Some of my deployments to Afghanistan have been balls-to-the-wall busy with little to no time for training, video games, hobbies or even working out. Other instances have been filled with long breaks where we were stood down or unable to go on missions for whatever reason.

During these times, training is extremely important. It feels redundant and training resources can be quite limited out in Afghanistan, especially if you’re in some little COP in the middle of nowhere. Still, it’s my experience that you can always do something that will better yourself as a soldier. At the very least, dry fires and magazine changes push your skills that much further.

But when the pace is slow, even copious amounts of training won’t fill all the deployment time in the world. This is why a lot of guys come back in incredible shape. They spend that time working out, running and lifting until they are no longer distinguishable from monsters. This is one of the most productive uses of one’s time that I can think of — many philosophers throughout history harp on the value of a trained body as well as mind.

Others play video games, and burn through them like a kid with Halloween candy. I remember beating the story from “Far Cry 3” in four days. I only left our living areas to go to the bathroom, eat, work out, and train.

However, generally speaking, I liked to write. I wrote for hours and hours — I wrote a 300 and something page book that I never finished, but that developed my writing to a somewhat acceptable level (I never had any writing talent, just a lot of trial and error). I also wrote a couple of short stories and a full screenplay. I would say I wrote approximately 500 pages of content over my deployments, very little of which is actually presentable. But it honed my writing skills to a marketable level because I put the time in.

I also played and wrote music; I sang and played guitar. Again, I was never talented but when the hours presented themselves, I tried my best to take my Ranger discipline that I always siphoned into my training, and apply it to my hobbies. I saw value in improving myself in all facets of life, on top of the tactical necessities for my job.

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In the same spirit, I have taken that mentality into the civilian world. It was the only way I could finish my upcoming novel — I used technology to my advantage and wrote it on Google Docs. Most of it was written in front of my computer, but if there was a ten minute wait for a haircut or an hour at the DMV, I hopped on my phone and wrote. It was absolutely less than ideal, but the world tries to distract us 24/7 these days and I am constantly seeking ways get around it and make my time valuable again. Five minutes in a line? Pull out the book and write at least one sentence — I made it into a game.

And in this, I fail often — where I succeed once, I fail ten times. I am just as plugged into social media as the rest of the world with endless Instagram feeds, Facebook political tirades, and a never-ending well of response-worthy emails always seem to be on the verge of drowning me in the today’s cyber minefield of interruptions.

Do not mistake my intent here by thinking that all relaxation is unproductive. Just as muscles need to be exercised to become stronger, so must they experience periods of rest. However, filling days with over-productivity and never relaxing is a problem few struggle with.

Time management has always been important, but the world is rapidly changing. It’s up to us to adapt to and overcome these changes if we are to stay productive and in keeping with a healthy mind.

Featured image courtesy of the USAF.