Free time isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. You need it for the benefit of your health, your sanity, and yes, even your productivity.
Maybe you’re a wife, mom of three, entrepreneur, and a leader in your community. Maybe you’re a millennial working 80 hours per week to pay for a tiny apartment and student debt. Or, maybe you’re a mid-career dad working full-time and going to school full-time to get a better career. Who has time for free time?
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” –Sydney J. Harris, journalist with the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times
That’s right; free time is for busy people. And if you don’t have time for it, you need to make time for it. Here are three things you probably don’t already know about free time.
Unscheduled fun is more enjoyable than scheduled fun.
Most of us have experienced one of those vacations that involves adhering to a strict schedule to make sure you see every sight, visit every place, and do every activity before collapsing in bed to do it all over again the next day. That kind of vacation can leave you needing a vacation after the vacation. While some people prefer to schedule every hour of their vacations, approaching life this way will leave you stressed out and drained.
Scheduling free time can actually make it less enjoyable, according to research by the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. “We consistently find that leisure, once scheduled, becomes more like work,” explains study co-author Selin Malkoc, PhD, associate professor marketing at Washington University.
Making your free or leisure time unscheduled and unstructured can actually be very simple. For example, when arranging a time to meet up with a friend for coffee, try making plans for “after dinner” or “in the afternoon” rather than “7- 8 p.m.” or “at 3 p.m.,” Malkoc suggested.
Time before a scheduled activity is less enjoyable and productive.
You will probably not enjoy free time that takes place right before you have to do something unpleasant or important. Imagine if you had a stressful meeting to attend at 1 p.m. You are probably going to spend your entire lunch thinking and worrying about it.
Research indicates that an approaching appointment makes time “shrink.” “When there’s an appointment looming, we direct our attention to it, whether it’s mentally preparing for it or simply dreading it,” according to the Associated Press. “. . . as a result, the time interval leading up to the scheduled activity feels limited and insufficient.”
To combat this problem, try scheduling your meetings, tasks, and appointments back-to-back, leaving longer periods of unscheduled time that you can hopefully use for unstructured enjoyment. Or, if you have one important task to do in a day, do it first so that you won’t think about it all day.
Unscheduled time to reflect helps you solve and prevent overarching problems.
Some people think free time is just for resting and enjoyment. Those things are important, but blocks of free time also allow for another very important activity: reflection.
“Few people make a conscious effort to learn from their experiences, and fewer still learn from their experiences,” writes George Ambler, executive in Nedbank’s group technology division in Johannesburg, South Africa. “This is because reflection is not an automatic process for most people. Most of us make our way through life simply reacting to circumstances.”
People who don’t protect their free time and use it as an opportunity to reflect only solve immediate and visible problems, according to Dov Frohman, former vice president of Intel Corporation. Using your time to reflect will make you more effective and help you use the rest of your time wisely and productively.
Are you convinced that you need free time yet? What steps can you take to implement unstructured time into your and your family’s life?