How to waste your time on important things

What is important, really?

Is this important – being limber, being strong? (me, with a foot behind my head, a few years ago). For me? For somebody else?


Executive summary

At least once a year, measure where you spend your time, and ask yourself what the objective of your actions is, and if that can be achieved more efficiently.

The hard way: Question and Eliminate routines

The harder way: Design your life from scratch


When do you live?

As you go about your day, you typically watch some news on TV, read the same news in a paper, watch the weather report a couple of times, check your Facebook flow (a few birthdays this week, some BuzzFeed shares, a political discussion and somebody has a cold).

You stuff something in your mouth, head to the office, talk to colleagues about ISIS’s spread in the middle east, about the weather, last night’s game, and how much you long for the next season of Game Of Thrones.

You eat, you check your surroundings, contemplate threats to humanity, you go to the gym, you sleep…

But when do you actually take care of life, of the important things? Do you even think about what the are?


Even good habits die hard

It’s all too easy to get stuck in a life of habits and routines without considering what really is important.

E.g., why on earth did I learn to do this?!!

SpreZZaturian at Corfu, Greece, a few years ago

Why do you study, why do you keep your job, why do you work out, why do you read books by Carnegie and Altucher? They might seem like good and productive habits, but they really aren’t unless they are important to you.


Almost everything you do is inconsequential and unimportant

It’s time to take your head out of your ass and start focusing on what actually matters to you.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m all for kicking back, taking it easy and enjoying life. I certainly know all about letting hours fly by. Hell, I quit the finance business to more or less just “waste” time.

However, I want you to spend your time on things that really mean something (to you), instead of suboptimizing and “walking up the closest hill”. What I’m talking about is mindfulness, about paying attention to yourself, of who you are, what you actually want, and then cutting out the superfluous garbage.

Waste time, by all means. Relax. Enjoy. Just make sure you actually do that, i.e., relax and enjoy, instead of taking selfies and just projecting a wonderful life.

Why do you watch the news and read the morning paper? Do you need the news (at work for example), do they affect your life (i.e., will you change your course of action productively today, based on the news you hear and read?) or is it simply relaxing (my guess is you could find better ways to relax if you tried)?

Why do you watch your portfolio of stocks, funds etc. almost every week? Are you going to sell them? Are you seriously close to buying more? No? Then don’t look. Set an alarm at the level(s) where you might want to make a new decision, but stop “just looking”.

Why do you go to the gym (to get big, strong, limber, healthy, impressive, win competitions, improve in specific sports, have fun, meet people, be able to eat more)? Investigate your true reason, then ask yourself if your approach really is the best.

Why do you keep your job? (can’t get another one, status, afford luxuries, loyalty, company/friends). Is it doing you any good? Are you happy? Satisfied? Do you need that extra cash compared to your more fulfilling alternatives?

Why do you study? (you’re supposed to, parents, status, actual skills, job prospects)

Why do you live where you live? (the view, close to the office [but why do you even work there], close to the gym [wait, but why…], spacious, status)

Why do you go out for drinks and dancing? Does it work for you?

Why do you own a car? Which model? Why? Does it fulfill that objective?


Know yourself

I don’t know you or your situation. I hardly know myself. What I do know is that everybody suboptimizes and rationalizes their situation to come to grips with cognitive dissonance (internal conflicts between values and actions).


Take stock

The least you can do is every now and then take stock of your daily life and question everything. Time your days and weeks (measure time spent on various activities) and think about why you actually do what you do.


Do you want to spend hours

each day routinely doing things

that objectively lead exactly nowhere?


Eating breakfast is not productive if you are obese and in a hurry. Also, fasting is good for you (unless you’re going for a record in dead lifts that morning)

Reading the paper is not productive if you don’t use the news

Keeping your job is not productive if you don’t really need the money, if it bores you, if you have other dreams

Studying at an institution is not productive if you could acquire the skills more efficiently somewhere else

Owning sports cars were neither fun, nor attractive or productive for me – rather mainly a hassle after a while (battery, garage, damages)

Working out to get bigger and stronger, as I currently do 3-4 times a week, … why do I do it? It’s kind of healthy, but there are healthier things I could do. I want to look good, but why exactly? As I said, we all get stuck in routines.

Planning for the next 25 years (and the next 25 million years, since you actually might live that long). Is that important? Do you do it?


This is what you must do

With everything you do, ask these questions:

  • What is the (short term) purpose of the action? Is the purpose fulfilled in the most efficient way possible?
  • Does it actually make you happy in the moment or are you really trolling for somebody else’s approval (on social media)
  • Does it bring you closer to your (long term) ambitions and targets?
  • Do you have to, need to, must…? If so, try to get around the problem and redesign your life. You only have to eat and sleep, that’s all.

You also could try designing your life from scratch, but my guess is that it’s too hard and overwhelming:

  • Know yourself (the most important thing there is, before knowing everything else)
  • Take the most direct route to fulfilling your purpose (difficult to know how before knowing you and the universe, or before trying everything and then cutting out the waste)

Waste in practice? Subscribe and browse my book

I’ve made all the mistakes above, as detailed in my book, but I’m getting better at getting better.

25 years ago I was on the right track, doing things I liked, for me, using my brain, following interesting leads, experimenting. Then I got sidetracked for 25 years, studying economics and finance, working at “Wall Street” (in Sweden) and eventually 15 years at a hedge fund as an analyst, portfolio manager, partner and managing director. It was frustrating – and fun – but it earned me my title and a bag of money.

Most importantly, however, I learned a little bit about what matters (to me), and it isn’t fancy parties, expensive lunches and dinners, sports cars or luxurious hotels. It isn’t news and it isn’t meeting celebrities.

NB: That might not be your lessons.

If you are interested in how I reluctantly reached the upper echelons of finance only to quit, and what I learned about managing money in the stock market, subscribe to my newsletter and browse my book The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager.

17 Replies to “How to waste your time on important things”

  1. Amazing post Mikael!

    What interests me is your interpretation of what is “right”?

    I’ve been contemplating this for some time – it’s easy to cut out ideas / things you feel don’t work (as you suggest), but what is the “right” stuff you want in its place?

    I have my own ideas – would love to hear yours!

    1. Yes, that’s the hard one, isn’t it?

      I think I’ll need the entire blog to answer it, but as a kind of preview…

      My take on what’s important: Anything goes as long as you do it mindfully:

      * petting your dog
      * reading a book (that pleases you or brings you closer to your goals)
      * even watching Game of Thrones (inspiration, to warm up and relax after a long walk, enjoyment)

      However, apart from more worldly joys, this is what I think stands above all:

      * intelligence

      By that I mean:

      Collecting as much information as possible and looking for patterns, thus forming rules that enable even more information gathering and the recognition of patterns that aren’t as obvious and so on.

      I think pattern recognisers is what we are at the core. It is what made the species survive and it is what drives us. We want to explore and find patterns, to understand.

      Sure we want to eat, sleep and fuck too, but to survive we first need to recognize patterns. The further civilization and automation go, the less time we need to spend on our bodies and can focus on our minds instead.

      The problem with this answer is that it is too far ahead. Before we get to the point where it is all about intelligence, there are some intermediary steps – these work for me:

      * hang out with friends that make me feel good
      * read books I truly enjoy, or that I think may make me enjoy future actions more
      * love somebody and don’t take them for granted
      * pay things forward
      * pay attention to whatever I do when I do it

      However, my advice was even more down to earth than that. What I wanted to convey was this:

      * start with cutting out all the unnecessary stuff that you THOUGHT were important or just did mindlessly (such as watching the news, reading papers, checking your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram news flows)
      * that should give you plenty of time to do things you wanted to do but thought you couldn’t (introspection, writing a book, seeing a friend, looking for a new job, starting a company)
      * and get you closer to a mindful existence which is centered around attention, intelligence and joy, rather than the opposite drone-like life of routines, musts and spectacle.

  2. Great article, one of your best I have read.

    Btw I stole your investing checklist, compiled it and summarized the best parts. Thanks for that!

    “I think pattern recognisers is what we are at the core”

    — Well put. I agree with this.

      1. You should consider installing some social media plugin and put it at the top and bottom of your articles. I think the name of the one I am using is social flare. But there are LOTS of those plugins and they’re all pretty much the same, except they look different.

  3. Another one of the “retarted” posts :)

    I started executing things what I do, and the most import thing is decluttering.
    Wasted to much time on social media, especially facebook and websites reading stuff, and ended up in a 1 to 2, or even 3 hour web binge. After that got terrible “hangovers”.

    Fixed the bug in myself, and now I put a timer with 5 minutes, twice a day.
    After a month it feels wonderful.

    Less noise and more time for valuable things like reading your blog :)

  4. The intelligence comment related to pattern recognition is key. Soon though programs will be able to randomly simulate pattern recognition better than we can. Could you imagine an intelligent, yet Schizophrenic robot/program?

    I live to live, meaning I live to learn, experience, and then tell stories about it. The experience may be productive or it may be reckless, although I try my hardest to try my hardest (intentional) by giving it all at whatever I am doing.

    Now it’s time to do some important things…

    1. Interesting topic: Should robots be internally consistent by design, or should they be given the freedom of fuzzy logic and ambivalence (which could turn into schizophrenia)?

      I vote for the latter. Actually, with enough complexity, I think it’s inevitable.

      They key, I think, is to be mindful, to pay serious attention to whatever activity you partake in.

  5. Great, great post.

    You’ve got this quick-moving, far-reaching style that doesn’t miss out on nuance.

    Love the importance you put on the *context* of a thing. It’s not good if it’s not good *for you*. It takes a lot of vigilance/mindfulness to keep that level of self-reliance.

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