Where Does All Your Free Time Go?

Mark Volmer
Sep 7, 2018 · 8 min read

Did you know: Compared to prior generations, you work less and have more spare time?

So, where does all that spare time of yours end up going?

Why does time always seem to slip through your fingers?

Why don’t you have enough time to:

  • Change your diet?
  • Start exercising?
  • Practice meditation?
  • Be more relaxed?

These are sentiments I hear every day in the clinic. Our lives move at a rapid rate. Often, at a pace that doesn’t allow for the addition of health-related practices. Instead, it’s all about saving more time — microwave or pre-made dinners, pre-cut vegetables, drive-thrus, and 24hr conveniences.

Consider the following statistics about the time-famine found in the developed world:

  • 34% of you feel rushed all the time.
  • 61% of you never have any excess time.
  • 40% of you feel that time is more of a problem than money.

Given these statistics, you’d think that your free-time must be quite minimal. Not to mention all the creative ways companies offer you time-saving products and practices. It may come as a shock to know that you actually have more free time than your parents or grandparents ever had. Significantly more.

Where does your free time go?

There seems to be a time paradox at play here. Compared to the last 40–50 years, you are working less. Yet most of you feel like you’re working more than any other generation. You also have more free time than any past generation. Yet you likely will feel as though you have less free time than your parents did.

You have more free time but it feels like you have less. You work less but feel like you work more.

The average person estimates that they have twenty hours of spare time each week. In reality, you probably have forty (or more!) hours of free time each week. Forty hours is an entire work week worth of leisure time. But for some reason, you’re not aware of it.

Where is all this time going?

Television. And electronic devices. That’s where your leisure time is currently being invested. Consider the following consumption statistics in the United States:

  • The average person spends 5 hours and 4 minutes watching television each day.
  • If you’re over the age of 50, you’re watching close to fifty hours of television each week.
  • That’s over 7 hours every day!
  • If you’re between 35–49 years old, you’re watching just shy of thirty-seven hours of television each week.
  • That’s over 5 hours every day!
  • If you’re 25–34 years old, you’re watching around twenty-six hours of television each week.
  • That’s almost 4 hours every day!
  • You’re likely spending 1 hour and 39 minutes each day on your phone consuming media.

Let’s say you’re on the low end of television and media consumption — you watch four hours of television a day and spend an hour on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just from doing this, 35 hours of spare time every week is gone. No wonder you feel like you don’t have any time! You’ve only got 5 hours of leisure time left.

Doesn’t television or media count as leisure?

No — because it doesn’t bring you pleasure. Instead, television viewing brings other undesirable feelings like boredom, lack of clarity of thought, and low levels of concentration. If you spend more than 80% of your free time doing an activity that doesn’t bring about positive emotions, you’re going to feel like you don’t have any free time.

What should you do with your free time?

You should engage in the activities that you find most pleasurable. For many, these include activities that are either outdoors or social. But when embarking on social or outdoor activities, try not to time-deepen — that is, cram as many enjoyable activities into as short a time as possible.

With only five hours of leisure time available to you each week, time-deepening is something we’re all guilty of. These are the Sundays where you wake up early, go for a workout, rush to breakfast with friends, take your kids to an afternoon birthday party, have dinner prepared for your in-laws, and have a family movie night. All in eight hours.

In time-deepening, you choose activities that can be done quickly, speed them up, and combine them so that each activity takes less time. You may get a lot done in the day, but you won’t feel re-charged or satisfied. Instead, when time-deepening you’re more likely to feel time-strain and feelings of fragmentation.

To experience more well-being in your leisure time, try the following two practices:

  1. Avoid cramming activities together.
  • Instead, carve out time that is specific to one activity that you really enjoy. Focus your energy on this one thing.
  1. Lessen the amount of time you spend doing activities that do not contribute to your well-being.
  • For a lot of you, this mean reducing the amount of time spent in front of your phones and televisions.

Are you looking at time all wrong?

What do you do if you want more leisure time?

Odds are, you’d start managing your time better. Perhaps decrease your screen time. Plan a dinner date with a close friend every week. Or start using an online scheduler.

However, even with improved time management skills, many people feel that time is still slipping through their fingers.

This occurs because you’re focused on changing your behavior. The way you behave with your time may not be the issue. Instead, the real problem could be the way in which you perceive time.

Your perspective on time will predominantly be focused on the past, the present, or the future. The tense that you focus on is your time perspective (TP). It’s unique to you. You will fluctuate between tenses given the situation. But you’ll also have a time perspective that you default to.

The different types of time perspectives are:

  1. Future-oriented
  • Future-oriented individuals are focused on working towards future goals. Sometimes at the expense of present enjoyment.
  1. Present-oriented
  • The present-oriented individual enjoys the here and now.
  • Present-hedonistic: these individuals live in the moment, enjoys adventure and thrills.
  • Present-fatalistic: these individuals believe that outside forces control their lives (ie: spiritual or government)
  1. Past-oriented
  • The past-oriented individual focuses on family, tradition, and history.
  • Past-positive: this individual has a nostalgic view of his/her past and values maintaining relationships with family and friends.
  • Past-negative: this individual feels haunted by the past. He/she tends to focus on prior negative experiences.

Individuals aside, even nations will often have a culture surrounding a particular time perspective. If you’ve ever traveled to countries near the equator, you’ve likely experienced a culture that is very present-oriented. That laid-back vibe is a present-oriented time perspective!

How should you perceive time?

Which time perspective brings with it the greatest levels of well-being? Unfortunately, the research is murky. I’m confident you and the researchers can agree that past-negative and present-fatalistic time perspectives are not conducive to well-being.

Some research suggests that focusing on the future (future-oriented) is the ideal perspective for well-being. But there is other research suggesting that focusing on the future leads to not taking time for oneself, neglecting loved ones, and becoming primarily work-focused.

Other research suggests that present-hedonistic orientation is the ideal time perspective. It’s hard to argue that if you orient yourself in a way that maximizes pleasure at the moment, you’ll experience some joy. Alas, this time perspective is not without fault either. Those who only worry about the present can neglect to realize long-term goals or ambitions.

If you’re not yet confused about which perspective is best, allow me to dilute the situation further:

More research suggests that the past-positive time perspective is most conducive to well-being. These individuals tend to have the highest self-esteem and are happy with both their past and present life. These same individuals are also thought to be excessively conservative and having a low tolerance to new experiences or change — even if the change is in their best interest.

With all the conflicting research, I think the safe takeaway here is to not cement yourself into any one perspective. There are costs and benefits associated with each. And different scenarios will gain benefit from different perspectives.

A successful perception of time (likely) involves the ability to flip between perspectives. Some situations require you to look to the past to better understand a problem. In this situation, engaging a past-oriented time perspective will be of benefit.

But what about when your friend calls you for a last-minute, all expense paid trip to Mexico?

If you approach this opportunity from a future-oriented perspective, you’ll likely justify all the reasons you cannot make it. Work, family, and life commitments will interfere. But should you adopt a present-oriented perspective, you’ll be better able to partake in the amazing opportunity.

This is a balanced time perspective at work. And a balanced time perspective is thought to be optimal for your well-being.

5 steps to getting more enjoyment out of your time

  1. Like what you do and perceive it as worthwhile.
  1. Balance your time between obligations and options.
  • When I say balance, know that what balance looks like is entirely subjective. For you, balance could look like an hour a week reading your favorite book(s). For your friend, balance may look like two hours per day.
  • The key to balance is creating time for you to have space for reflection. Others call this personal time. It could be time exercising, reading, drawing, running etc.
  • Experiment scheduling more (or less) personal time in your weeks to gauge just how much you need!
  1. Be proactive (not reactive) with your time.
  • A sense of achievement is paramount to feeling as though your time was productive.
  • Try completing something on your to-do list every day. This simple act will make your relationship with time feel accomplished.
  1. Decrease time anxiety
  • Time anxiety comes about when you feel like you have too many tasks and not enough time to get them done.
  • A simple way to decrease time anxiety is to carve out 10 minutes each morning and prioritize your most important tasks for the day. This way, your time is focused on what’s important. You’re being proactive. You’re no longer reacting to situations/circumstances.
  • I like to spend 10 minutes sitting quietly going through my most important actions for the day and week. This keeps me focused and allows me to say no when distractions present themselves.
  1. Decrease your screen time.
  2. I already illustrated how much of your free time is spent (wasted) in front of screens. By decreasing this by an hour each day, you’ll have significantly more time to invest in activities that bring you joy.

Ok, there you have it, your first steps on how to change your relationship with time.

Click here for other ways to rid your mind of fatigue!


Originally published at Fatigue to Flourish.

Mark Volmer

Written by

I help those with fatigue naturally reclaim their energy and share their gifts with the world.

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