While we often consider productivity a measure of our self-worth, many of us unwittingly undermine our own aspirations by not making the most of our down time. Plopping down in front of the TV or scrolling social media have become normal forms of relaxation after a long and stressful day at work, but there are way better ways to unwind.
In fact, by using your free hours wisely, you may find that you not only get more done, but also find life much more satisfying. Aside from being detrimental for your eyes, the problem with watching a screen is that it rarely stimulates you to use your brain or your body. It keeps you interested just enough to keep you there — a perfect recipe for wasted time.
Fiddling with your phone can be even more addictive. With access to the whole Internet, you can get trapped in an endless stream of online content far worse than your regular broadcasting schedule.
A habit of viewing and vegging can not only inspire further inactivity, it is often a catalyst for other unhealthy habits, like snacking on junk food. Before you know it, the day is over, and, since very little personal satisfaction can be obtained in this way, you feel as if you’ve done nothing but work all day.
Breaking out of this habit requires some will power and a strategy. We can help with the latter.
Follow your dreams
To make the most of your free time, you’ll want to first identify some things you would like to accomplish but have never gotten around to. Make a list of activities that require some thought and action.
Think of enriching pursuits that involve exercise, being with other people, or continuing education. Avoid unproductive activities like watching television.
The list can be long, and might include things like learning new skills, joining a club, creative projects, helping others, cooking, gardening, various sports, reading classical literature or entertaining. The more you include on your wish list, the more that’s likely to get done.
Satisfaction is key
Naturally, you should consider things you enjoy. With the mind and body engaged, activity becomes both fun and relaxing, as physical activity cause the brain to release chemicals that relieve stress.
Preferences vary for each individual, so take some time to try different things to determine what activities you find most satisfying. If you have a mentor, you might find out how they spend their free time.
Try imagining living in a time that was not technologically advanced. We often think we have so many advantages that make our lives easy, but consider how much more productive people were just a hundred years ago. Can you think of some traditional or lost skills that you could keep alive?
Once you’ve decided on some things you’d like to do with your time, make it happen!
Schedule your free time
When planning your day, be sure to include your free time activities. By scheduling them in, you’ll have a much better chance at accomplishing them, and once you’ve worked them into your routine, it will become a new and healthy habit.
Prioritize, giving your most important pursuits sufficient time. Smaller daily goals can be met during breaks. For example, if you’re spending most of your evenings on an extensive project, give yourself a change of scenery every 40 minutes with a brief period of exercise, practicing a new skill, or talking (face to face) with a family member.
Give your full attention to whatever activity is at hand, and you will not only avoid burnout from too much of one thing, but you will also feel like you are accomplishing a lot each day.
You can be ambitious with your schedule, but don’t set it in stone — this would just cause unnecessary disappointment when things come up, which they will. Be flexible and persistent and your schedule will eventually fall into place.
Whether you plan for the week or day by day, try to do your scheduling early, when you have a fresh mind, and before work has gotten you stressed out. Just having something to look forward to can also help you get through the day.
Remember, however, that the point is not just to keep busy, but also to relax. Schedule some time that will be refreshing for both your mind and body, such as meditation, reading, and simply getting enough rest.
Plan your activities
Now that you’ve allotted some time for your chosen activities, you can get specific about them. Think about details – like who you want to join you, what materials or equipment you need, where the activity will take place, and any preparations you might need to make.
Make a list of errands that will start you on your way. If you take care of these details during the day, you can take full advantage of your free time after work, as you will be able to start on your activities right away.
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- Hobbies and Work – How to Make Time for the Things We Love
- Reset Your Biological Clock and Become More Productive, More Proactive
Make people a part of the plan
One of the worst things about sitting in front of a screen is that it shuts us off from other people. Connecting with others is essential for our mental health, so be sure to include social activities. Whether you make music in a band, play on a team sport, join some sort of club, or just have your friends over for tea, make a priority of interacting in person.
You can learn much about yourself by opening your mind to others’ ideas and activities. You may discover a new hobby, form unexpected bonds with your neighbors, or have a life-changing revelation — just by letting others into your life.
While technology may be necessary for our work, we do not need to let it control our free time. Think about your greater goals in life and make a point of achieving them, even if it means skipping your favorite television show. If we make the most of our time to do real things and broaden our minds, life becomes more fulfilling and meaningful.
Ila Bonczek contributed to this report.