186 Hours Wasted

Although we boarded early, my flight out of Detroit was delayed by 63 minutes.

The weather was clear, there were no mechanical issues, and the crew was ready to roll. The cause of our tardy takeoff? A bureaucratic procedural glitch that required sign-off from airline headquarters. This completely avoidable issue impacted 177 travelers aboard our MD90 aircraft, causing a total of about 186 wasted hours.

Everyone seemed to accept the setback in good spirit. At least it appeared that way — air marshals didn’t forcibly remove any passengers. We all took the loss in stride, which wasn’t surprising to me considering we’re so accustomed to wasting small amounts of time.

But what could have been accomplished with those 186 lost hours of human potential?

Spent on a treadmill, the time would have burnt off more 37 pounds of fat. Spent in college, the number of lost minutes exceed the classroom time of a typical full-time college semester — 186 hours spent learning an instrument, volunteering, making cold calls, or reading to your kids would all be a big boost of positive momentum. Yet no one seemed to mind.

The reason for our collective apathy — we each lost only a single hour, which happens often. Now if you were wrongfully locked up in the county jail for a week, you’d be outraged. But when time is stolen in small increments, we hardly notice. We let these small moments of opportunity slip away without waging even a hint of a fight.

Fortunately, we can use the same logic to drive incredible gains in our lives. In the same way we hardly notice small amounts of lost time, taking back tiny opportunities for productivity isn’t a huge mountain to scale. If you managed to reclaim just 33 minutes a day, for example, you’d score an extra 200 hours of progress each year. While it’s impossible for many of us to find huge blocks of time to write a novel, get in great shape, or learn a new craft, a focus on saving just a few minutes each day can add up to enormous gains.

We all face the same 24-hour clock, yet some accomplish dramatically more than others. You could smoke a cigarette for seven minutes (140 minutes for a pack a day) or spend that time learning a new skill. You could burn 25 minutes each way in rush hour traffic, or adjust your schedule to avoid it. Redirect the small, seemingly meaningless blocks of time into productive uses, and you’ll be amazed what you can achieve. Take control of the clock and seize these “micro-opportunities.” Before long, you’ll be racing toward your goals.

And unlike my delayed flight, you’ll reach your destination with an early arrival.