Time to Play

What’s the right balance between working time and relaxation time? Projects and play? Personal investment and leisure?

The answer is “whatever maximizes those values.”

None of those things should be measured in time. Our view of time is flawed; most people view time as a measurement of effectiveness, but it’s very much not. Time is an input. A cost.

Think about how people talk about work, for instance. “Ten hours of work” as a statement means, to most people, more work than “five hours of work.” But that’s just how long it took – not the result, the effectiveness. It’s possible to do much more in five hours than in ten based on other factors, and there are many such factors to consider.

So measuring things based just on how long they take as a value judgment on their efficacy is silly. Yet we do the same thing with our play. We always want more leisure time, but we rarely take the time to evaluate whether our leisure time is effective. We feel dirty even talking about “effective” leisure time! But that’s also silly – no matter what we do, we should want to do it well and get the results we’re truly after.

Work shouldn’t be measured in time, it should be measured in results. The same is true of leisure, personal development, anything else. We should be measuring how we feel, whether we’re happy. For me personally, an hour of leisure time makes me feel amazing – but six hours makes me feel slothful and unhappy. Major diminishing marginal returns.

So for me, maximizing the effectiveness of those different spheres is not accomplished by maximizing the hours poured into each one. The same for work – if I doubled the number of hours I spend on work each week, I would definitely not double my actual output.

So the “right” amount of each of these things is the amount where you don’t hit the downslope of marginal returns. For each unit of time measurement (a day, a week, etc.), you should work until work stops giving you good results, you should play until you stop being happier from playing, you should develop yourself until you aren’t actually developing. You shouldn’t do more – even if you wish with all your might that doing more would give you more results. Wishing won’t make it so, but paying attention to what really happens – instead of just how many hours are getting spent and increasing that number – can make you better at anything.

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