Unseen sacrifices of becoming more efficient

12 01 2012

Sometimes you feel like you have no time, and start trying to shave off minutes and hours here and there in order to save time. In the beginning of college, when I had far more free time and energy, I was a hardcore mountain biker that would bike 110 miles around Tuscon every November in less than 6 hours. Despite living nearly 20 miles from campus, I would actually grab my mountain bike and commute that way when the weather was nice. Eventually I felt that I didn’t have the free time to kill 2 hours a day biking, and basically fell out of the mountain bike scene. After that my mode of transportation turned strictly into public transportation: bus and light rail. I still ended up killing nearly 2 hours a day commuting, but now I could spend my time reading and doing homework on the bus. Doing homework on the bus is a terrible idea, as it usually requires internet access, multiple books in front of you, and possibly trying to scribble something on paper while the bus is hitting bumps in the road and making your chickens scratch degrade to a quality you can’t even read yourself. Instead, I spent the time reading science fiction, lot of it. I read my way through most of the Ender’s Game universe, a huge part of Asimov’s universe, and dozens of stand alone novels and trilogies. I would usually kill a paperback novel in less than 2 weeks, and I’d be in the library all the time queuing up more books for my commute.

Despite getting a ton of reading done, when I got busy with school and work the buses would be an endless source of frustration and near rage for me. I was wasting 2 hours a day, sometimes more if I’d miss buses or they’d end up late. Eventually when I had enough money saved up, this resulted in my moving closer to campus and buying a car. Did this make me more efficient? No, not really. Instead of waking up at 7:30am to make it somewhere by 9:00am, I’m likely to wake up at 8:30am and get some extra sleep. I didn’t magically gain 2 hours of time, and even if I did I probably waste those 2 hours most of the time doing something less productive than exercising or reading a good book. I actually miss how much reading I used to get done, because now, it ironically feels like I don’t have time to read a lot of the time (plus it’s hard to just get the motivation).

The moral of the story is, trying to become fixed to schedules and saving time in your life may have more consequences than you would think. The time spent taking a bus, getting groceries, or even watching TV might provide benefits besides the obvious. I actually sleep better when I watch TV for a while before going to bed. Otherwise my mind ends up racing and thinking about the day rather than calming down and going to sleep; and most of the thoughts are just repetitive and useless since you’re not getting any new input to that internal state machine laying in bed staring at the ceiling. Something that seems like a complete waste of time might be something you miss after you quit doing it, and for good reason.

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