How You Spend Your Free Time is Broken. Here’s How to fix it.
Do you often find yourself upset because you can’t find the time to do that thing you want? There’s gotta be a better way! I’m here to tell you there is.
Recently it dawned on me that I spend a lot of my time wishing I had more time to do the things I want. But when I really looked at it, I found a disconnect between what’s important to me and how I spend my time. Here’s what I did to override my default free time and direct my time back towards activities that were more important to me.
Why reconsider your default free time? ⏲
A lot has been written about time and efficiency. Just this weekend I was listening to a couple podcasts and independently they both (a,b) happened to mention that time is our most limited commodity. If you haven’t sat down and thought about how you spend your time, odds are that you’re either a perfect human or you’re living your life on auto-pilot. For me, it was the latter. Auto-pilot sounds bad, but I wasn’t particularly upset with how I was spending my time. I spent a lot of time doing things I liked to do, watching Survivor, playing Fortnite and spending quality time with my wife planning our next trip to Walt Disney World. But, were these really the things I wanted to consume all my free time? No. Ultimately what made me look at this a little closer were a combination of a) my work as project manager (I have a tendency to seek out problems to solve), b) a thing coach Saban said in the Art of Coaching and c) I was finding myself more and more preoccupied thinking about things I wanted to do that I couldn’t seem to find the time for.
How are you spending your time today? 🔍
To start, consider what your default options are today. If you have a career or school, odds are that those obligations are fairly time-structured. Let’s shelve those and consider the unstructured time. For me that’s my nights and weekends outside of work. Spend a few minutes thinking about how you spend your time. The point isn’t to list everything you do. What are the main activities where you spend your time? If you’re like me, you spend a lot of your time on high comfort, low value activities. For me these were Fortnite and content consumption (e.g. TV, movies, Youtube, social media).
Once you have your list, consider how these activities line up with your values. In my case there’s nothing wrong with those things I listed. But they were taking the place of more higher-value activities where I’d rather spend my time.
So, why are all these low value activities consuming your time? 🤷
The reason I was spending so much time on those low value activities was because they were comfortable (ala self care). I had been influenced by outside forces that convinced me to lean into contentedness rather than personal development because I didn’t have a clear sense of what my priorities were. My life was all noise and no signal. Since the triggers I indicated above, I’ve spent some time working to hone my personal priorities (not priorities imposed on me by outside influences). Once i had those understood with crystal clear clarity, when I reflected on how I was spending my time it was obvious that it could be improved. My sense of personal priorities was out of whack and I was living reactively in relation to the world, influenced this way and that as a direct result of the winds of the outside world.
“Is it your own destiny? Or is it a destiny someone else has tried to force on you?”
Iroh, Avatar: The Last Airbender
How to get off auto-pilot and re-take control of your time? 🧙
Once you know how you spend your time and what your priorities are, next comes the easy part. Spend some time imagining activities you’d like to be doing in your spare time (i.e. time you’re not fulfilling obligations to work or school).
For each of those activities ask yourself whether it ties back to your personal priorities. In my particular case, “having fun” is one of my values so this didn’t mean saying goodbye to Fortnite, but rather paring it down to make room for the other activities I value. Write the list down and post it somewhere you will see it. You’re giving yourself options and saving yourself from having to imagine options for things to do during your free time. If you’re like me, by the time the workday is over you have little mental energy to spare so removing the mental energy to decide what to do removes yet another hurdle between you and the things you would rather be doing.
Walking through this thought exercise increases that chance that you’ll spend more time doing what you care about … in the near term. Printing it out and displaying it reinforces this for the long haul. And that’s it. That’s all it takes.
Closing Remarks 📕
Ultimately, it’s not about being ruthlessly efficient with how you spend your time. You’re not trying to do more with less (maybe in some cases you’ll remove things without replacing them with other things). You’re not looking to be subjugated by your calendar. You’re increasing the effectiveness of how you spend your time. You are changing your relationship with how you spend your time to bring it into harmony with what’s important to you. Life may be short, as they say, but they also say it’s the longest thing you’ll ever do. Hopefully this helps you to make the most of it.
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