Want What Matters Most? Waste Time on It.

The Importance of Wasting Time, Part 2 of 2

In my previous post, I argued that in certain situations wasting time can, paradoxically, lead to greater efficiency. But there are higher goods than efficiency. And those goods often cannot be obtained in any other way than by wasting time on them.

My daughter and her great grandma, my dad’s mom

In this post I’ll provide examples of such goods and a principle for when to waste time in their pursuit.

Goods that Can Only Be Obtained through Wasting Time

Life is ultimately about the pursuit of what matters most. It is in that pursuit that we find our greatest fulfillment.

While saving time through being efficient—a frequent topic on this blog—is a good, it is only an instrumental good. In other words, it is a good as a means to an end. It’s what you do with the extra time that matters.

Spending time on the most important things in life, on the other hand, is not merely an instrumental good. It is a good in and of itself.

And it just so happens that many of the higher goods in life can only be had by wasting time on them. Consider these examples:

The Beautiful

Take the night sky, full of stars, for instance. Last week I was in the mountains of Colorado, where they can be seen clearly. Thousands of suns, some with planets orbiting around them. It is mind-boggling to consider, and very beautiful. And the only way to enjoy the night sky is to sit there and look at it.

There’s nothing you can do to enjoy it more quickly. “More quickly” just doesn’t apply.

The only way to receive what it offers is to waste time on it.


Friendship is another such example.

While we can be intentional in our friendship, the roots of friendship only grow deep when we waste time with our friends.

In high school and college, my brother, his best friend, and I would take a road trip most every summer. We could have reached our destination faster by plane. But then it wouldn’t really be “we” who had reached it. It would have been an impoverished version of ourselves. For the journey itself—the time together—helped shape us into who we became.

The road trips were a huge waste of time. And that’s why our friendship grew strong. I’m sure you can relate.

Some Forms of Caring for Others

Last year my 92-year-old grandma passed away. (See picture of her above.) Recognizing that the end was near, my family got to be with her in her final days.

On what turned out to be the last night of her earthly life, my father stayed awake by her bedside, holding her hand. Yes, he talked to her. Yes, he prayed for her. But much of the time he just sat there with her.

Around 4 am, she took a deep breath. It was her last. As she exhaled, her spirit left her. My dad was right there with her: still awake, still holding her hand.

It is difficult to think of a better way of “wasting time” than staying up through the night with your mother in her final hours. I can’t imagine any of us would wish we had put that time to more “productive” use. No, time exists for opportunities such as these.


Perhaps by now you’re thinking, “But contemplating the stars, hanging out with friends, and sitting at the side of your dying mother are not forms of ‘wasting time’ at all!” If so, good. That is precisely the point.

Burning down the time on such goods is essential to partaking of what matters most in life.

In the pursuit of what matters most, it is often important to use time efficiently—to accomplish a lot as quickly as we can. Think of surgeons working swiftly to heal their patients. Or breadwinners working hard to provide for their families.

But sometimes the pursuit of what matters most requires an entirely different tact. Sometimes it requires us to waste time. To just let the seconds tick by.

The principle that we can take away from this reflection is this: When it comes to our pursuit of what matters most, we ought to be just as willing to waste time as to pack it with activity. We ought to do whatever most helps us achieve what matters most.


Question: Can you think of other examples where “wasting time” helps in the pursuit of what matters most? I’d love to hear any examples that may come to mind for you. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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