No Time to Invest in Yourself? You Need to Waste Your Free Time Better
7 Practices That Can Transform Your Life
Our day is made of three vital stages, broadly speaking:
- Stage 1: the time we spend sleeping;
- Stage 2: the time we spend working, and
- Stage 3: the time we are not sleeping nor working: our free time.
The first two are key stages in our pursuit of healthy, fulfilling life. But how important is it to also align our free time with our aspirations?
Are We Aware Of The Amount Of Free Time We Have?
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” — Peter Drucker
A day has 24 hours.
Assume you sleep for 7 hours. That means that you spend 17 hours awake. Of those 17 hours, 10 go for work, 1 for grooming and other needs, and 2 for meals. That leaves us with 4 hours a day, which includes time for commuting.
Let’s deduct 2 hours for housekeeping activities, children care and leisure. We are left with 2 hours per day. 2 hours per day are 10 hours per working week, Monday to Friday, equivalent to 43 hours per month or 516 hours per year.
If you use those 2 free hours per day wisely, you can add the equivalent of 64 8-hour working days to your calendar, every year, to do things that matter to you. Over 2 months worth of new time, right there.
Feel empowered yet?
What Would You Do With An Extra 64 Days Every Year?
Who you will be in 5 years from now depends mostly on how you use your free time. You can build a business on the side. You can help your community. You can become a lecturer. You can get fit. You can do a PhD, read 100 books or write your own. You may publish 100 blog posts. or do 10,000 push-ups. Maybe prepare for a marathon.
- The good news? That extra time is yours. Already.
- The decision you need to make? Are you willing to invest the time that you already have in yourself?
Let’s see some examples of how we can make the most of the free time we all have.
1. Ditch Facebook for Medium
There is one rule that trumps them all when investing in your personal growth: in your free time, choose to learn over being entertained. And to do so, we need to change some of the automatic behaviours — habits — that determine how we use our free time. A good place to start is social media.
Opening facebook, Instagram or Twitter is not a conscious decision but a habit that gets triggered. It is an automatic behaviour with very little real input from our brain. Mind you, 40% of our daily behaviours are habits; hence the importance of consciously cultivating the right ones.
How do we break the chain and change our behaviour? I will leave you with a quick and practical recipe for you to try out as you go: the power of the if/then rule.
If you feel like opening facebook, Think. CATCH YOURSELF as you are about to fall into the automatic behaviour. Identify what is triggering the habit. Is it boredom? It is insecurity when in a public place with nothing else to do? Then, consciously decide to open Medium instead. WRITE DOWN 1) what triggered the habit and 2) how you dealt with it — This bit is essential as it will create motivational momentum and will allow you to reflect on the habit process. Do this for 30 days and let me know how it goes.
And why Medium? It was founded by Ev Williams (co-founder of Twitter) with the aim of sharing quality, independent writing within a social media platform. You can inform yourself, enhance your knowledge or have a laugh or two while interacting with the authors of the content you read.
You will meet great talent here. If you haven’t already — based on my preferences — you may start by reading this by John Gorman, this by Kris Gage, this by Gary Vaynerchuk, this by Jonas Ellison, this by Jessica Wildfire, this by Gustavo Razzetti, this by Nat Eliason, this by Robert Cormack or this by Michael Thompson.
So maybe next time you feel the urge to go through the latest fail compilation or cat videos on Facebook, try to catch yourself and consciously drive your attention to something that will make you grow in some way. Medium is a great place to start.
2. Introduce “No Extra Time” (NET) Activities in Your Schedule
The average person in Europe spends between 45 and 65 minutes commuting to and from work every day. That is around 5 hours per week. You cannot avoid your daily commute, but you can choose what to do while commuting.
The below are some examples of how I invest my time when I have to do something that still allows my conscious mind to do something productive while carrying out the main activity:
a) Read a book
“Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.” — Warren Buffet.
I read 30 minutes daily. No exceptions. This alone allows me to go through 50 books per year. Reading is a powerful practice that fosters our creativity, triggers our personal growth, and compounds our knowledge. There are books out there containing remarkable insights that we can learn at ease while we sit on a bus. It is up to us to decide to profit from that knowledge.
b) Listen to an audiobook
Best Return for Time Invested when you cannot read, like when driving, or even having lunch on your own on a typical workday. I listened to a whole book on one go while driving from my hometown to our summer place a few weeks ago. Audible or iBooks are great apps for this. You will go through great ideas while consuming No Extra Time.
c) Watch TED talks
Same as per the other options above. Consider subscribing to TED in Youtube watch some great talks online whenever you have some forced downtime.
3. Implement a Weekly 2-Hour Personal Thinking Block
Book 2 hours per week in your calendar to stop and think. We tend to focus on what is urgent, but not necessarily on what is essential for us on the medium and longer term.
To deal with the future and define our life’s direction we need to think. Are you mostly putting off fires on a daily basis? Make sure you save some time to reflect on where things are going. Consider these Thinking Blocks like any other necessary appointment in your calendar and don’t skip them.
4. Hire a Coach
“Have a coach. Everybody needs a coach.” — Eric Schmidt, when asked about the best advice he had ever received.
If you want to take the previous suggestion to the next level, you could ask a coach to work with you on one of those 2-hour thinking blocks, once a month.
Coaching is not hiring someone to tell you what to do. Quite the contrary, a coach helps you clarify and take away your own subjectivity, so that you can formulate your true aspirations and define your future self. He or she will see things of you that you cannot see, and will help you identify the potential pitfalls along the path between yourself and your goals.
Your coach will work with you on your character traits and your workflow to overcome the obstacles. I have been working with a coach for over 6 months now it has been one of the best decision I have ever made. I feel like I am on track to know myself better.
5. Keep a Journal
“In the journal, I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. (…) Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.” — Susan Sontag
Science is overwhelmingly supportive of this practice:
- Writing helps with cortisol reduction, the stress hormone. Try it for yourself. When something worries you, write down about it for 5–10 minutes. You will feel how you distance yourself from the problem as the worries are shared with the page.
- Writing helps us stay in action. It stimulates the Reticular Activating System, which is responsible for filtering external information into your conscious mind. That is why writing every day increases our focus and decisiveness.
There are several ways to keep a journal. The basic premise is to put on paper your daily thoughts so you can clear your mind and regain focus. I also will be going more in-depth on this topic in future posts. For now, check this links to know more about the Morning Pages technique, Bullet Journaling and the 3 Blessings evening practice.
6. Start Doing Walking Meetings
If you are struggling to fit physical exercise into your daily schedule, try to have meetings while walking outdoors. Steve Jobs was a fan of this practice.
It offers a double benefit: on the one hand, science has proven that it walking brings clarity to our thinking process. On the other, by walking for an hour a day you will also hit the daily recommended activity target by most standards.
You will be surprised at how this practice boosts your attention and creativity. Charles Dickens walked 20 or 30 miles a day to reduce stress. Sigmund Freud conducted several “walking analyses” through his career.
7. Choose your remix: combine these practices for maximum impact
Some ideas for you to explore:
- Write through your thinking blocks, and keep a record of it as part of your journal so you can keep track of your progress as you go. Use them to improve your decision making. When making an important decision, use your thinking block to write about the basis for such choice. Check this article to learn more about this practice.
- You can also write notes through your coaching sessions so you can reflect on them at a later stage.
- Or why not doing your thinking blocks while you take a long walk, to stimulate your creative juices?
Conclusion: you have a valuable asset, but you need to extract that value yourself
Our free time is what I call our Attention Equity. Think of it as another type of currency.
Every day we decide how we invest our money, either on material things or experiences. We spend money to buy things now, or we save it to buy stuff in the future. Why can’t we adopt the same approach to the use we make of our free time? Our time and attention are, like money, vital resources in our lives. As such, there should not be any difference in the principles informing the use of our free time and attention on a daily basis.
- How much is our free time worth, and how are we maximising the return on the investment we make of it?
- Are we aware of the decisions we are making on a daily basis, or are we acting unconsciously and out of ingrained habits?
The key is always to remove the blindfold, to raise our awareness so we can trigger ourselves into the right set of actions. Actions that, when sustained, become good habits. If we can do this, we will be a step closer to aligning our behaviours with our true aspirations.