You Maximized Your Time, But Are You Enjoying It?: Dr. Selin Malkoc (Transcript)

Full transcript of behavioral scientist Dr. Selin Malkoc’s TEDx Talk: You Maximized Your Time, But Are You Enjoying It? at TEDxYearlingRoad conference.


“Next time you feel like you think about the time you have as a resource to be maximized, push that into the back of your head. Try to reframe it as the medium through which you live and see whether it makes a difference.”


Dr. Selin Malkoc – Assistant Marketing Professor at Ohio State University

Today I want to challenge the way you think about and use your time.

I hope that at the end of the 15 minutes you’ll walk out of here with some new perspectives that you can take with you as you go about your life.

Before we get there, though, let me start by asking a very basic question: What is time?

Okay. I’m not really going to give you a second to think about it.


If you’re like most people, you’re realizing that this is surprisingly difficult question, and it shouldn’t be.

We know time. Time is around us. We interact with it all the time.

So why is it hard to think about what it is?

Well, time is a very abstract construct. It is this force invisible in our life but we cannot feel, hear or touch it. But we know it’s all there.

So to be able to define it, we actually have to go back centuries to the time where time as a construct did not exist yet. At that point in time we knew that the invisible force poles are part of our life but we did not know how to communicate about it.

So the first purpose of time was actually to be a marker. It allowed us to mark different points in time, different events in time so that we can communicate about it.

I could not tell you that I will meet you on Saturday at 3 p.m. and we all know exactly what that stands for.

Similarly, time is also a measurement tool. It allows us to measure the amount of time. So on Saturday, I can tell you that we’ll have one hour together and everybody understands that that’s 60 minutes or 360 seconds.

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These are all functional uses of time. These are the ways in which we navigate this invisible force that’s around us.

However, in the recent decades we started to think about time in a third way. We think about it as a resource.

It’s the resource that helps us achieve certain goals. Just like money allows us to buy things we want, time allows us to do the things we want to do.

It is just like money and we actually say time is money. But it really isn’t. Is it?

Time is a very unique construct. Time, we cannot save. It’s been about two and a half minutes since I started talking and none of us will ever get that two and half minutes back. It’s gone.

As an outcome, time always feels scarce. If you ask Americans, 41% of them will tell you that they do not have enough time to do the things that they want to be doing in their lives. We want to control it but it keeps on slipping away from our fingers.

We do not dare waste it. We want to make the most of it. We want to maximize that as a resource. And we have every right to. This is a very important precious resource that we all have.

Now what I want to tell you today is this resource maximization of your time is more American than universal, than there is parts of the world that doesn’t see time like that.

Now I’ve been living in the U.S. for almost 20 years but I was born in Turkey. And I spent the first half of my life there.

I actually traveled back there all the time. My family is there and at any point in time I’ve got at least one Turkish or pair living with me. This gives me the vantage point to be able to compare the cultures in a very specific way and understand how they approach time.

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And unlike the Americans who think time as a resource to be maximized, Turks see it as a medium through which they live their life.

And this is true if you think about it. The moments that we have add up to our days, to our weeks, to our years and that is our life. We are simply what we do in life and nothing more.

Now if we think about time in those means, we tend to behave differently. We tend to do things in a different way.

I’m going to try to explain that to you with three examples.

Now the first time I took my now husband, then boyfriend to Turkey, he was there to meet our family — my family, my friends and he’s trying to impress everyone. And he’s doing splendidly.

When my Turkish friends give him this big Turkish liquor rakı, very strong, he acts like he likes it although he hates it. When he gets stuck in the mosque on a Friday prayer in a very hot Friday, he actually tells stories about it and makes fun of it and doesn’t tell us how much it bothered him.

So everybody’s impressed, my family’s happy, I’m happy, and I’m thinking nothing can go wrong at this moment. We are actually going to go on a vacation to places that look like this. Except that we walk into one of these beaches and my husband looks at me and says, “What are we going to do here?”

I’m like what do you mean? There is the beach, the Sun, the chairs. We are going to relax.

He’s like, no, no, you don’t get it. Where are the things to do? Where is the volleyball, the frisbee, the watersports? Why are we not doing anything?

Now that really messed up with my mind, because to me vacation is relaxation and relaxation is everything. But he wanted to be productive and not being productive somehow did not resonate with him.

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Now I’m a behavioral scientist. So when things bug me, I study them scientifically. And in this case, I have the added benefit of trying to prove my husband incorrect, wrong, right?

So I go to the lab and I try to examine this. The first thing I wanted to do was to try and understand if this group of people actually existed. Were there other people that thought leisure was actually wasteful.

So we asked them to indicate their statements with questions like this. The time spent on leisure activities is actually wasted, people who can engage in leisure have too much time in their hands in a way to understand whether there are some people that really think that leisure might be wasteful.

It turns out there is a good chunk of people that believe in this. And not only in the US, we have done these studies in France and India as well, and we find these people everywhere, although to a different extent as you might guess not so many in France. Right?

Now we identified these people. We have to study what they are doing in life. To be able to do that we brought them into the lab. So these are my undergraduate students at OSU. They’re going to come and do my studies. They do that all the time. Normally these are mind-numbingly boring surveys for 20 minutes.

This time, though, I’m going to give them a chance. I’m going to give them a choice to choose a task for them to complete. They can either choose a documentary from BBC Earth or they can watch funny talking animals.

Enjoyably, most people should be picking the funny animals, but instead those who think leisure was wasteful, actually were predominantly more likely to pick the documentary.

Now you might be thinking, so what? These people are different. They want to be productive, they want to learn things. There is nothing wrong with that.

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