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Tempus Fugit—Time Flies, Use It Wisely

      I have observed over the years that many of us waste valuable time that could be used doing things that would ultimately bring us and others more happiness or satisfaction. This is my own personal list of those activities that I think are a waste of time, together with my own suggestions for more worthwhile activities. I expect that some readers will disagree with some of my selections, and that is only to be expected with such a personal list. I will be curious to hear when you agree or disagree, so please do write to me either way.

      Frivolous Time Spent on the Internet

      Time spent on the Internet can be valuable if important information is gathered or intelligent conversation occurs. I think, however, that many individuals waste important time on frivolous, irrelevant, error-prone, and unreliable Internet sites. I have consistently refused invitations to join a number of personal and professional social media websites. I often wonder why family members and friends share certain events or thoughts on their social media pages, even as I am surprised that they can have that much time on their hands. Random “surfing” of the Internet can lead to misinformation and content that is not worth the Internet space it takes up.
      One Internet feature that I particularly enjoy and frequently use is Wikipedia, although I recognize its potential for unsubstantiated material versus what can be found in carefully researched encyclopedias. However, when some relatively unknown person, event, or place comes up in daily conversation, it is Wikipedia to the rescue. I personally send Wikipedia an annual donation as thanks for the many times that I consult this product.
      Instead of time spent on the Internet, I would like to suggest more frequent reading. I have always been an avid reader since my aunt, a first grade teacher, taught me to read before I started school. In a future issue, I will write about the books that have given me the greatest reading pleasure in recent years. Reading expands an individual's horizons, entertains, and contributes to a personal and improved understanding of others and the world. In addition, face-to-face or cyber conversations about the latest book read are often interesting, fun, and intellectually stimulating. Of course, reading can occur with a paper or an electronic book; the delivery doesn't matter, but the content does.

      Daytime Television

      At times, in the middle of the day, I exercise in our hospital's excellent fitness center, where daytime television programs are usually displayed on TV sets scattered around the gym. The information transmitted is often of poor quality, periodically interrupted by exaggerated audience responses as well as repeated advertisements involving misleading information and encouraging consumption or use of products that can be injurious to health, for example, high saturated fat and high sugar content fast foods.
      Instead of time spent watching daytime television programs, I would like to suggest television viewing of, or physical presence at, concerts, plays, and movies. These events, like reading, expand our understanding of ourselves and our companions, furnish entertainment, relieve tension, and enhance our aesthetic sense. If you are lucky enough to have had musical training, then you know that playing music also gives great pleasure, encourages discipline, and relieves tension. Once again, these activities result in face-to-face contacts or personal time for reflection in comparison with the personal isolation that is sometimes reinforced by the Internet and social media sites.
      • Alpert J.S.
      12 guides to health, happiness, and longevity (with apologies to P.J. O'Rourke).

      Television and Newspaper Current Event Coverage

      Here again, short bursts of information are provided interspersed with advertisements for products or services that no one really needs. Much local news seems to focus on tragedies, whether fire, murder, terrorism, rape, or motor vehicle accidents. Truly, the news adage, “if it bleeds, it leads” is carried out on a daily basis on TV and in many newspapers. I agree with my friend and colleague, Dr Andrew T. Weil, that we all should take frequent “news fasts,” where we avoid following the daily news for a prolonged period of time. I am not advocating the abdication of our responsibilities as informed citizens but to refrain from a focus on the sad facts of life that are often “promoted” in news stories. I have been doing this now for more than 3 years and definitely feel it has helped my daily mood, besides giving me more time for more worthwhile activities such as reading and exercise.
      As discussed in a previous editorial, I believe that daily exercise is an important factor in maintaining physical and mental health.
      • Alpert J.S.
      You only have to exercise on the days that you eat.
      As stated in that commentary, I only exercise on the days that I eat! Because these activities are often carried out in fitness facilities, they furnish one more opportunity for interpersonal exchange. Contact with health-oriented friends and colleagues encourages us to maintain our exercise efforts and other good habits such as a healthy diet. And personal connections with friends can help relieve stress and contribute to good physical and mental health.

      Constantly Complaining and Letting Small Irritations Make You Miserable

      This has been one of my pet peeves for a long time. If we could all spend less time complaining and whining about things that cannot be altered and more time on constructive activities, the atmosphere at work and at home would be much happier and more productive.
      • Alpert J.S.
      The ten most annoying things that happen during my work day—and perhaps in yours as well.
      My personal motto in this regard is: “Ignore the small irritations in life and get on with your work or your leisure time activities”.

      Gossiping

      This is an activity that can be injurious and aggravating to friends and colleagues. Some individuals live to gossip, passing along information that is usually heavily biased and frequently untrue. Besides being a huge waste of time, gossiping can cause great emotional harm. During all the years that I was an administrator, I strongly discouraged my faculty and students from gossiping about our colleagues or their family members.
      Finally, I would like to suggest some additional activities
      • Alpert J.S.
      12 guides to health, happiness, and longevity (with apologies to P.J. O'Rourke).
      to take the place of some of these “time wasters”.

      Meditational Exercises

      Meditational exercises, including a variety of tension-relieving activities such as meditation itself, yoga, tai chi, and many other physical and mental forms of stress reduction, can be profitably performed on a daily or less frequent basis. A brief time spent on one or more of these activities can help anyone through a day filled with potentially challenging and disturbing events.

      Connecting with Friends and Family

      Connecting with friends and family is clearly a worthwhile activity. Human beings are, by nature, social and gregarious animals. Spending time conversing, exercising, playing, or just relaxing together with friends and family almost always leaves one in a happier and more contented state of mind. Maintaining a sense of enjoyment about your work day also improves one's mental attitude and can lead to productive effort at work. Most of us have been trained by long years of schooling and employment to seek excellence and productivity in our work environment. Even seemingly mundane tasks, when skillfully and rapidly performed, give one a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I find that just assembling and taking out the trash twice a week leaves me with a sense of a task well done. Of course, performing my professional activities gives me even greater pleasure.

      Getting a Good Night's Sleep

      Getting a good night's sleep is universally agreed to be something that contributes to good mental and physical health. Poets, psychologists, and physicians have all commented upon the importance of a solid, restful night's sleep. Current debates concerning the appropriate amount of sleep required by our clinical trainees have focused considerable attention on this important activity. In fact, most of us perform best when well rested and without sleep deprivation. My patients who have difficulty sleeping are often very unhappy, fatigued, and anxious. Helping them achieve satisfactory sleep is always a gratifying clinical experience.

      Express Gratitude

      And last, but certainly not least, always remember to express gratitude when someone does something for you. My mother told my brother and me that: “It costs nothing to say thank you.” I agree wholeheartedly with her comment. I found during my many years as a Chief of Cardiology and a Chairman of Medicine that my faculty truly appreciated being thanked for their efforts. I often hand write or e-mail short notes of thanks to colleagues, friends, and trainees who have done something that I appreciated. And, I try to remember to say thank you to my trainees at the conclusion of each ambulatory and in-patient session during which I have been the attending physician.
      As always, I welcome comments on our blog at http://amjmed.blogspot.com. In fact, if you have any time wasters or good ways to spend time you would like to share with me, I would be interested in hearing about them. As always, thank you for your support of The American Journal of Medicine.

      References

        • Alpert J.S.
        12 guides to health, happiness, and longevity (with apologies to P.J. O'Rourke).
        Am J Med. 2008; 121: 551-552
        • Alpert J.S.
        You only have to exercise on the days that you eat.
        Am J Med. 2011; 124: 1
        • Alpert J.S.
        The ten most annoying things that happen during my work day—and perhaps in yours as well.
        Am J Med. 2011; 124: 789-790