And yet, if your life feels unalterably lousy, you may not care enough to make the most of your time. If that sounds like you, don't, ahem, waste time reading this. Stop and ask yourself what could improve your life: a new job, a new relationship or maybe addressing a mental or physical problem? Try to make progress on those things until you see reason for hope.
Assuming you're ready to get more done in less time, try these:
Ongoing, ask yourself, "Is this time-effective? Is what I'm doing yielding the most value per minute?" You can define "value" as value to your career, to yourself or society.
Consider time-effectiveness as you're choosing a career, what tasks to do and how thoroughly to do each. For example, you may decide you need to do that report, but instead of distilling mountains of big data you might deem it more time-effective to convene a focus group. Sure, your boss may insist you do the task in a more painful way, but often not. Indeed, wise souls recognize that the perfect is often the enemy of the good.
Of course, thinking time-effectively can extend beyond work hours. Some of the people who feel best about their work life, indeed, (about their entire life), choose to work well beyond standard hours rather than pursue such activities as getting ripped (brain as well as abs), keeping a standing date with 10 sitcoms, trying to finally understand "Ulysses," staring at steroided athletes move a ball, stuffing their faces for several days and nights on the cruise ship Il Stupendo or filing a lawsuit against a ruthless individual.
Often, we do such activities without carefully evaluating whether we'd be more wise to spend our time differently. Of course, all of us sometimes opt to veg out, but a more conscious choosing of how we spend our time will likely leave us feeling better about how we've spent our life.
Get help structuring a task. If you think there might be a more time-effective way to tackle a task but don't know what it is, ask a mentor for advice.
Delegate to an intern or personal assistant. Even if you're financially struggling, hiring someone to work a few hours a week at $10 an hour to do the laundry, get the oil changed and wait for the cable guy frees you up to do tasks that yield you far more than the expense of the assistant.
Stay motivated. You might try writing, then saying aloud with expression, the reasons you should do a task. For ongoing procrastination-prone activities, it's worth reading it aloud three times a day. That can keep your motivators top-of-mind. For example, "The short-term pleasure of procrastinating that project will be far outweighed by the guilt and pain of it not getting done or done poorly." Where possible, recite your words of wisdom in advance of starting the task. If you wait until the moment of truth, it may be impossible to resist the more fun alternative.
Ultimately, your life's meaning may indeed be determined less by how much fun you've had as by how productive you've been. Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."
After all, you could have a fun life letting someone support you as you pursue a life of watching reruns of "The Simpsons," playing "World of Warcraft" and trekking to Topeka, Kan. for your cousin Gomer's third wedding.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.