Why on earth would you plan your free time?
I’m so glad you asked!
Free time? What free time?
I’ll admit it, planning my free time is not something I have always done. Like you, I spent most of the time thinking I didn’t really have any, let alone consider planning it.
When I was working in the City even before having kids I felt my time was not my own. I worked longer office ours than all of my friends who had ‘normal’ jobs and when I did get to go home I felt like I was always “on” thanks to the expectation (mine, my bosses’, my clients…) that I would always be available. My weekends felt no more my own than my weekdays.
Then I had Dylan. Lovely Dylan who is now 13. But raising a kid, even on a “part time” schedule of 9 to 5, 5 days a week and dealing with emails in the evenings, was far from easy. If you’ve read my book you’ll know that my first year as a working parent was one of the toughest years ever. I spent my life in emergency mode – putting out fires it seemed, every single day. If you had asked me about free time then I fear I may have flown into a rage!
Weekend? Don’t make me laugh!
And don’t get me started about weekends. Having 4 kids brings a whole new dimension to the concept of what a weekend is supposed to be. Until recently, if you’d asked me about my weekend, the only response would have been an unequivocal: “EXHAUSTING!” Well, with 4 lively young boys, a husband, a beautiful old house that always needs something fixing and a needy dog that thinks she’s my 5th child, what else would you expect, right?
But all that’s changing. My weekends are still pretty exhausting, but now they are also FUN and FULFILLING. And it’s all because I’ve started planning my free time.
Time for a different approach
Fun and Fulfilling. Would you use those words to describe your free time?
If the answer is no then I want to persuade you to start planning your free time. If you work long hours, feel there aren’t enough hours in the day and regret your lack of you-time, or time with family and friends, then maybe it’s time for a different approach.
This approach involves accepting that time is what it is (it’s the one thing you can’t control) and that a huge chunk of your hours are necessarily dedicated to work. What’s left is the need to start treating the time that is left over as a precious commodity and to be more conscious, deliberate and decisive about what you do with it.
One of my favourite books of all time is by Roman philosopher Seneca. It’s called “On the Shortness of Life: Life is long if you know how to use it.” Here is one of the many thought provoking passages from the book which I have taken from the wonderful article on Seneca’s work by Maria Papova at brainpickings.org:
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.”
Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
Seneca’s message about time is that we should stop squandering the stuff. We have more than enough if we would only learn how to use it. I love this philosophy so much I have adopted and adapted it into the BabyProof Mantra I use when I’m getting too busy and feeling overwhelmed:
There’s enough time for everything that matters.
Seneca’s philosophy strikes me as irrefutable. But just because we believe something to be true, doesn’t mean we always act on it. It is so difficult to live by these words of wisdom when we live in a busy noisy distracting world which seems hellbent on persuading us of the opposite.
Which is where planning your free time comes in. Here are 7 reasons why you should do it:
7 reasons why you need to start planning your free time
1. You’ll be happier
It’s official, anticipation makes you happy. A study by Dutch researchers published in the journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life in 2010 found that people who went on holiday were happier than those who didn’t. Now that seems obvious, right? But the real discovery was that their happiness boost happened in the two months leading up to the holiday, rather than while on the holiday itself or their return. The conclusion drawn from this: we are happiest when we anticipate doing something we enjoy. So by planning to do something you enjoy ahead of time, allows you to start feeling happier long before the time arrives.
2. You’ll discover you have more free time than you realised
So how much free time, on average, do you have each week? How many hours? Could you hazard an accurate guess? If you don’t know the answer to that question, or the question is “I don’t have any” then you’re not alone. Most people I asked have absolutely no clue how much free time they have. Their feeling of not having any, or of having no work life balance comes from a vague and general feeling that they are working too much, or unease about how little time they are dedicating to the things and people they care about.
By forcing yourself to plan your free time, by definition you have to take a minute or two to calculate how much free time you have.
As an example, lets consider the weekend: there are 60 hours between 6 p.m. on Friday and 6 a.m. on Monday morning. Assuming you get to sleep 8 hours a night, that still leaves 36 hours free time over a two day weekend. even if you are unlucky enough to have to work 6 hours a day you are still left with 24 hours of free time. So the question then becomes, what are you doing with that time?
Which brings me to Reason #3:
3. You’ll feel more fulfilled
Planning your free time means making a conscious decision about what to do with that time. That means deciding whether or not to spend that time pursuing your goals, or squandering the time on activities that bring you little joy or are done just for someone else’s benefit. Given a choice between squandering your time, and investing it on things you find fulfilling and the people you care about most, wouldn’t you choose the latter?
4. You’ll feel more in control
Technology. Do I need to say more?
I remember when I bought my husband Paul his first ipad many years ago and how excited we were about the world it put at his fingertips. A week later I was cursing Steve Jobs. Where had my husband gone? I used to have a husband who occasionally made eye contact when we spoke to each other, and talked to me at bedtime!
Of course, the ipad is just one (more) example of how technology has invaded and taken over our lives. Many of us have had mobile phones for years and, as they’ve become more sophisticated, and as the demands of work to be always on and responsive have increased, to say nothing of social media, we’ve all become slaves to our devices.
Planning your free time is an antidote to this. It’s a way of staying in control of how you use technology because it encourages you to set boundaries for when you will and won’t be online, and balance the amount of time you dedicate to your devices versus the time you dedicate to the ones you love. Like your partner, for example!
5. You’ll stop squandering your life
On the subject of Facebook, let’s talk about squandering your life away. Now I am not anti Facebook or any other social platform – I use them all. But I would hazard a guess that until recently, only about 10% of my online activity was spent pursuing goals that are important to me and are going to bring me more fulfilment. I’m not sure I can account for the rest thanks to the semi-conscious trance I seem to go into everytime I look at a screen.
I’m sure I’m not the only one.
The concept of planning your free time stems from the belief that the more of our time we dedicated to the things that bring us joy and fulfilment (our hobbies, passions, nurturing key relationships, learning, adventure etc.) the happier we are. Time spent doing anything else is squandered time.
6. You’ll be better prepared for work
One of the main purposes of free time is to give you a break from work . It is supposed to rejuvenate and refresh you so you’re energised and ready to go again. Free time that has been spent in pursuit of the things that you find enjoyable and fulfilling does this.
Have you ever arrived at work on a Monday morning feeling rested, energised, positive and ready to tackle the week ahead? If you have, I’ll bet that it followed a really wonderful fulfilling weekend spent with and/or doing the things you love. Now compare that to a Monday morning where you feel unrested, demotivated and dreading the week ahead. Was it your weekend that made the difference?
7. Tomorrow is not a promise
You know the expression “tomorrow is promised to no man”. Well without going all morbid on you, I want to remind you that you won’t be here forever. There are only so many lunchtimes, weekends, days off you’ve got left on this planet. The bind is you don’t know how many, which is all the more reason to make your time count.
Most of us live as if we have all the time in the world. We squander our time on things and people that don’t bring us any real satisfaction or fulfilment, as if time were an infinite resource we will always have at our disposal. It’s not and it won’t. You won’t have this day again. Make it count by planning to do something with it that brings you joy. Here is Seneca again:
You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last.
Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
Balance is not an equation
I’ve always maintained that Balance is not an equation – ie, that you don’t achieve work life balance by expecting to spend the exact same amount of time on your work as you dedicate to your Life. I know from measuring my balance score I could have weeks where work took over my life and I had little time for my kids; or when I was up to my ears in kids and had no time for myself, and yet still I felt like my life was balanced (see my previous blog How I measure My Work Life Balance and Why You Should Do the Same)
But the concept of planning my free time has brought my work life balance to a new dimension. I discovered I could offset the disproportionate number of hours I gave to “work” compared to the time I had left for “life” simply by learning to use my free time better. And it all starts with planning.
Better work life balance
I’ve given you 7 reasons why you should start planning your free time and they all add up to one thing: better work life balance
“Life is more balanced when you plan your free time”
As you go into this weekend, and throughout next week, I hope you’ll keep these reasons in mind, and begin to reflect on how much free time you have and how you are using it. Are you making that precious time count, or are you leaving it to unravel without purpose.
So what are you going to do now?
Soon I’ll be posting a blog that tells you how to plan your free time.
But before I do that, it’s really important that you know how much free time you have. So to help you work this out and because most people I have asked so far massively underestimate how much free time they have, I’ve prepared a Free Time Worksheet specifically for you. You can download it here:
When you’ve completed the worksheet and you have your number of Free Time hours, I’d love it if you would write and tell me what they are. Here’s that link again:
Do you have any stories to share about how you use your free time? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you liked this blog and want to know more about How to plan your time, look out for the next blog on time planning which I’ll publish in early October.