I've come to gauge whether I've wasted time by relying on a simple heuristic: did I spend the time with conscious intent?
Have I worked tirelessly for hours because I intended to leverage the inspiration and nourish my creative passion? Or is it because I've given into pressure and felt an obligation to work? If it's the former, then that time wasn't wasted; if it's the latter, then it was indeed wasted in my eyes.
Have I watched films & played video games for hours upon hours to give into escapism and instant gratification? Or is it because I intended to dedicate the next few hours to relaxing and having fun? If it's the former, then that time is wasted; if it's the latter, then I can safely conclude it wasn't wasted.
I prefer thinking about intent instead of whether something made me happy or not. After all, happiness can come from many activities that are actually harmful for us, and boredom can stem from activities that will benefit us in the long run. Instant gratification is very elusive. It stops us from living with intent, and traps us into passively existing. The only way to mitigate that is by striving to live with intent.
Living with intent means not giving into addictions, passive consumptions, fears, temptations, anxieties, and auto-pilot. It doesn't necessarily mean choosing how we spend each moment, because that's often not in our control and we inevitably have obligations and routines to fulfil. However, when we carry our duties out, do we do so with intent, or do we find ourselves losing track of time because we lived on autopilot, by escaping into our often forgettable thoughts?
In essence, my most valuable way to spend time is to…
Live in the moment with intent.