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12 Tips to Improve the Quality of Your Free Time

12 Tips to Improve the Quality of Your Free Time
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    Are you happier at your job, or during your free time? Unless you’ve followed the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi you would probably be surprised at the actual answer. He conducted studies which recorded peoples current levels of happiness at random points both during work and off-hours.

    The surprising conclusion? People felt happier on the job, even though they said they would rather be at home.

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    Csikszentmihalyi believes that this is because, even if they dislike their job, work provides a constructive environment. It has rules, challenges and can be formatted to focus your otherwise wandering attention. Leisure, without any structure, can become to boredom and apathy.

    A good portion of lifehack.org is devoted towards productivity. That means improving the quality of your working hours, so you can work less, get more done and achieve more on the job. But, what is the use of freeing up extra time from work if it will make you less happy?

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    Is Your Free Time Boring?

    If Csikszentmihalyi and his research on the state of flow is any indication, the quality of most peoples free time is pitifully low. Worse, you might not even realize that your time off needs a checkup. This problem made me wonder how I could improve the quality of my own free-time.

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    The solution for some people is just to fill their entire time with work. By making themselves incredibly busy, they never have to face boredom or the possibility of an unstructured environment. However, the downside of this is that this often becomes a deathmarch as commitments overload the amount of time you have in each day.

    The Art of Laziness – How to Be Happily Unproductive

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    My solution to Csikszentmihalyi’s dilemma was to become better at structuring my free-time so it can be engaging, but doesn’t become more work. Here were a few of the ideas I’ve found successful in trying to master the art of laziness:

    1. Get a Hobby – Pick up a creative activity that doesn’t have any goals attached. This is something that you enjoy doing, but doesn’t have the looming deadlines, schedule or to-do lists that is common to your workplace. I know corporate executives that manage to squeeze twenty minutes a day into their hobby and love it.
    2. Learn a Skill – Learning can be incredibly enjoyable when there is no GPA, performance evaluations or letter grades. Try learning a new language, take up martial arts or learn public speaking.
    3. Store Opportunities – How often do you see a flyer for an event or activity, but dismiss it because you don’t have the time? My suggestion is to save those interesting activities so that you can apply them when you do have time. Prepare opportunities for your time off in advance.
    4. Write Your Book – I’ve heard statistics that say 8 out of 10 people would like to write a book in their lifetime. Perhaps now is the time to start working on the first draft. I’ve found personal projects like these can be an enjoyable diversion from the externally imposed goals of work or school.
    5. Exercise – If you don’t like running or going to the gym, don’t force yourself. But there are many different interesting sports and activities that can move your body. Exercising can releases hormones in your brain which improve your mood.
    6. Always Have a Book – Unsatisfied with channel flipping? Having a book (not just reading blogs) requires you to use your brain. Light reading can be a great way to stay engaged without burning yourself out.
    7. Use Your Social Circle – Csikszentmihalyi noticed that flow didn’t only come from work and mental tasks, but socializing as well. Conversing with friends is actually a fairly complex mental task, requiring you to read signals and body language, think fast and respond to comments.
    8. Games – Games have been around long before Nintendo came around. The prevalence of games in most cultures is probably because playing games is a challenging mental task that produces a state of flow. Learning and playing a game can provide an engaging environment without the stress.
    9. Create Something – Creativity is often seen as having good ideas. But if you look at the root word of creativity, create, then creativity can be seen as simply building something new. Pick something small, but meaningful, to create. Spending an hour or two working building something can be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.
    10. Appreciate – I’m sure I’m not alone in that I like listening to music to relax. Improving upon this would be trying to go deeper into the music you are listening or the art you are looking at. Try to appreciate how different elements work together and build on each other. This can be a more engaging experience than simply building off your first impression.
    11. Be in the Now – Focus on whatever you are experiencing in the moment. This sounds trivial at first, but it is actually incredibly difficult to sustain. Being in the now is what Eckhart Tolle believes to be the secret to happiness. Concentrating on your muscles, senses or the environment around you takes mental effort when buffeted by distracting thoughts.
    12. Work on Yourself – I’m sure few of us can claim that 100% of our time is used exactly how we would like it to be. Commitments with work, family and school can mean that a sizable portion of your time is working on goals that aren’t entirely your own. Spending your free time working on yourself, your habits, your goals and your projects can take more energy but can ultimately make your free time more rewarding.

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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

    15 Ways to Cultivate Continuous Learning for a Sharper Brain 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick 18 Tips for Killer Presentations

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    Last Updated on September 16, 2019

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

    We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

    The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

    Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

    1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

    Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

    For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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    • (1) Research
    • (2) Deciding the topic
    • (3) Creating the outline
    • (4) Drafting the content
    • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
    • (6) Revision
    • (7) etc.

    Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

    2. Change Your Environment

    Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

    One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

    3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

    Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

    Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

    My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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    Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

    If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

    Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

    I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

    5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

    I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

    Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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    As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

    6. Get a Buddy

    Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

    I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

    7. Tell Others About Your Goals

    This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

    For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

    8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

    What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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    9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

    If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

    Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

    10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

    Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

    Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

    11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

    At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

    Reality check:

    I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

    More About Procrastination

    Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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