Disagreement on the use of time?

On Sunday, I went to the monthly meeting of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Recorder Society. I stopped by the room where beginner lessons were being held. I don’t go to those lessons any more, because I would say I’m an intermediate recorder player now. Fred, our director, was working with two women on soprano recorder. One of them was Rhonda, who had actually joined the local group at exactly the same time as me, back in March. I hadn’t seen her in a while and asked where she’d been. She said she had been playing French horn in the summer, so was getting back to recorder now. She happened to joke to the other woman, an older woman, that I was really serious and had been practicing an hour every day since starting out.

To my surprise, the other woman (whom I don’t remember ever having met before) immediately launched into some remarks I found snarky. She said, “Well, that’s probably an hour he’s not washing dishes.” I paused in shock, and then she continued, “Or an hour he’s not taking out the trash.”

I was not quite sure how to respond.

My response

Obviously, this could have been an opportunity for me to use dialogue and try to understand why she said what she said, and what she really meant by her words that I found disparaging. In fact, thanks to my raised awareness from learning about dialogue just recently, at least I did not get angry or lose my temper. But I decided at the time that I was just passing by and was not interested in going off on a tangent, since I was heading back to the other room to set up my instruments.

I simply replied calmly that actually, the hour of my time that went to recorder practice came out of time I used to spend on various forms of entertainment. I said that I don’t watch any TV and I don’t watch any movies. She didn’t respond to that. For all I know, she might be one of the average Americans who watch 4 hours of TV a day, and perhaps I unintentionally offended her.

(Disclaimer: I am not one of those snobs who summarily look down on people who watch TV. I used to watch a lot of TV. In fact, I cannot imagine what my life would be today without having had access to TV, which expanded my emotional and intellectual world. But that was then; now, I simply make different choices with my time.)

Anyway, I left the room and didn’t see her again.

But I’m still curious about why she seemed annoyed that I spent an hour a day practicing music, as though I’m not getting chores done. I won’t speculate about why, since the only right way to satisfy my curiosity would be to ask her myself, and I passed up the opportunity to do so.

My brief response to her was meant to convey a simple message: time management is important for all of us with our busy lives, but I’ve made certain choices, sacrificing some activities in order to gain others. The decisions are often quite difficult, because I have a huge number of interests, and therefore have to sacrifice the majority of them in order to focus on the fewer that I have decided are most worthwhile to pursue. A breadth-first traversal of all possible life activities would result in completing nothing.

Trading passive for active

A lot of my choices involve trading passive experiences for active experiences. Here are some examples.


In an earlier blog post, I already mentioned why I don’t listen to music much any more, because of time constraints. In effect, I traded listening to music for playing music.


Instead of watching sports, I engage in my own competitive physical activity, to become the athlete instead of the spectator. I enjoy running races. I am hardly super fast; at my fastest, I did periodically win age group medals and trophies, but only because competition happened not to be very tough.


I run considerably less than I used to. One reason is that once upon a time, I got into a competitive mode, trying to see how fast I could race, and now I am no longer in that mode. It takes too much time and energy. Another reason is that I decided, based on personal experience and learning from the paleo/primal movement, that too much distance running isn’t actually all that great for my overall balanced health.

I traded distance training time for yoga and strength training.

I no longer run any more than every other day on average.


I’ve always read a lot. I still do, using not only the vast web, but also the old-fashioned local library. (Pittsburghers, please vote on November 8!)

However, at some point I had to make peace with the fact that I could not read everything I might be interested in reading. Abby and I worked on selling or donating over a thousand (!!) books I owned but were just taking up space. It was very difficult parting with them, since one of my childhood dreams had been to build up a large personal library, but reason prevailed.

I still encounter too much reading material, thanks to the web. I have tried to limit it by using Google Reader exclusively to access information, and never aimlessly loading up web sites, but I have to confess it is still hard to be selective.

Also, now I am writing for my blog, so I am trading reading time for writing time.

Computer programming languages

I used to be a big computer language hobbyist. I enjoyed learning and playing with dozens of programming languages: if a language exists, I’ve probably at least seen sample code and written some sample code for it at some point. I was even obsessed enough with the concept of designing good programming languages that for a while I was enrolled in the Ph.D. program in computer science at CMU, specializing in programming language theory.

Then as a practicing software developer, I eventually realized that to get stuff done, I needed to scale back on my hobby. Therefore, for example, as I mentioned in my post about local software developer groups, I have ceased following Python. Also, I have deliberately not even looked at new languages such as Fantom, Gosu, and Kotlin. (On the other hand, I am committed to learning and using Scala more, because the path from Java already exists.)

I took only a quick look at Google’s Dart after the big hype, and am not pursuing it further.

The trade-off: trading time spent playing with new languages for time spent mastering and implementing programs with old languages.

Completely abandoning an activity

Sometimes, I have freed up time by completely abandoning an activity.

Dancing (part one)

Once upon a time, I did a lot of ballroom dancing. I even trained seriously and entered competitions through the CMU ballroom dance club. I was dancing something like 20 hours a week (note: this was when I was not doing any reading or music or chess, as my trade-off). I quit competitive ballroom dancing eventually, and then even social ballroom dancing. I had also taken up swing and tango, and salsa more seriously, but then quit those too.

Basically, my trade-off was that I completely quit dancing and took up chess.


In the past, chess was the most time-consuming hobby in my life. A couple of years ago, I was bent on finally achieving a national Master title. I studied hard, improved my game, played a lot. I won the 2006 Pennsylvania Game/29 Championship and the 2006 Pennsylvania Action Chess Championship; I was on the verge of making Master by planning to win the 2007 Pennsylvania Action Chess Championship when I utterly choked and blew it by losing the last two games. I never really recovered from that. My life was changing at the time, having just starting to date Abby, and I stopped playing after a while, then after being married, I started playing again, but my heart was not in it, and I played terribly.

I quit chess in February 2011. In effect, I traded chess for starting to play recorder.

I have not played any chess since February. I don’t really regret it.

(Update of 2013-01-23)

Actually, in the first half of 2012, some casual contact with chess led me to feel like playing again, and in August I decided to start playing in tournaments again and am right now in the middle of a six-week tournament. I’ve gone back to the chess with clear constraints on how much time and energy I spend on it.

(Update of 2015-12-21)

Four years later, I made a focused push, temporarily putting many things aside in my life, in the fall of 2015 to achieve my US Chess National Master title, and finally made it, a dream come true.

Also, I have been teaching private lessons since 2013.

Dancing (part two)

I accidentally first met Abby when I returned to salsa dancing while still playing chess. Eventually, we started dating, and we were going dancing frequently, but eventually we both completely quit salsa dancing.

The trade-off was that we got into hiking and kayaking together, which was more fulfilling than our going to dances together and my wanting to dance with a lot of women but her only wanting to dance with me.

I consciously traded dancing for a relationship and marriage!

(Update of 2013-01-23)

Actually, Abby and I accidentally ended up doing some dancing together again, including discovering French dancing and English country and contra dancing. We don’t do it regularly, but it’s been great doing it on occasion.

Also, for 2013, we decided that we should dance together a little bit every day, just for ourselves, simply to appreciate that we can!


Married life is a lot of trade-offs. It’s nothing resembling single life or dating life!


Time is precious. We all have to make trade-offs. I’ve explored some ways in which I made certain trade-offs at certain points in my life. In your own life, do you periodically double-check what your priorities are, when you feel “too busy” for something you think you value?

comments powered by Disqus