Are you happy with the amount of free time you have? Time with no obligations, when you can relax and do whatever you want? For many of us, unscheduled free time is at a premium. Between work, family and other obligations, there’s very little “me” time left at the end of the day.
But research shows having adequate free time is vital for your mental and physical health. Free time helps reduce stress, increase concentration and productivity, enhance your problem-solving ability, and can even improve your relationships.
So, how much free time is enough? A survey by Oranje Casino found that people were happiest when they had at least 4-5 hours of free time per day. This may sound like an unreachable goal, but some basic steps can help you reclaim your free time and the benefits that come with it.
1. TAKE A STEP BACK
What would your ideal day look like? If you’re not sure, try considering this question and write down the most important things that come to mind.
Also, what would you do with more free time if you had it? Simply having a clear vision of what you really want can help clarify what action you need to take to achieve it.
This exercise can also help you see what you should be prioritizing in your life, and what may need to go.
2. DETERMINE WHAT RECHARGES YOU
Are you simply filling your free time, or are you using it to do things that recharge your mental and physical energy? There’s a big difference.
A British study found that the quality of your free time is more important than the quantity. Time spent doing what you love can lead to better work-life balance and greater overall wellbeing. This means using your fee time purposefully can maximize the benefits you receive from it, even if you aren’t getting in as many free hours as you’d like.
Start by taking a close look at what you currently do in your free time. Maybe keep a journal for a week and note what you do for how long. Then look for patterns. Do you do some things out of habit that aren’t really necessary, like channel surfing when you know there’s nothing on TV you want to watch?
Aim to remove time “fillers” like these and replace them with activities you’re excited about. In Oranje Casino’s survey, the respondents’ top choices for spending their free time included socializing with loved ones, relaxing and practicing mindfulness, learning a skill, exercising and being entertained.
Try scheduling your favorite revitalizing activities as appointments to make sure you include them throughout your week.
3. HAVE A TECHNOLOGY DETOX
Taking time out from technological distractions can give you a better perspective on how electronic devices can be unnecessarily consuming huge chunks of your time.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can start by taking some time out from devices for an hour in the evening, or over lunch. But take that time to do unplugged things you enjoy and reflect on how technology has impacted your life.
And when you start reintroducing technology back into your life, make sure you’re only using your devices in ways that improve your life. If you find yourself starting to waste time on them, turn them off and get back to doing what’s important to you.
Grouping smaller tasks together can save a huge amount of time. An excellent example is checking your email. Rather than checking your inbox regularly throughout the day, set aside one or two time slots to read and reply to email. Otherwise, don’t let it disrupt your day. The same goes for social media and many other online activities.
You can also try keeping an ongoing shopping list, but only go shopping once a week. You can do meal prep and cooking in large batches, do all your weekly paperwork at once, or group anything else you do on a regular basis.
And you can rest assured that binge-watching your favorite shows is actually more efficient than tuning in once per week. You don’t have to feel guilty anymore, you’re actually saving time.
5. DELEGATE AND OUTSOURCE
Sometimes it makes sense to delegate tasks to other people when appropriate, or outsource tasks and pay others to do them. This can be true at work or at home.
At work, look for tasks you may have taken on that don’t belong to your position, which may be leading to overload and cutting into your personal free time. Check if these can be taken on by other coworkers to give yourself more space.
At home, make sure everyone is involved in house tasks. Your spouse, kids and roommates can all take a share of the household responsibilities, such as cooking, cleaning and running errands. Even if you have small children, you can include them in age-appropriate chores.
Also investigate what you can afford to pay others to do for you. Oranje Casino’s survey found that people would most like to outsource cleaning services in their home. Other areas you could look at outsourcing are yard maintenance, home repairs or shopping services.
6. MAXIMIZE “IN BETWEEN” TIMES
You can use short gaps of time that would otherwise be wasted, such as breaks at work, waiting for dinner to cook, standing in line or driving. You can use these times to fit in small, practical tasks or consider them free time for briefly recharging yourself.
As you’re waiting, you can formulate shopping lists or your upcoming schedule in your head, and write it down if possible. Some errands, cleaning tasks or other small jobs can be done in 5- or 10-minute gaps. You can also read a book, phone a friend or even do a short meditation.
7. SAY “NO” WHENEVER POSSIBLE
Warren Buffet, the well-known investor and entrepreneur, once said “the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”
You don’t have to say “no” to almost everything, but saying “yes” isn’t always as helpful as it may appear to be. We often agree to do things for other people because we’re afraid of being judged or criticized, or afraid we’ll miss out on something.
Saying “no” isn’t about being disagreeable. It’s about respecting yourself and establishing healthy boundaries with other people. And you can find ways to respectfully say “no” to others without being aggressive.
Research has shown the most effective way to refuse something is to say “I don’t”. This works when speaking to other people, or even for self talk. For example, one study showed that women who told themselves “I don’t miss workouts” were 50 percent more likely to stick with their workout goals than those who told themselves to “just say no” when they were tempted to skip out.