Are You Spending Your “Free Time” Well?

Yesterday, I wrote about not wasting your time on stuff that doesn’t matter. I wrote:

"Stop wasting your nights and weekends doing things that numb you (like drinking, eating, watching movies, etc.) instead of things that rejuvenate and fill you up.”

One reader left this thoughtful comment on my blog:

"I agree with you that we waste so much time doing things that don’t bring any value, but how can you say that "drinking, eating, watching movies, etc" numb us? What about having fun? Going out for dinner with friends, watching a good movie that will resonate with you or make you feel better?"

I thought it was a great point, so I wanted to write today about what I meant in my initial post. 

You have 168 hours a week. 

If you were to actually look at your schedule and how you spend your time, I think you’d quickly realize 168 actually isn’t a whole lot to do everything you want to do. Free time usually fits into people’s schedules during weekday evenings, but primarily from Friday night to Sunday evening. 

Here’s what typically happens:

You have an overly busy or stressful day at work, so you spontaneously go out drinking or zone out at home by watching a movie or turning on the television. Or, on the weekends, you go out to a long dinner with friends and chat the whole time. Or you go shopping with money you may or may not have. Or you run errands all day. Or you watch more movies and television. 

All of these activities are fine. Sometimes, they are super enjoyable and exactly what we need. My initial point was not that those things are bad—not that eating, drinking, and watching movies are always a total waste of time. 

My point is really that we tend to take our “free time” for granted. When we’re stressed or tired, we often do things that cause us to “zone out.” We drink alcohol (sometimes too much), we eat unhealthy comfort foods (sometimes too much), we watch mind-numbing television or movies. 

I’m not above it—I do all three of the above things from time to time. 

But, it’s important that we start spending more time respecting our free time. 

  • What if what you really need isn’t a glass of wine, but a long run? 
  • What if what you really need is quiet time to journal or read instead of feeling obliged to go to a big dinner and spend a lot of money on Saturday night?
  • What if what you really need is an afternoon to go for a walk with someone you love and step away from your inbox and your smartphone?
  • What if what you really need isn’t comfort food, but the joy of learning to cook a healthy new meal?

It’s not about calling any activity good or bad. The problem is that we too often (from what I’ve observed for years) engage in behaviors that don’t help with what we’re dealing with. They don’t always help us learn or grow. They dont always resolve or rejuvenate. 

The truth is, I know I’m not going to look back on my life 50 years from now and say, “I should’ve drank more often,” or, “I should’ve watched more television or movies,” or, “I wish I had gone shopping more frequently.”

What I’m really going to remember in the end are my beautiful, long morning runs on the Chicago lakefront; spontaneous adventures with a few good friends; the time I spend writing, reflecting, and sharing my thoughts with the world; getting on a plane and exploring somewhere new; and yes, even the occasional bottomless mimosa brunch with someone I love over a highly memorable, intimate conversation.

If those are the memories I know I’ll most savor when I’m looking back on how I spent my life, then I better damn behave accordingly. 

That’s the point. 

Spend your free time however you please. Enjoy the hell out of your free time. 

But think about how you’re going to enjoy it. Switch it up often. Question your assumptions about what it is you really need. Try things outside of your comfort zone. Ask yourself, “Do I want to do X to numb the pain/stress/anxiety/sadness I’m feeling? If so, what substitute idea would actually rejuvenate me instead?”

If the thing you really need is a glass of wine with a good friend, do it. 

If you genuinely want to watch a great television program or documentary, awesome. 

If there’s nothing you’d rather do than go out shopping or drinking with a big group of people, go. 

But make sure what you’re doing is really what you want to do. 

Your time here is limited. Spend the free time you’ve got now on things that will make you feel more free. Do things that actually reflect what you think you’ll most remember and be glad you did down the road. 

Unlike other things, like money or energy, time is a resource you cannot get back. Once you spend it, it’s not coming around again. 

So, spend time doing stuff that fulfills you—not stuff that just numbs you. 

You’ll be really glad you did. 

Life is Simple, But We Insist On Making it Complicated

I’ve been feeling this way a lot lately. Humans do a fantastic job of making things more complicated than they really are: relationships, work, love, organization, productivity, faith, losing weight, etc.

We like complexity because it gives us something to do, but I think also because we’re addicted to effort. 

Effort, however, is not what drives results. 

This is something I’ve noticed about myself over the last 6 months—I’m working really hard. But is the work I’m working really hard at the best use of my work time? Not always. 

It’s easy to create complexity—buying more stuff, building systems that take a lot of effort to use, staying in the wrong relationships/friendships, and generally building things up to be bigger issues or obstacles in our mind then they really are. 

If you’re feeling bogged down by life’s complexity lately, it’s probably because you’re making things more complex than they need to be. 

Take a step back, take 3 really big deep breaths, figure out how you can simplify, and then implement the simpler solution. 

Life is really, truly simple, and beautifully so. 

Don’t make it unnecessarily complicated and messy.

You’ve Got to Disconnect From the Fake Stuff to Reconnect With the Real Stuff.

Life can get crazy, and we can easily get swept up in the craziness of it. 

In those moments, we scramble to do half-assed work, check things off a to-do list, and get to inbox zero. We try to put systems in place to become more efficient. We go to The Container Store and drop a lot of money on random bins and files and calendars we’ll probably never use. 

…but none of those actions ever feel quite right, do they? I don’t know about you, but often when I do these things, I get the overwhelming sense that I’m totally missing the mark. 

You see, that’s what happens when you get swept up in craziness: rather than running things, you become run by things. You can’t keep up. There’s always more stuff to do, errands to run, emails to answer, people to get back to. 

I suspect that the solution to the craziness is far more simple. 

Slow down. Eat a meal without opening up your computer or having a conversation. Wake up in the morning and, instead of checking your email, peer out of your window. Pause. Reflect. Smile. 

Cook a meal and invite friends over. Take a bubble bath. Stay in for the weekend. Shut off your email. Shut off your smartphone.

You’ve got to disconnect from the fake stuff to reconnect to the real stuff. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop trying to do more. Stop the glorification of busy. Just listen to your body, heart, and mind. Slow down, so you can speed up when it really matters. 

Just soak up and savor the moment you’re in, no matter how disorganized or hectic.  

Just appreciate today. 

And remember to breathe. 

Life is Not a Screen. Take Time to Enjoy the Real Thing.

It’s easy to get sucked up in social media and all things digital. 

But there’s no substitute for the sun kissing your face. For a face-to-face human interaction with someone you love. For a stolen moment of silence in a hectic day. For time to have a coffee and journal. For the warmth of a handshake or a hug. 

While you’re online wasting time, your real life is waiting. 

Go reclaim it. 

Go enjoy it.