We like to live life “to the max”. And in this to-the-max lifestyle, our tendency is to fill all empty spaces with something– anything.
We like to fill silences with words, music or television. We like to fill empty buffet plates with mounds of food. We fill our closets with clothing, our shelves with books and our walls with decorations.
And we fill our free time with activities, commitments and obligations. Sometimes we even feel guilty for not filling up our time. As though it means we’re lazy.
But, despite the rush of importance we feel when we open up our Google Calendars and see more color than white blanks, we might be missing out on something every privileged human should enjoy: free time.
Most of us are blessed with extra time outside of working, eating and sleeping. Whether there’s a lot of it or only a little, our leisure time is precious.
Used well, our free time can rejuvenate us. It can allow us to reflect on the week that has gone by. We can eat slowly at meal times rather than inhaling our food between meetings. We can have long, deeply satisfying conversations with people we love.
Unstructured free time is an incredible weapon against stress. When we intentionally schedule unstructured free time on a regular basis, we’re much less likely to feel overwhelmed. When that chunk of free time arrives, we suddenly realize, this is the time during which I am obligated to do absolutely nothing. So what strikes my fancy?
Of course, we can squander it by staring at our phones or scrolling through social media. But we can also, with a bit of creativity, do things that make us relaxed. Or excited. Or exceedingly happy.
Right now, I enjoy regular unstructured free time every week. I don’t work on Sundays; in fact we don’t tend to commit to anything on Sundays. That way, we’re free to spend time with friends, make our favorite dishes, enjoy the sunshine, or read those books we’ve been meaning to get to.
And, while I know that others are rushing off to do stuff, I’m okay with doing less. Because when Sunday rolls around, I feel this almost paradoxical combination of excitement and relief. Can one be excited for nothing? Yes, I believe so.
5 Benefits of Unstructured Free Time
1) You can meet a personal need that has been put off for a while. Whether it means getting outside, taking a nap, seeing a friend or doing something creative, this time can be spent as it needs to be spent. There’s nothing in your way to keep you from it.
2) You will feel less busy. Even if we still have a thousand things on our plate, even just one empty block of time can help us recuperate. And we won’t feel as though we are constantly in demand or rushing around.
3) You realize the world continues to operate when you’re not working. This was a lesson in humility for me– and also a huge relief. Remembering that the world does not need me to be constantly “productive” allows me to breathe, take a break, and accept my limits.
4) You can make changes to your schedule. Intentionally not committing myself has given me time to think about what I am committed to. When we’re overly busy, we don’t consider whether our commitments are necessary. But empty space allows us to reevaluate those things.
5) You’ll actually “have time” to be spontaneous. I’m not a spontaneous person by nature, and I can often hide behind busy-ness or tiredness in order to decline spontaneity. But what I’ve discovered from having unstructured free time is that I say yes to invitations more often: Yes, I’ll come, because I have the time AND I’m not tired!
Do you make space in your schedule for unstructured free time? What do you enjoy about it?