Due to my transient, military-brat upbringing, I spent many of my formative years in small, remote towns. We didn’t have TV, shopping malls, McDonalds, or movie theatres – in other words, many of the things young people like to do to “kill time”. I think my lack of big-city luxuries served me well, because it forced me to find other things to occupy my time. I read voraciously. I got into music. I went outside right after breakfast and came back in when the streetlights came on at night.

I didn’t “kill time”. I used the time when I wasn’t focused on school to do, explore, invent, create, imagine and play. In my house, we weren’t allowed to be bored, and we weren’t allowed to spend hours on end in front of the TV (we only had one channel anyway, so there wasn’t much point).

So I guess it stands to reason, that as a grownup, I have a tremendous dislike for the words “killing time”. Yet, there are so many ways we find to do just that.

Our lives are full of distractions, the stuff that drags us away from the real work and the real life experiences. Our television screens are full of sensationalist news stories and obnoxious reality TV. Our computer screens are full of social networks and cat videos. It’s like a bad sitcom. You want to stop watching but you can’t tear yourself away, for fear you might miss something horrible.

When I put it that way, it sounds a little sick, eh? But we’ve all been there, and we’ve all done it. We’ve all simply “killed time”. And the problem with killing time is, we end up with absolutely nothing to show for it at the end.

Not enough hours.

We have no time, yet we kill so much of it. Think about the past couple of days. Make a list (mental is fine, but it’s really more effective if you write it out) of the things you did to kill time during those days – how much you slept and napped, how much TV you watched, how much fluff you read, and how much mindless internet surfing you did, how much Angry Birds you played. Consider anything that was unproductive and didn’t achieve anything. Now, add up those hours. If you’re like me when I slip into “killing time” mode, you probably end up with between 1 and 4 hours a day of “killed time”.

1 to 4 hours a day. Seems like we could get some serious stuff done with that time, eh? So much for not having enough hours. Put down the remote. The next season of Breaking Bad can wait.

What to do with all those hours.

Here’s an incomplete list of things you can do with all that killed time you just recouped. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments:

  • Write a few blog posts (hint: getting started is the hardest part).
  • Go for a photo walk (you don’t need a fancy camera, just good shoes).
  • Pick up that dusty old guitar/banjo/piano/fiddle.
  • Find a recipe on Epicurious.com that’s higher than your skill level. Don’t be afraid to mess it up. Surprise yourself with the results.
  • Start reading that pile of books on your nightstand.
  • Delete all the mindless games and time-killing apps from your mobile devices.
  • Watch some TED Talks.
  • Volunteer.
  • Teach a child how to ride a bike, or bring them with you on your photo walk (give them their own camera).
  • Call a friend you haven’t talked to in at least 3 months.
  • Call your mother/father/brother/sister/aunt/grandma/any loved one just to say “hello”, not because you need anything.
  • Walk the dog for an extra hour (trust me, he will love it).
  • Come up with 3 new ways to improve your business.
  • Learn about something new (like sewing, videography, animal husbandry – you can literally learn how to do anything on Google).
  • Join a community choir, even if you don’t think you’re a great singer. Trust me, you’ll improve. Singing makes your heart grow bigger.

That should give you a start. Pick a few things from this list and jot them down somewhere. Then, in the next week, whenever you find yourself slipping into “killing time” mode, grab one of the things off the list and do that instead. Report back on the results, ok?

I promise you’ll be more energized, rested, inspired, and happy.

[photo by kidicarus222]