What’s an effective use of our limited free time in modern society? What even is “free time”?
One way to define free time is that of just outside of work time, though that would also include your chores and life admin tasks (and raising a family if you have one). Another definition would only include time that’s actually up to you to do with as you please. This may mean that you only have a limited amount of ‘free-time’ per week: after you’ve done your chores, work, put the kids to bed, spend quality time with the partner etc. I’ll discuss both kinds of free time, but I feel that the second kind is more relevant. Time that you specifically dedicate to your chosen activity is quite rewarding and can add meaning to your life.
Outside Work Free-Time
Outside of work hours free time is more obvious, but can be common to neglect. In this case though, by neglecting your outside-work-hours-free-time you could be pushing everything else important to the side.
- Finish work at 5pm, arrive home around 6pm.
- Don’t bother doing household chores, just eat takeaway and watch streaming TV until 9pm.
- Get ready for bed and hop in around 9:30 pm. Watch more streaming TV until late.
While I completely understand the reason this lifestyle is tempting, over the long term it may not be sustainable. You can end up ignoring chores and ruining your sleep. As well as not improving your life or your own self.
Mind you that may be OK depending on your life situation, there’s nothing to say you have to be improving always, though my reading around happiness and life satisfaction suggests it’s good to have something to work towards. (It’s healthiest to get exercise and socialise and eat reasonably healthy though.)
- Finish work at 5pm, go to the gym for 45 minutes (you’ve brought gym gear to work)
- Pick up some takeaway and eat it at home from 6pm to say, 7pm including getting home.
- Check email and do an hour of online learning until 8:30.
- Meet friends for an evening fitness activity until around 9:30.
- Get ready for bed and read self improvement books in bed until it’s sleep time.
This is also understandable for people who really like self improvement. (Even now I mostly read educational books these days.)
From my personal experience, the downside of this is that you are constantly trying to improve or learn, and you never give yourself the chance to just relax and have fun. Your mind is always active. There is research to suggest that letting your mind wander is useful for its own decision making processes.
Some middle ground
Maybe a compromise is to give yourself some mental break after all the learning or rushing around.
- Read a novel in bed.
- Meet your friends for a coffee or movie once in a while.
Actual/Dedicated Free Time
I’ve read articles suggesting that having a regular hobby or activity that you can dedicate certain times to during the week helps to get one through the week and even better if you can spend quality time with close friends or doing an activity to get you into a flow state.
Not wanting to go around suggesting that any particular hobbies are better or worse than others, here are my personal thoughts on some common pastimes and my experiences with them.
To me, reading novels is a good way to relax and focus on something fun, if the novel is engaging. I think it’s good to read before you go to sleep, it can help clear your mind. I’m preferring a paper book with a reading light these days, rather than an overhead light so that I’m not shining the lights in my eyes. This way I’ll actually get sleepy and naturally want to put the book down. I’ve tried listening to audio book novels, but if it’s not fully engaging, I find it too easy to attempt multitasking rather than enjoying the novel.
I like to read self-improvement/self-help books too, or educational books as long as they are engaging or thought-provoking. Recently though I’ve discovered you can read too much of them and not actually end up improving yourself, or improve aspects of your life but still remain dissatisfied.
While I still enjoy the occasional video game, these days I’ve tended to prefer story driven games or multiplayer games with friends on voice chat. Any other kinds (like plain shooters or something) of games I personally find to be an unproductive waste of time - finish playing the game for 2 hours and what have I achieved? Personally I’ll allow myself to play generic games if I just want to clear my head, but I can only get 5 or 10 minutes out of them - I find them too unproductive, even compared to just catching up on chores or something.
I think story-driven games compare well with novels, in both cases you are just consuming a story without any learning or physical activity, but they are both ways to unwind so to speak.
Puzzle games are about the same on computers as in real life, except for the tactile element in real life. Maybe real life puzzles improve hand-eye coordination.
Creative pursuits like drawing or writing, making music, are one of the more fulfilling ways to spend your own time. You get to practise a skill, and gain something at the end that you actually made. The human mind seems to like that for some reason if you have your basic needs sorted in life. Some creative pursuits can even be transferred to work skills too, like writing or photography. For me, writing this blog is about my main creative pursuit these days. But I also enjoy other forms of writing, blogging and photography and on occasion. Frustratingly it’s hard to set aside time for creative hobbies in modern society.
Annoyingly, I’m not particularly interested in sports. Though I wish I was because playing sports regularly is a fantastic way to get exercise, socialising, and if you play team sports, a community. I have friends who regularly play soccer with their team or often go to table tennis, and for them it gives them a particular activity to look forward to and a sense of community with their sports team - they can catch up with the team-mates before or after the game and talk. Of course it’s also a good form of exercise: challenging your coordination, reflexes, improving your running and overall fitness.
If you don’t do sports, there are plenty of other exercises you can do: hiking, rollerblading/skating, indoor/outdoor rock climbing, swimming, kick-boxing or other martial arts. My preference is just hiking because it’s outdoors in nature, and it’s good for my legs, and I’ve enjoyed indoor climbing in small doses in the past because it’s also a bit of a mental stimulation to choose the path up the wall.
If you feel like you are not fit enough for hiking, try just walking around the lake or natural area, working up to hills and different terrain safely, any activity is better than nothing.
It’s good to be mindful of your activities or at the least… mindfully decide you don’t need to be! Some lifestyles and interests/personalities may have different ideas of what’s important. I’m not going to dictate what you should do, but just like, make sure it’s healthy for you, safe, and maybe it’s satisfying in both the long and short term. Make it a good week and be good.