Too much time on their hands?

Dan Wineman shared a profound insight on Twitter:

You say “looks like somebody has too much time on their hands” but all I hear is “I’m sad because I don’t know what creativity feels like.”

In place of “creativity” Wineman might have as easily said “persistence.” I found Wineman’s quote in a post by Dan Meyer responding to criticism of his research projects.

I’ve said that someone has too much time on their hands, but not since I read Meyer’s post. I see now that the phrase is often a sour grapes response to creativity. I don’t want to do that anymore.

When we see that someone has spent a thousand hours on a project that we think was a frivolous, it’s easy to say “what a waste of time.” We think how much good could have been done with that same amount of effort. But what was the realistic alternative? If that same person had spent a thousand hours in front of their television instead, no one would ever know and no one would ever criticize them. Instead, they created something.

Treehouse photo from Succeed Blog

Tree house photo from Succeed Blog. Full size photo.

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Posted in Creativity
9 comments on “Too much time on their hands?
  1. John Moeller says:

    Great post, John.

  2. Jason Adams says:

    Excellent point! I will never say that phrase again, unless it has to do with polka music.

  3. Jason Adams says:

    Sorry for the double comment, but I just noticed on your weekend miscellany a link to succeed blog, which is a site teeming with “too much time on their hands” examples. Seen in a different light, the creativity and dedication necessary to do things like creating a penny pyramid is quite remarkable.

  4. JD Long says:

    very self aware and insightful post. When I say TMTOTH what I think I mean, is “if I had that much time I would do something else with it.” Which is a pretty judgmental thing for a guy like me to say. I’m usually choosing between another beer and a nap.

  5. alex land says:

    @ JD : that’s where self-discipline comes in. So often, I desperately want to do something like build a manned spacecraft out of popsicle sticks, or an Empire Sate Bldg out of spaghetti (using cooked spaghetti though, not the dry stuff like that lazy ass on succeed.com used)– even though what i really need is a (another) beer or a nap, or frankly, both. So when i’m hit with these impulses to “succeed”, it’s only through extraordinary exexrcize of willpower that i somehow force myself to keep my ass glued to the sofa and watch the second half of the game.

  6. To me, “You have to much time on your hand” can usually be replaced by either:
    - We don’t have the same priorities ; or
    - I wish I had enough willpower/energy/self-discipline to execute on similar things.
    The second one is the “sour grape” version you mention, and is probably the most frequent usage. The first one is simply a slightly obnoxious way to mention a divergence of opinion. For example, I think somebody who is spending his week-end in front of the TV has too much time on his hands.

    I don’t see a direct relationship with creativity — although creativity is probably one of the human traits that fuel willpower. (i.e. A creative person finds it more rewarding to execute on something that looks too tiring for another individual.)

  7. Cory Doctorow has a fantastic rant on exactly this subject:

    http://boingboing.net/2002/02/03/too-much-time-on-his.html

    One of my all-time favourite short internet rants.

  8. Peter says:

    Thanks, John. That was perfect timing after hearing that phrase aimed all week long…

  9. Peter says:

    aimed at me, that is… (sorry for the double post)

3 Pings/Trackbacks for "Too much time on their hands?"
  1. [...] Too much time on your hands means you have an idea, you create it and someone criticizes you. Thant ok, even admirable.  The real problem is culture, of people being told to watch TV, do their work and shut up. [...]

  2. [...] Saying someone has too much time on their hands is often just a way to get out of feeling bad for how they spent their time when compared to what we’ve done with the same number of hours. [...]

  3. [...] Too much time on their hands ? X [...]