It seems to be fairly well accepted that those who organize and schedule their time generally do better than those that don’t. This applies to both work and study. But what about leisure time or so-called “free time”? Should we be scheduling that too?
Opinions appear to be mixed.
I asked around my circle of friends and family and a lot of people I spoke to said they feel reluctant to schedule their free time, simply because it then makes a leisure activity feel like something you have to do, rather than something you want to do.
And I can totally see why someone would feel that way.
Scheduling something may seem to imply that there’s a degree of constraint involved, which of course, contradicts the idea of your time being “free”.
And I found some research looking at “activity maximization” versus “outcome maximization” which supports this. The paper suggests:
For work activities – extrinsically motivated, instrumental tasks that are performed out of obligation – the expected outcome is maximizing performance. For leisure activities – intrinsically motivated tasks marked by the pursuit of pleasure – the expected outcome is maximizing enjoyment. Ironically, the strategies that aid in activity maximization can prove to be harmful for outcome maximization.
[Source: Activity versus Outcome Maximization in Time Management, Selin Malkoc & Gabriela Tonietto]
What the authors, Selin Malkoc and Gabriella Tonietto, are saying here (or at least the way I interpret it) is academic-speak for: time management strategies, like scheduling, can work well when you need to get stuff done, but not so well when you want to have fun.
That kind of rhymes. Could make a rap song out of it. Maybe I’ll schedule some time for that later . . .
The authors go on to say that scheduling leisure can undermine enjoyment in several ways, but they also discuss some remedies for this, one of which is rough scheduling.
And actually, this is how I have always thought of scheduling when it comes to my free time.
There’s a difference between making sure you have blocked out time for leisure and scheduling leisure activities down to the minute.
The latter would certainly take the fun out of a lot of things. A relaxed afternoon coffee date with Suzy, for example, might feel a bit strange if you’re offering them what amounts to an “appointment”. And if you’re having fun and then notice the time you have scheduled is now up, it could feel slightly awkward to then makes your excuses and leave.
For sure, scheduling in this way kills spontaneity and makes everything feel a little forced because it is accepted that leisure time should be free-flowing and spontaneous.
My own feeling is that time management should not be limited to activities like work and study that aim to maximize outcome all the time because, despite the fact that scheduling free time may seem a little too rigid for some people, it can actually help you to protect your time and really have time to do the things you enjoy doing.
There’s a danger that time management is always about improving your productivity.
It’s really not.
And scheduling leisure time should certainly not be about productivity. Every minute of your day does not have to be productive and useful and it certainly isn’t a competition to see how much you can get done in a weekend.
Benefits of scheduling free time
Dedicating plenty of time to recreation is important for your health and well-being and will actually make you more rested and productive when you get back to work.
For me, the main reason to schedule leisure time is about protecting your time to ensure that it happens and doesn’t get hijacked by your work. I’ve discovered that if you don’t schedule and control your time, someone else will try to control it for you.
Secondly, if you schedule it, you increase the likelihood of actually doing the things you want to do and it is much easier to waste time when activities are not planned in advance.
Unplanned time can easily turn into long sessions of crashing out on the sofa and binge-watching Netflix.
While there is nothing wrong with doing this on occasion and I wouldn’t judge anyone for it, I personally enjoy doing more active past-times during my leisure time.
Binge-watching TV is a bit like drinking alcohol.
It can be fun, but it’s really is a way to escape your thoughts and your reality and can become a bad habit if you’re not careful
That might be spending time with family, learning guitar, taking golf lessons, mountaineering and binge-watching a TV serious with your significant other. Whatever you want to do with your time when you’re not earning a living.
A third reason I like to schedule time is that it demonstrates to your family and friends that they are important and take priority over other things.
Finally, having things scheduled gives me something to look forward to during the workweek.
So, those are my good reasons for scheduling your free time. You can still do spontaneous stuff and if you want to, but spontaneity has a time and a place and if you want to manage your time well and get stuff done, it would be advisable to not place too much importance on spontaneity.
What is the best way to spend free time?
How you spend your free time is entirely up to you. The most important thing is to disconnect from work and make sure that you are not defined by your job.
Expand your interests and your mind.
Personally, I like to make sure part of my free time is dedicated to doing activities that I find challenging, but enjoyable.
I have found that mastering new skills can make you more confident in your work and many hobbies and skills are transferable to the workplace too. Personal interests like learning piano, doing jiu-jitsu and building a blog have helped me in all kinds of ways I could never have imagined and they help me both relax and discover more about myself.
Whatever you choose to do with your free time, be selective in what you do, prioritize the stuff that matters and drop the less important stuff. That’s time management!
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
Opinions on whether or not you should schedule your free time are divided, so it is going to come down to what works for you personally. There is no right or wrong here – just what works best for you.
If I were to make some general observations, I would say that more structured leisure time probably works better for those with children and more rough scheduling generally works better when you’re perhaps at college or have no dependents.
The other thing is it depends on what you are trying to achieve during your leisure time.
For example, I can think back to a period when I was young, free and relatively single and I still scheduled parts of my weekend. For example, Sunday mornings were blocked out for a long run or a bike ride, but the rest of the day was roughly scheduled for “chilling out” – reading, watching a film and playing my guitar. Saturdays were left open for meeting up with friends and Friday nights for going out to bars and clubs.
I didn’t really have a strict schedule, but I had a rough routine. I followed each week.
Years later, my weekends are now dedicated mostly to my family, particularly to the needs and development of my children. So, if, for example, I want to find time to work on my blog on the weekend, I need to schedule it at a time that I know will work, although it doesn’t always work. Read my post about time management for parents for an example of this.
A more structured schedule is only required if you have many things vying for your time and you have a number of goals that you are trying to achieve.
Scheduling does not mean you have to have a life jam-packed full of activities.
It just means protecting your time so that you can spend the way you want to.
[Featured image credit: Andre Furtado]