Wait, isn’t that the wrong way to do it? Do you really need to schedule free time? Shouldn’t you be scheduling your work instead of your free time? Well yeah, that’s what most people do. It’s probably why 43% of Americans don’t really use up their vacation days. Who can take days off when you’re packed with work every single day?
I propose that you take your life back and schedule free time for yourself instead. By free time, I mean doing stuff that’s not work. This includes doing things like pursuing passion projects, bonding with your family, and developing yourself as a person.
Doing it is easy, in fact. You just add your free time activities in your calendar just like when you add meetings and deadlines.
I’m sure that’s not what’s stopping you though. It might feel weird, maybe even a bit indulgent, to put your free time first. But to be honest, it’s the best gift you can give not just yourself, but those who depend on you. Let me give you 11 reasons why you need to schedule your free time, it’s actually a better way of doing things.
1) Free time becomes important to you.
When you schedule your free time, you’re making that activity a priority and saying to yourself, “this is a good use of my time”. This makes it at least as important as your work, maybe even more important at times. Often, we just think of our free time as wasted hours when in fact, this fixed amount of downtime is what will help you keep going at work. Burnout is real, folks.
2) You show others that they are a priority.
When you pack your calendar with work, you’re telling the people close to you that work is more important than them. Once you schedule your free time and spend it with your family and close friends, their opinion of you will turn around. If you’ve been neglecting your relationships due to work, start by spending some of your scheduled free time with them.
3) You actually get more free time.
How many times has silently work crept into your free time? That won’t happen any more if you have something irrefutable to do on your calendar. It’ll be easier to say no to weekend work and all-nighters when you can show people your plans right on your calendar.
4) You’ll have something to look forward to after work.
Personally, I like to schedule something I enjoy doing in my after-work free time. That way, no matter how crazy my day gets, I always have something great to look forward to afterwards. It’s also a mental productivity trick of sorts: do well during the work day and claim your fun activity later as your reward to yourself.
5) Your free time will be put to better use.
If you’ll notice, I didn’t mention watching TV or browsing Facebook as free time activities. It’s because they shouldn’t be. When make it a point to set aside your free time, you’ll pretty much make sure that what you do with that time matters. Trust me, you won’t enjoy slacking off if you know you only have a few hours to spare each day.
6) You’ll be more productive at work.
Having something scheduled after work keeps you focused on getting everything done by the end of the day. This means shutting out unimportant meetings, doing only priority work, and delegating the extra work you have to your colleagues or subordinates. You’ll be surprised how productive you can be when you can’t extend work past 5pm.
7) You add some much-needed flexibility to your calendar
Of course, scheduling free time doesn’t mean you absolutely must take time off. If you need to move a meeting or change plans, your scheduled free time lets you adapt to the needs of your work. Just don’t forget that as you move around your other activities, you also set aside time for yourself at the same time.
8) You’ll feel more in control of your life.
When you schedule your free time, it forces you to think about your life and what your priorities should be. You might think it’s just a simple productivity hack of scheduling dinners and hobbies. It reality, knowing when you have free time also means knowing how you can best spend that limited time you have.
9) It gives you perspective on life.
Being busy all the time is a recipe for neuroticism. It’s good to always remember that your current job, project or business isn’t going to last forever. It’s a statistical fact! You need a bit of balance and scheduling free time is the remedy. It allows you to realize there are other important parts of your life that you shouldn’t neglect.
10) You have a chance to unwind regularly.
For #eventprofs in particular, you always feel that doing nothing means you’re falling behind. Breaking news: you’re not. Unlike machines, we need a routine of relaxation baked into our busy schedules to avoid burnout. And as studies show, those who actually take time off get more work done.
11) It helps you trust others.
When you’re the first one in the office and the last one out, you’ll soon feel like the business won’t survive without you. You’ll also fall into the trap of micromanagement and that’s not a great way to run a team. In order for a business to grow, you need to be able to trust others to do their work even when you’re not around.
How to Schedule Free Time
I’m pretty sure you already know how to plan out your work. But how about scheduling your free time? Well, it actually works pretty much the same way.
- First, figure out how much free time you need. One piece of research suggests we need 7 full hours of free time per day, but I’m pretty sure we all fall way short of that. You might need more or less, but what’s important is you have a target number of hours
- In whatever productivity tool you use, whether it’s a calendar, todo list or journal, make sure your free time is as high a priority as your other very important tasks. If you don’t, you risk losing your free time altogether and we’ll be back to square one.
- Schedule your activities like before.
- Now here’s the fun part: for your blocks of free time, schedule what you’d like to do during this time. As we mentioned in #5 earlier, your free time isn’t idle time. Use it for activities that you’ll enjoy while still providing some fringe benefits that improve your life and relationships. Now I know what you’re thinking: what should I do with my free time?
What to Do During Your Free Time
Not all free time activities are made equal. Just like the rest of your day, you still need to make sure you get the most bang out of your buck with your time. Here are a few suggestions on what you can do during your free time:
Read something interesting.
If you were a bookworm in your younger days but seem to have lost the time to read, now you’ve found the time you need. It doesn’t matter if you’re more enthralled by fantasy or science fiction novels or you’re more interested in what people do and read biographies. What’s good is you exercise your mind while having fun, and reading helps with that.
Write, blog or even tweet.
I’m sure you’ll agree that creative writing is now an important skill to have, especially online. If you’re a wordsmith, go ahead and blog or even start writing in a journal. And even if you’re not, it’s still okay to just tweet, post on your wall or answer questions. Who knows, you might spark a great conversation and make some new contacts along the way.
Take an online course.
If you’re going to while away your time on video sites, why not watch something that’s both interesting and mind stretching? You can learn something for free from the Education channel of Youtube, or go the paid route and learn from professionals via Udemy or Lynda. Unlike your boring old college professors, these videos were made to be engaging and fun to watch. If you need to learn something specific, check out our post about learning anywhere, any time.
Cook something up.
I can personally attest that knowing how to cook is not only makes your taste buds happy, it also makes people like you better. Who doesn’t want to be friends with the person always bringing in delicious meals, right? You also get to create healthy, energy-packed meals the way you want (and afford), something you probably can’t do when you get food delivered.
Set up dates.
Dates don’t need to be the romantic kind especially with friends and family you want to stay in touch with. The long-term benefits of maintaining your relationships can’t be argued with, so setting aside regular time engaging with them is a must. It can be a simple lunch or dinner time out with friends or even a comfy stay at home affair with your kids. We’re social beings after all, so go on dates with your spouse, kids, and BFFs regularly.
Do volunteer work.
I know what you’re thinking: you serve others all day at work, so why do it during your free time too? Well, you’ll be surprised how different people treat you when people pay you to work versus when you do it of your own volition. The appreciation you get has a lot of emotional benefits and it also gives you a new found view on how to work with others. Seek out volunteer activities that also expand your skills like doing charity house building work or becoming a teacher to young kids.
Start a creative hobby.
If your work day is filled with meetings and routine tasks, a creative outlet can be a welcome way to keep busy while still relaxing. Your hobbies exercise your creative side and sharpen your problem solving skills, all without the pressure of performance unlike at work. Hobbies like woodworking, building models, and even graphic design are all stimulating activities while also giving you something to show for your hard work.
Take up an old sport (or start a new one).
If you’re been an athlete in the past but recently fell off the wagon due to general busyness, now is the time to get back. There’s the physical benefits of sports, of course. But who also doesn’t like winning once in a while, right? And the best sports to pick up are the ones where you’re part of a team. It’s just that much more fun to be winning (and losing) with others.
Building your network is never a bad idea. It’s always sound investment laying down the foundation of a relationship with potential clients, business partners and future bosses. Often, it’s the referrals of these connections that drive new business or land your next career move. Going networking doesn’t just mean attending conferences and local events. You can also meet up with past colleagues for both fun catch up times as well as exchanging business cards. Even better, you can start your own events so you have an excuse to connect with everyone in the room.
The one asset everyone has that no one wants to waste is time. While working hard at your job can seem to be the most productive use of your time, never forget that life isn’t all about work.
When you start to really take your free time seriously, that’s the time you will realize the value of your time. More than your hourly rate, your time is a way to nurture relationships, invest in your well-being and create an impact with the people around you.
Editor’s Note: This was originally published in February 16, 2015 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.