How to stop wasting time and get the most out of life 4

Every action we choose requires time and effort – time and effort that could be spent doing another activity. So its to our best interest to spend each second on activities that create the most value for us – on actions that are value-dense.

“Since a value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep, and the amount of possible action is limited by the duration of one’s lifespan, it is a part of one’s life that one invests in everything one values. The years, months, days or hours of thought, of interest, of action devoted to a value are the currency with which one pays for the enjoyment one receives from it.” ~ Ayn Rand, IOEP, p. 44

For example, I’ve met many wonderful women throughout my life.  Yet only one packed such an incredible dense set of values that was consistent with my own, that I decided to marry her.  I choose to spend my precious time with my wife because of the immense enjoyment I receive from the relationship.  We love hiking, camping, board games, sci-fi, reading, discussing politics/philosophy/economics/technology/education, and on and on.  As a couple, we strive to find activities that we both find fulfilling because we know that the more values we share together, the more enjoyable the relationship.  The longer I’m in the relationship, the more value-dense the relationship becomes and the more enjoyable it becomes. We find new ways to connect and grow that makes the marriage more satisfying and enriching.

The same applies to friends.  I choose friends that bring me the most values packed into one person.  There are thousands of individuals I meet through classes, conferences, shopping, social groups, teaching, consulting, and Facebook, many of whom I could spend time interacting with. Although I have the opportunity to spend time with these thousands, I reserve my time and effort for few individuals that bring me the most joy through our shared values.  And guess what, those individuals are value-dense.  Friends that love playing the same games I do, that like drinking the same beers I do, that enjoy talking about the same things I do, that are interested in trying the same things I want to try, that make me laugh, and that expect me to be the best that I can be but support me when I need a helping hand.  I do not want to spend time with people when conversations are stilted and uncomfortable or where we share no common interests.  In short, I do not have thousands of friends because I choose not too.  I would rather have few friends that are value-dense than lots of friends with few shared interests.

Besides people, careers can be value-dense. After discovering my central purpose in life, I pursued a career as a professor of information systems.  I love technology, business, and philosophy.  I enjoyed teaching, reading, writing, and helping other make better decisions.  As such, my chosen career is value-dense, it combines my interests and skills such that every minute in this career is pure awesome.  I could have picked a career as a philosophy professor or an IT professional or high school teacher – each of which would have added some values.  But none are as dense in values as my current choice. That’s why I love my job so much.

Food should also be value-dense.  One of the things that attracts me to the paleo-diet (even if I’m not fully following it) is the notion that we should eat food that brings us the most value pound for pound.  Why eat things that contain little to no nutritional value?  Calories certainly give us some energy, but vitamins and minerals are such an integral part of nutritional health, that we should be eating far more of it than we currently do.

It makes sense to apply that same principle to pursuing all values as densely as possible, including buying things.  As a financial principle, we should spend money on things that are value-dense – things that pack the most value into the budget we have.  This doesn’t mean we should be frugal.  Rather, we should identify those things that will bring the most value and then pursue them with a passion.  Suppose you love to travel.  There are certainly expensive ways and cheap ways to travel. Properly identifying the value you gain from traveling will help you make the optional value choices as to where to spend money when you travel.  Do you enjoy the pampering you get a hotels?  Then by all means, spend money on a nice hotel. Do you enjoy immersing yourself in the local culture?  Then maybe skimping on the hotel is justified and splurging on local events may suit you best.

Combined, all of these examples suggest a value-dense approach to life is ideal and achievable.  Leave the career that does not fulfill you.  Find friends that match your values and goals.  Spend money on things that bring the greatest happiness to your life.  And avoid the rest.  Don’t let unenjoyable things suck your life away.  Be sure the values you pursue are rational and life-affirming.  But once they are, spend your time and energy on those values prudently.  Time and energy is precious.  Decisions on how to spend your time and energy should be based on achieving maximal value and should be pursued with full consciousness and awareness of opportunities passed up for the choices made.

About John Drake

John Drake is an associate professor at East Carolina University. While pursing his PhD in management information technology and innovation, John learned the art of high productivity through setting difficult goals to achieve unending success. John is a student of Objectivism, an advocate of Getting Things Done, a parent of three, a husband, a writer, a business owner, a web master, and an all around cool guy. His professional site is at

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4 thoughts on “How to stop wasting time and get the most out of life

  • Jaana Woiceshyn

    Joh–a very good column; I whole-heartedly agree. Life is too precious to be wasted on unfulfilling, boring activities. But sometimes you have to pursue an unfulfilling means to reach a gratifying end. For example, if you are an aspiring author working on your first novel but are not yet earning a living from writing, you may have to take an unfulfilling job that brings in an income that enables you to write.

    My other comment is that before you can pursue value-dense activities and friends, you need to identify your values–“What is important to me? What am I passionate about?”–and prioritize them. The rest of your choices would be easy!

  • Mike

    Thanks. Implicitly we know that our time is valuable and we should be thoughtful on where we spend it. But your article makes it explicit that the key is satisfying as many values as possible.