How changing how you spend your free time can genuinely make you feel like you have more of it and take care of your well-being.
Work expands to fill all available space.
Work is like a gas in that sense. When I talk to professional colleagues and peers who share some version of overwhelm with work, I ask them about their hobbies, and inevitably I find the same pattern. People working a lot are too tired or, as they put it to me, too busy for hobbies.
If you let it, work will take up all available space in your life. It will discourage boundaries. It will take up any time you're at your computer, not just 8-5.
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It will operate in the background of your brain, solving a problem while washing the dishes or walking.
But slowly, it will also take up the front of your brain space. You'll be writing an email while on a walk with your kids. You'll be outlining a blog post while sitting in the playroom. You'll always be on in a way that is the opposite of intellectually stimulating. You'll find yourself like a dying laptop battery- draining, draining, having to constantly be plugged in because you can't even recharge anymore.
Eventually, work will take up your dreams and your sleep. You will never stop eating, breathing, and thinking about work. You will be a shell of who you were. Saturday will come around, but you won't notice because it's indistinguishable from Tuesday when you spent morning to night sitting in front of your computer. After all, that's all you ever do.
If you don't decide where to spend your money, you'll wonder where it went.
Time, like money, is a finite resource that requires intentionality. You cannot expect your time to be allocated well if you don't make a plan to spend it well.
You can book tickets to watch My Fair Lady at the local theater on a Wednesday night or spend the evening melting into the couch watching your streaming service of choice- just like every other night.
When I first read Off the Clock by Laura Vanderkam, I was enamored by the idea that making memories helps it feel like time expands. As I've put these principles into practice in my own life, I find them to be true over and over again. The evening we went to the pool on a weeknight in August sticks out more than your typical Thursday. The Monday where we took the two-year-old on a bike ride (he can't reach the pedals, so we push him the whole time) is much more vivid than the typical Monday. The Sunday we made homemade ravioli from scratch for the first time sticks out in my memories in a way your typical Sunday does not.
I say "we" here because much of my outside-of-work life is lived in my nuclear unit (husband, two kids, and dog living in Suburbia). But I do have plenty of examples where "I" also applies. The Tuesday evenings when I go to Trap Yoga with my sister, Wednesday mornings I go to Ironbank Coffee with my friend Katie, and the weekend mornings I do Orange Theory with Ricky are all much more exciting and memorable than their "typical" counterparts.
Spending your time well can help you feel like you have more time.
Spending your time well can help you feel like you have more time, but spending your time well does not happen accidentally. Spending your time well- like spending your money well- requires intentionality. In other words, it requires work; it requires planning! That's the thing that makes it hard.
When you're tired from working, you want to feel refreshed, but you're too tired to put in the work to plan the things that will recharge you. This is a hard place to be and a vicious cycle that will only drain your well-being. My best piece of advice: Ask for help. Ask a friend to help. Tag along to something they planned, and all you have to do is show up. That baby step could get you closer to having the energy you need.
In Tranquility by Tuesday (also by Laura Vanderkam), she writes about how one of her "rules" to feeling better is having one big adventure and one little adventure every week. Put differently, the way to feel better is by doing more. At first glance, this can seem backward. Since making sure we have a big and a little adventure in this household, I feel a difference in my quality of life. Despite having serious demands at work, a partner with his own demanding job, and two small children, I have never felt better about my time.
Sometimes the "adventure" is driving through the car wash, seeing Christmas lights, or walking through Sam's Club but not buying anything. Sometimes, it's a walk around the block to find the "quack quacks," trying a new recipe, or cheering on the River Dragons. Adventures can be whatever you want them to be. They are the things that refresh you, that force you out of the "typical" day-to-day, and contribute to new memories.
Hobbies, adventures, and examples that can help take up the available space.
I can't tell you what the appropriate activities for you are. You know your interests. But here are some things that you can think about as you consider your adventures...
What would you think of as an intention for your adventures? Are you trying to meet new people? In that case, you may not consider perusing the library as your new adventure. But the library might be a perfect adventure if you're looking to discover new books.
Intentions to consider:
make friends/meet new people
get out of the house
reconnect with an old joy
With your intentions in mind, you can help find hobbies or adventures that help make those things happen. For example, joining a sports team for a sport you haven't played in years can help you do all four. I first joined CrossFit in 2016 intending to get out of the house regularly and found that I quickly also made great friends there.
Different phases of life can come with different requirements.
Today, my adventures are constrained by the realities of my life requirements. Last week, when I was solo parenting Monday through Thursday, I was constrained by childcare. If you're a No Spend Month or focused on financial goals, you might be constrained by a budget.
An adventure can be as simple as reading a book you already have from a park bench. My best friend recently flipped a dresser she found on Facebook marketplace. My sister started roller skating a couple of months ago. I make a needlepoint ornament once a year. Hobbies are just adventures you do regularly. Find the one that works for you.
Sunday was a hard day.
I don't want you to think I've got this nailed perfectly. I don't. Sunday was a miserable day. I've got two sick kids, including a four-month-old with RSV. Sick kids are hard. There is no way around it. At one point in the early evening, after spending hours rocking my baby, trying to comfort him, and scrolling through my phone, my dear husband called it out explicitly: "You'll feel better if you get off that thing." He was right, and I knew he would be. Scrolling on my phone isn't an adventure. It doesn't recharge me; it doesn't make me feel better.
There wasn't going to be an adventure with a sick kid, but I could still protect my energy even without the adventure.
What I'm not saying
A couple of things I'm not saying that I would like to be explicit about:
I'm not saying don't work exceptionally hard
I'm not saying technology is bad
I'm not saying YouTube influencers are useless
I'm not saying watching Netflix and other streaming services isn't okay
I'm not saying every minute of every day has to be jam-packed full of stuff
Here's what I am saying: You have limited time. Being intentional about how you spend it can help you feel like you have more of it. Having things outside of work can help you be more efficient and effective at work.
Working hard: I love work. On more than one occasion, there's been the half-joke that "Emilie is a workaholic" HAHAHAA. And it's mostly true. But I also don't work all the time. As everyone who has worked with me knows, there are times of day when I am not available, especially the daycare pickup/dinner/bedtime block. If you only have 20 minutes before you have to log off, you don't tool around on Twitter; you get to work. Sure, it's not uncommon for me to third-peak, and you don't have to. What I'd recommend is that you work hard and do exceptional work. Don't settle for great. Be exceptional. But also do other things besides work.
Technology: Technology is how I make my living. I love technology. But too much of anything isn't good. Draw the boundaries that make sense for you.
YouTube: Here are some things that I picked up from YouTube influencers:
Making my bread from scratch.
Shredding cheese and freeze it instead of buying shredded cheese.
Cooking double- one for now, one for the freezer.
Meal prepping breakfast every week.
Consistently drinking hot coffee because of my Ember mug.
Streaming: I am slowly watching The Crown. My husband and I are currently toggling between Welcome to Wrexham and Homeland. I watched The Bear twice in six months. Streaming is fine. You do you.
Time: Here is a visual of how I spent my time last week across four buckets- work, parenting, sleep, and everything else (including adventures).
What's the point?
At the risk of sounding cliche, there's that quote attributed to Ben Franklin: Failing to plan is planning to fail. This is especially true in the case of our finite resources. Time is going to pass. You can spend it doing the things that make you feel good, the things that help you do and be your best self... or not.
Twenty-four hours are going to go back in the next day. Will you do something with them, or will you look up tomorrow and wonder where they went?
Feel free to reply with your planned adventure for the next week!
A couple of books I’m suggesting
Tranquility by Tuesday by Laura Vanderkam
Off the Clock by Laura Vanderkam
This is not a book about Benedict Cumberbatch by Tabitha Carvan
Can't Even by Anne Helen Petersen
Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew Crawford
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