I’d guess that most of us have at least one app on our phone that we tap when we want to get our brains working in the morning, or to give us something to do to fill those random ten-minute snippets of the day that happen while, for example, we are waiting for our spouses to get ready to go out.
There are some crucial requirements for these brainstarters and timewasters. First, they need to be sufficiently interesting to actually get your brain working and allow you to fill the time you’re looking to occupy. If the app is so boring that you lose interest and would rather sit there drumming your finders on the arm of your chair, it has failed in its essential function. Second, at the same time the app can’t be so riveting that you can’t promptly stop when your spouse comes downstairs and is ready to go and would be offended if you gave her the one-minute sign and kept tapping your phone. It therefore needs to be a game, or puzzle, or challenge that you can readily put down and pick up again at your leisure, And third, if the app is going to have staying power on your phone, it’s got to be set up so that you’re always facing a new challenge.
Me, I’m a Spider Solitaire guy. I picked up the free version from the app store, because I just wasn’t willing to pay for a timewaster, so before I can play a game I have to sit through the snippet of an ad for a new game, a new car, or something else — but reacting to that helps to get the brain started, too. I come from a card-playing family, so a card game appealed to me. There are thousands of different variations of how the cards can be dealt, so there’s no real worry about repetition. It’s easy to put down mid-game and pick up later, and trying to figure out different approaches to how to win a game when the cards are really working against you keeps my interest. And some appropriately triumphal music plays when you win a game, so you feel a certain sense of accomplishment with each little victory.
Brainstarters and timewasters aren’t the most important things in the world, of course, but they serve a crucial role in deflecting utter boredom and minutes that seem to stretch on for hours. We’ll appreciate them even more if we ever get to the point of waiting at the gate for an overdue plane flight again.
When you’ve been around the block a few times, the experience gives you perspective. Whether it’s a useful perspective or not is really up to you — but, inevitably, you draw upon your own life to inform your decisions going forward. For most of us, at least, the so-called “wisdom of the aged” isn’t really wisdom at all — it’s just being able to learn from past mistakes.
I thought about this when I ran across this article about one person’s thoughts about the biggest wastes of time in their lives. They are good ones — like trying to make bad relationships work, or dwelling on your mistakes and shortcomings — but all of the time-wasters, by definition, are drawn from the writer’s own personal experience. The key is having the self-awareness to identify something that you’ve done as a waste of time in the first place, and the ability to learn from it and adapt your practices going forward, rather than stubbornly repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
And often the lesson isn’t something you can learn by reading or hearing about it — you’ve got to experience it yourself to really have the lesson sink in and leave a mark. How many people is the history of humankind have heard an older person counsel them about ending a job or relationship that just isn’t working and then rationalized away the advice by concluding that they and their circumstances were different? The best life lessons are those you learn yourself.
What would be the biggest time-wasters for me? To the extent anyone cares, there are two I would put on my list. One would be trying to follow the crowd and do what other people thought people in my circumstances should be doing — whether it is consciously trying to like music or TV shows or movies that just aren’t clicking for me, or “getting involved” in a bunch of activities because general “involvement” is good. Once I decided to just trust myself and go with what I liked, I eliminated a lot of waste motion.
And the other would be worrying — really worrying — about things you can’t control, either because they are far beyond your pay grade or because they are in someone else’s hands. Focusing on things that you can actually affect dramatically shortens the to-do list to things that matter, where you can personally make a difference and move the needle. That’s a life lesson, incidentally, that I’m drawing on right now.