You could be doing everything right to accomplish your goals – paying attention to your personal energy levels, coming up with a habit routine, setting up a GTD system – and still failing dramatically; that is, if you allow certain people to take control of your time. I call these people time wasters.
This sounds rather bitter and like I constantly run into people that leave me behind angry and regretful. However, the absolute opposite is true: I almost exclusively spend my time with people that leave me happier than before. But this is only because I have gotten much better over the years at radically cutting out people who are just taking value away from me, without offering anything in return.
This still sounds rather bitter… How do I get this straight?
A timer waster, as much as it is a derogatory term, is not necessarily a bad, ill-meaning person. He or she can even be a great, very well-meaning person. I’ve met quite a few of these. But what it comes down to is that their personal value system and relationship goals are too misaligned with your own for you guys to complement one another.
A few quick examples for this type of non-compatibility: An expert looking to sell his expertise vs. a potential customer who just wants some quick advice for free. A very sociable friend wanting to spend lots of time together vs. a solipsistic friend just requiring the bare minimum of social contact. A guy looking to get married soon vs. a woman just looking for a fling (please note how very politically correctly I just reversed a common gender stereotype here).
And then of course, there are also the people who try to get more out of you than they are willing to give back. But even in these instances, it might just be a question of values and goals – what one person considers a valuable form of payment might seem completely useless to the other person. So, if am offering up my friendship and social warmth, while you are really just looking for a reliable workout partner, we might be wasting each other’s time.
In fact, I have been the time waster many times myself. And I try to remove myself from the situation when I catch myself doing it – but still it happens.
In truth, there is nothing wrong with that. Our values and goals rarely ever align perfectly and oftentimes they don’t align at all – it is bound to happen, all the time. However, this is no reason to get mad – this is life. It just means, you have to go through lots and lots of people in order to find the most compatible ones, to build relationships that are beneficial to everyone involved. Just don’t ever fool yourself about the transactional nature of personal relationships. But if you accept relationships for what they are – transactions with the goal of exchanging (emotional) value – cutting out people completely loses it sting. I do not hate you as a person by cutting you out, I’m just realizing that this is not a healthy transaction for the parties involved. It’s a question of emotional supply and demand, not one of judging people morally.
Inversely, this means there is hardly ever a reason to get mad at anyone but yourself. If you allow other people to waste your time, then it is YOUR fault, not theirs. YOU misjudged them and let it go on. Cut them out and next time do better.
Having said all of that, don’t ever diddle around when it comes to cutting out time wasters. Just do it. No long discussions, no letting that person down easily, no giving them yet another chance. People rarely ever change; they are what they are (including yourself). If you notice a definite incompatibility, it’s over. By prolonging relationships with time wasters, you are doing no one a favor: You are wasting your most precious resource on this planet, your very limited time, which you should be spending with the most compatible and personally enriching people possible. In addition, you are also not doing the time waster a favour by allowing them to further occupy you – the longer they will, the longer it will take them to figure social compatibility out for themselves. Cut them out, create new space for both of you, and fill that space in a more meaningful way. But refrain from becoming the time waster’s life coach – it’s their job to become better at this “being social” business, not yours. Just as it is your job to reflect on your own behavior and the value you offer to others.
It really must be Christmas soon, I’m getting all romantic…