficiency go hand in hand.. it’s important to take conscious breaks.. or just consciously change the task whenever you feel you are loosing your effectiveness.. thank you

Manish Joshi

This is good enough explanation…

Prabhu

Time is indeed an effective tool for public management of different affairs.
When it comes to personal field, it is all about individual and ones own trait management.
Time is not an ultimate truth as it differs according to the needs and demands of the decider.
It is not the exact time everyday for the sun to rise and set.

Time is a psychological phenomena. It is different for a sprinter and different for an officer and different for a farmer.

Shital

Thanks for sharing this Bcoz when you are doing a long term task you sometimes don’t realise when you’ve started focusing more on efficiency than effectiveness. Your views has brought more awareness about this to me And yes it do feel good to read that it’s okay to have some time off without guilt becoz I do it sometimes.😀

conquest

Then, Can we say ?

Effectiveness and efficiency are cyclical things with Effectiveness as a lead actor.
1. Lets say, we want to study a subject. At the start, EFFECTIVENESS is what matters. As complexity of subject,lack of previous knowledge requires better understanding of initial topics or conceptualizing basic themes. Once we gain sufficient understanding w/o giving much importance to time. (Introductory topics specifying terms,measure themes etc.) We are more effective at this level.
2. Next level – Efficiency trying to combine hands with Effectiveness. You understood now what is important,main theme etc of subject. You try to optimise it now. Lets say, you divide next topics into categories of A,B,C or topic content into similar categories as per the importance of material.
At this level efficiency through better optimisation helps effectiveness. At start we may be 10% more efficient with same amount of effectiveness. And gradually improve.
3. Last level will be where – effectiveness and efficiency combine at optimum level to bring better result i.e. High productivity. (Efficiency + Effectiveness = Productivity). We do understand the subject well i.e. effectiveness parameter. As well as we have finished the subject at optimum time metric.
Lets say, Effectiveness is a long term metric and have significance at all levels. While Efficiency is a more process oriented thing, coming when sufficient factors already available for optimisation of efficiency. Efficient effectiveness may be better term to describe better Productivity.

Diksha

I was so manifesting a new article from youu💗🦋

Shobhit Raina

What do you mean by ‘Manifesting a new article’?

Diksha

Its just that I was ardently waiting for a new article from him for quite a time:)))
P.S. manifestation is basically a technique in which your positive thoughts with proper visualization has such an immense power that it culminates itself in the physical realm:p

Diksha

Indeed:)))

Karan

Hey, You can check this out, you might can get some light till Sir replies you.
http://pratyushpandey.com/some-traits-linked-to-intelligence/

Kid

“It’s OK to waste hours talking to friends or reading books or watching movies. Even if you learnt absolutely nothing, just the recharge you get is enough.” I thought I would never hear this from you lol.

Anyway I loved the idea that metric is not a goal. It’s like thinking goals in terms of quality & quantity.

Diksha

There are no set parameters for anything .Everything is totally relative and what we need is just a leap of faith on us 🦋

Anubhav Kumar

thank you pratush bhai for this precious Blog.
I learn lots of things from u. Brother plz write a blog how a bilow average boy like me do something extraordinary in life. I totally confuse😕 About my career. Which career path I choose. This is core problems millions of students. Plz bro write some blog on career,Passion,interest related topic

pratyushpandey

If I knew how to be extraordinary I could have told you but I don’t.

https://markmanson.net/being-average

This is what I’d tell you.

Morairty!

Lot of fan boys here , anyway am spending 2 min on this . How did you manage diet during CSE prep , I ve been working out for 2 years now , I am in my best shape . But optimum water intake of 4-5 ltrs doesn’t let me study. What’s your tip on this ? I can’t lose my muscle over this prep ? Plus sleep pattern also collapsed. Any solution ? Hope you made sense.

conquest

What is the relationship between 4/5 litres of water intake and not being able to study? (Any scientific backing)

Morairty!

Most of time you would be in restroom ! Atleast me ! Breaks momentum . Now add hours of workout . Time in intangible asset !

conquest

I also drink 3.5/ 4/5 litres water & breaks provide me an opportunity to follow pomodoro( though not rigorous 25 min cycle but as per my convenience). It helps me actually. Though it may be irrelevant as you asked Pratyush and I am answering as our conversation started on a part of your question
You have to take your own decision. What do you want? Muscles or body shape can be achieved at any age. If you like it – you can reahieve the same. Though if you value body over exam, its your take. Nothing wrong there. Also if you value exam, you can be less possesive about present body and fine with little deterioration. As you can achieve the same in next 2 years. Just don’t be IGNORANT about what you really value at the present.
(Ignore if you find it irrelevant)

Morairty!

Thanks but do you lift ?

pratyushpandey

2 years isn’t such a long time and you’re probably not a pro that your life revolves around your lifting regimen.
Either manage with 4-5 ltrs or reduce it a bit. You won’t see any difference if you drink a bit less, and you can probably study well enough even if you drink that much.

Just a suggestion from someone who’s been there – it’s a hobby that can take over your life if you’re not careful so you might want to think about that.
Understand marginal return and 80/20 rule – all you need to do is eat, lift and sleep. Not obsess over the minutiae.

Morairty!

Yeah prathyush ! I was over weight you can’t even imagine . The pain of going back haunts me. I never wish to .I hate all these bodyweight or any other you name of. I love only lifting and nothing else.
Moreover , this is a exam of gamble atleast lifting has scientific results. Fear of being reduced to marginalized man peeps in.

I know that I shouldn’t think of results but atleast I ve came from a Cave man. Its not that easy to practice mind like that.

Morairty!

@Pratyush. Typo

Morairty!

Thanks for the early judging , I can counter argue in many ways. I would rather not.

Next , I can’t simply help why everyone tries to PREACH these days ? Rather incorporating emphathetic liason.

abhishek

your essay + this clip, Pretty much sums it up

Morairty!

Thanks brother

Sharnya

Hello , I have been reading your blogs since I Watched your interview about upsc, don’t know it may be inappropriate but still I would like to tell that I have been crushing on you since then, I got really impressed and have respect for you , your writings are amazing, it really mesmerize me. Sometimes I envy you too! But happy that I have someone like this. Wish to meet someday in life. 🙂

Ayush

Hey Pratyush, thanks for sharing this amazing perspective regarding time.
I read your book Beyond Human and was able to grasp the concept of Nishkam Karma but am not able to clearly understand the meaning of ‘ Learning How To Truly Learn’ which helped you to produce better results academically with lesser efforts.
I want to know your thoughts on how can someone incorporate this accurate learning practice.
Please try to prepare a separate blog post for the same

pratyushpandey

Thanks for the suggestion.
I’ll think about it in the coming weeks and see if I can come up with something on it.
In a nutshell – it’s about understanding principles and following logic, always knowing the reason behind something instead of memorizing the process.
The why tells you the how, otherwise you just rote-learn how.
Like solving a math problem – most kids in school can mechanically solve a hundred problems of the same type, but make a slight twist and they aren’t able to. But if you try to understand the logic rather than get the answer, you can solve anything.

conquest

Hey Ayush, will you please share your experience -how you incorporated Nishkama Karma in your life? Especially what Pratyush says, ‘stopped caring about results’ part.

conquest

Thank you. Its helpful. Learning, understanding & practicing only matters. Different ideas/ideas perspectives helps in building proper thought base. Keep commenting.

Now about Nishkama karma. What you say, most of it I do understood. The problem is difference between intellectualising something and practicing it. Although I am progressing on practicing Nishkama Karma (NK), I do feel it is not enough.

This is like a intellectual fallacy for me. I know the principles of NK, I practice them. Practicing at intellectual level. It means by thinking I can solve problem. Doing part is not upto the mark. Real Life example – I appeared twice for UPSC interview. I was so focused on result and doing better, the outcome was miserable. So you can say – my natural state is to focus on result at that time.

Now I do understand the NK. INSPITE OF practicing it or rather intellectualising it I get into state of – worrying about result, mentally rehearsing visual images of result, caring about studying i.e. studying with exam pressure. (Though Pratyush brought more clarity on focussing on process, I had realised it much earlier through my results.) I feel something is lacking.

Though I am not in hurry intellectually, paradox is I get hurried. (The same fallacy). WHAT I AM MISSING IS – MAKING NISHKAMA KARMA WAY OF LIFE. If time isn’t proportional to result, then I am already late. WHAT I WISH IS – MORE CLARITY,MORE PRACTICAL ASPECTS AS I STOP WORRYING ABOUT RESULT. “Doing” over “intellectualising”.

P.S. Hope you doesn’t find long writeup annoying.

conquest

Thanks for book recommendation. Will definitely learn about the Idea.

Portia_MI10

What is time? (According to you, sir)

Tamanna

What you wrote is so relatable to me. Whenever I am taking a little break, I feel I am “wasting time” and feeling guilty about it.
May be the reason is that in my head I think of break as a reward. So unless I have completed a task 100% I think I don’t “deserve” a break /rest. The result is after completing a task 70-80% I feel exhausted and it takes much more time(more than doing the first 70-80%) to complete the last 20-30% (if I don’t take a break).
Another reason is maybe I don’t want to regret in future that I should have spent every second obsessively towards the goal (maybe fear of failure, I don’t know)
(by the way you can watch “Jaiden animations burnout video” on YouTube which talks on similar lines.
Thanks for writing on this topic. I am glad to find someone who thinks and writes on this topic.

Garima Mukherjee

This is so beautifully written, the idea of “trading up” is new to and I find it very interesting. I had been reflecting some of my beliefs regarding my work ethic and how it should be, all my life I’ve believed I have to feel like I’m passing out otherwise I haven’t really worked or given my 100%. I would do a lot of deep work and no deep rest. My health suffered my mental health suffered and I still didn’t learn how to allow my self to rest. Because every time I did I thought I was making an excuse to not work or I was being lazy or laidback and engage in negative self talk like “I’m slow” and then I was down the rabbit hole… I didn’t give a lot of significance to prepping up for tasks or long study sessions or planning according to my energy and attention levels… Sigh. Not too late to learn.
The essay was a very refreshing read! 🙂

Swarg Suman Mishra

मैं हिंदी मीडियम का विद्यार्थी हूं। आपके लेख वाकई second to none हैं।अद्भुत! प्रत्यूष भाई

Samruddhi

“I spend no time fretting, and found a way to do what I thought important to get done.”- RBG

Prateek Kumar

There are brief and sometimes long periods of time when I absolute do nothing but doom scroll on the internet without any aim. The things are not as useless (blogs, yt, some SM etc), but still I feel terrible at the end of it. And the worst part is I cannot stop once I pick that phone in the morning. How to solve this?