TEDxUCLA 2019: Time

You should be wasting time: how playtime powers productivity


About Kat

Kat Cressida is an American actress and voiceover actress. She is best known as the voice of Dee Dee (Dexter’s Laboratory), Jessie the Cowgirl (Disney Infinity), and The Bride (Disney’s Haunted Mansion).

She graduated cum laude from UC Berkeley and studied at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.


Time waits for no man. Time flies. We talk of killing time while time is quietly killing us.

I love a clever catchphrase, the power of words. Since I spat out my first one aged four, I fell in love with the power of speaking. Storytelling. So it’s no wonder that I went into voiceover. Vocal communication is my passion.

Now here’s a phrase that really flips the script: time is an illusion. I didn’t come up with that. That was actually courtesy of someone with a real edge in the IQ department, Albert Einstein. But having experienced my own personal time machine, one that both transported me backward while at the same time hurtling me fast forward a full five years without my ever truly experiencing them, I can confirm that time is perception.

Now when I say “time machine” I’m not talking Doc Brown’s DeLorean. Mine took a very different form: a rare malignant tumor, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans — yeah, even the name is terrifying — beneath my brain skull cavity and behind my jaw.

Most surgeons diagnosed it as fatal. The few that didn’t diagnosed severing my facial nerve leaving me disfigured and without the ability to ever speak again. Imagine: your passion and livelihood, the one thing that’s driven you since you were age four just gone, your identity stripped without any hope of ever getting it back.

As in a fairy tale, I fell into a deep, seemingly endless sleep. The surgery took ten hours and the awakening several more. But instead of waking up to a happily ever after, I emerged to years of pain, disfigurement, paralysis, and loss of connection to family, friends, and colleagues who didn’t know how to deal with my new disabilities. No one did, myself included.

I was literally lifted off of my timeline and thrown into a lonely isolated limbo. Doctors, caretakers decided what happened to me and when. And when I finally emerged from this time machine a full five years later, I was left empty with nothing to show for having lived them. Time was indeed, as Einstein stated, a matter of perspective. An illusion.

Time as we’ve come to know it, track it, make use of it, is completely man-made. And deadlines? That’s a whole other form of evil we’ve learned to accept. We’ve grown up with this cliche — time is taken for granted — but I would argue most of us do the complete opposite. We are so focused on capitalizing on our time, being productive, that we lose track of what time is supposed to be about: really immersing ourselves in our experiences, really living.

Before my illness, I was always in perpetual motion. “You can sleep when you’re dead” was my favorite saying. I had my timeline completely mapped out. Career milestones, starting a family. And wasting time? That was the most unpardonable of sins. But my illness eradicated all of that. Pain, survival, healing: this was all that time meant for me now.

But in that dark lonely limbo, I began to ask myself a question. A new “what if.” What if, if I’m finally well enough to live again, instead of spending all my time working, doing, being productive, I spent more time wasting time?

I was drawn to studies by renowned psychologist Michael Guttridge showing the direct correlation between not being productive — immersing yourself in joyful wasted activity, disconnecting from accountability off the clock — and how much more productive we then are when we return to responsibility: recharged, inspired, better able to focus.

Time well wasted is time that you choose to disconnect from others and not be available, instead nourishing yourself, choosing to focus only on an activity that you love. And I began to see how I robbed myself of crucial downtime by not disconnecting out of guilt or fear, toggling between texting, social media, scrolling through emails to make sure I wasn’t missing anything important, even taking the inevitable selfies to show I was at an event I was simultaneously ignoring, completely diluting the experience.

And I realized by never allowing myself to savor, relax, really soak in the activity I was engaged in, I didn’t emerge uplifted or inspired. And by never disconnecting from cell phones or computers, always being on the clock, always available 24/7, I was actually less available mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

Getting back to that idea of a time machine, Alex Soojung-Kim’s Why You Get More Work Done When You Work Less demonstrates how every task expands to fill the time you assign it. So, give a person nine hours to get something done, they’ll find a way to fill it but often with unnecessary activity. Given the same task with only two hours, they still get it done, but often a lot more successfully due to undiluted focus.

Now I just threw out something, one of America’s favorite terms: 24/7. We use that a lot, often by way of expressing how inspired and devoted we are to a goal. But have you ever done the math?

I finally did. It’s 168 hours in a week. Think about that. So even if you work a 60-hour work week and get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night — which most of us probably don’t — you’re still left with 42 hours. That’s 42 hours not working, not sleeping.

Now ask yourself without any criticism or self-editing: What is it that you most love doing? It can be anything: browsing stacks of vinyl, baking Toll House cookies from scratch, failing miserably at paddleboarding.

Now ask yourself: how much time do you spend actually doing the things you love? Chances are you probably complain several times you can’t find the time.

I actually discovered that there are these apps that are like little time journals, so I challenged myself to track for week how I spent my time and I was blown away by how much time just disappeared lost due to distractions because I wasn’t allowing myself time to properly recharge and refresh.

I would like to invite you to consider shifting your lens just a little, and perhaps you might find that you can build into your week just a few hours to wholly indulge in passions or playtime that you truly love. Nothing productive, except joy.

And perhaps you’ll find that in this time well wasted you actually managed to maximize and energize how you spend the rest of your time. Thank you.