Create Your Alternative Settings

Who is this for? Those looking to make more of the time they spend (or waste) waiting.

I’m captivated by the video that was created from a 2005 commencement speech from David Foster Wallace.

Like some, I’ve been fortunate enough to change some harmful default settings. This isn’t always easy. It forced me to observe habits and routines that were deeply ingrained and then decide to remake them.

For far too long my default setting was “Waiting.” I commute for over 80 minutes a day, there are long lines at the supermarket regardless of when I shop and there are often lulls between projects at work. All of this time spent “Waiting” was wasted. Without even realizing it, I let my situation limit my opportunities.

At some point I got fed up. I chose to no longer allow circumstance to dictate my choices. Just because I had to wait in line, on the train or at my desk didn’t mean that I had to wait. Since I didn’t want to change jobs or pay even more to get groceries delivered, I had to change the one thing I could control, my own default setting.

Rather than change circumstances—a common overreaction to a real-life limitation—I set out to make better choices. I changed my default settings for the previously squandered moments spent “Waiting.”

Now when I find myself “Waiting” in line, on the train or temporarily without anything to do at work or home, I choose between the following settings:

  • Making: While you can’t do everything while waiting in line or sitting in a car, you can do a lot more than you’d think. When I decided to write regularly, I still had the realities of a job and a family to manage. Deciding to watch way less TV went a long way towards freeing up some creative time, but it would not have been enough had I not found a way to write while on the subway or expand on an idea while waiting in line.
  • Learning: Long commutes and checkout lines are ideal places to learn. Rather than encouraging your brain to go numb, pick something better to capture your attention. Just about every smartphone and tablet out there gives you access to a wide range of books, blogs, audiobooks and documentaries. Take advantage of them.
  • Maintaining: This isn’t ideal when waiting in line or stuck in a daily commute, but it’s the perfect choice for downtime at home or at work. With 90% certainty, there is some level of cleaning up, filing or organizing that you could be doing right now. There’s value in regularly scheduling this kind of maintenance to ensure that it gets done, but getting it out of the way when you have downtime give you more free time.
  • Enjoying: All too often, we overlook the value of that which cannot be tied to a tangible result. Vegetating in front of the TV is often the thing that keeps you from doing what you really want to be doing, but in moderation it can also be a treat that allows your mind to wander somewhere unexpected. You’d also be surprised by what you’ll notice when keeping a watchful eye online at a supermarket or stuck in a daily commute.

Your default setting and your alternatives may differ from mine; that’s fine. Take a hard look at your own, determine the ones that are holding you back, then create the alternatives that help you to do better.

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