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Lack of Free Time: where Does it Come from & what to Do?


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If you are like me, you probably struggle constantly with what feels like a proper lack of free time. All these things you want to do, need to do, plan on doing… and never get done. So, I paused for a bit to give it some thought and do some research. Here is what I found out about my apparent lack of free time.

How much free time have we left?

Why do you experience a lack of free time? A lack of free time comes from a combination of factors:

  • A lack of energy making you slower and undecided
  • Having too many projects and/or hobbies
  • Wanting to go too fast
  • Bad or no planning
  • Procrastination
  • Saying “yes” too often
  • Time-wasters

In this article, we dive deeper into the causes for our apparent lack of free time and discuss actions you can take to release more time for your leisure activities.

Lifehacks that Backfire

As someone who has been doing these mistakes and suffered all the consequences, I feel like it is important to start laying out the right foundation here.

All these said lifehacks that will supposedly help you get more free time often will result in the contrary. I urge you to be honest with yourself. You are not superman. No one is.

If you want it all, you need your health, first. This is coming from someone who got too excited about building up her first business, and ended up at the hospital because of the stress she accumulated over just a few months.

If You Have no Time for Sleep, You Will End up Having no Time at all

I hate to admit it, but the first thing we should all realise is that there are only 24 hours in a day. Yet, often enough, we try to squeeze an insane amount of to do’s and leisure activities in those limited hours. Some even try to stretch their day out by sleeping less.

But, so far, research has been clear – there is no way to cut on your sleep in the long run without major health consequences. That leaves most of us with approximately 16 hours of our time awake per day. 

What happens when you force yourself to stay awake longer, drinking coffee or red bull (like I did in the past)? Your actual productivity in the day will suffer in the long-term, and you will end up with less and less time to do things or just relax.

I know that it may not seem like it to you. But ask people around you, at work or at home. They will give you a more accurate feedback on how your capacity to focus and avoid mistakes is affected. 

But that’s not all. If you keep forcing your body, it will show you a “stop” sign at some point. This manifests differently from one person to another.

For me, it came with strong belly cramps, teeth pain, shingles, migraines etc. I saw many doctors. Little by little, for every symptom, I had to admit that it was mainly caused by food and external or self-induced stress. Oh yeah. I would never have believed how much stress can be self-induced.

So, no matter how many things are on your to do list, start by having a good night sleep. 

Squeezing all You Can into your Schedule

Yes, you can certainly work on optimising your routine, health and productivity, in order to liberate more free time. But too much is too much. Leisure has to be given some time here and there throughout the day.

And I’m talking about true leisure. Not the “I’ll take a walk, and I’ll use the time efficiently by answering my emails and getting some to do’s done on the way” kind of leisure.

You are never too busy to take a deep breath and do what’s best for your body and mind to recharge your batteries.

Allow yourself some pauses. Else, like with a lack of sleep, your body will start protesting, and you will lose exactly what you were looking for in the first place – time. In your opinion, what was I able to do with my belly cramps or at the hospital having shingles? You’re right, close to nothing. Not even reading a book. I was too exhausted.

You’re right, close to nothing. Not even reading a book. I was too exhausted.

Too many Projects, too many Hobbies

Leisure Stress

You may be one of the doer’s kind. You want to learn to play guitar, refurbish your apartment, build a side-hustle and give your close ones all the time they deserve.

Paradoxically, too many hobbies and leisure activities will cause you to feel acutely that you lack free time.

“Leisure stress” can be hard to cope with.

Start building awareness about this and accept that you have limited time and that YOU have to get what YOU need first. A little bit like when oxygen masks fall down on a plane. Get your oxygen mask on first so that you can help others.

Lack of Prioritisation

Cut down. What are the projects that REALLY matter to you, the people that REALLY matter to you, the hobbies that REALLY do you good right now?

I would argue that this leisure stress is somewhat similar to the food abundance problem.

For millennia, we’ve had scarce food and scarce leisure options. We could hang out with people of our tribe, community or village. We probably knew the people around us quite well, as we were spending most our time together.

We could exchange stories, maybe do some sort of sport activity together or on our own. Maybe learn something from our peers. Play an instrument, sing and dance. And, more recently, as bigger masses have only had access to it for a few centuries – read a book.

What about meeting new people, traveling the world, wine tasting, bungee jumping, watching YouTube or Netflix, checking out your million friends’ profiles on Facebook and Instagram? Too many options, too many people, all too new for our brains.

One concrete example. I live in Berlin, and I could honestly not fit all the cool and interesting people in my 7-day week schedule even if I wanted to, and even if I had nothing else to do than meet and exchange great conversations with them.

There are probably thousands of people I could meet and deeply connect with here.

Once I realised this, it helped me a lot. No more trying to hold and plan out every great connection I made.

I started having faith that our paths would cross again, or that one of us would contact the other to get coffee every now and then because our connection was so great that we would remember it every once in a while.

Wanting to Go too Fast

Most people want it all, and they want it all NOW. Society and, most of all, our electronic devices and social media give us an accelerated time feeling.

Everything can be done “in a day”, “in a week”, “in 3 months”.

Time is probably the resource we feel we have least control over.

So, it makes sense that we want to force ourselves to make most of it NOW. But we cannot do everything, see everyone, get it all NOW. That’s why we have a lifetime to live, and not just three months.

Take a break and ask yourself what is truly feasible in whatever timeframe you prefer to focus on.

Can you really learn Chinese and be fluent in 3 months when you have a full-time job and a family to take care of? You CAN become fluent in Chinese, but maybe it will imply a longer-term effort for you not to burn out.

One piece of advice from Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley, is that you should visualise your life in 3 years.

In that timeframe, you can make a lot of things happen, and most people tend to underestimate what they can achieve over that period. On the contrary, 1 year is too short a timeframe, and you will tend to overestimate all you can do over that period.

You will get frustrated and subconsciously put pressure on yourself if you do not learn to let go a little bit.

Find the good ratio – a few projects only, a few hobbies only, over a reasonable amount of time.

Bad or no Planning

It is great to sometimes let life just happen to you. However, if you have projects that matter to you, be it personal or professional, you will need to do some planning – at least initially, until a certain sense of routine kicks in for you.

A lack of planning would automatically lead you to do things that seem more urgent or appealing, or simply less difficult or annoying. But are these the things you really want or need to do?

For example, when my business partner and I started organising a workshop, it felt like we were getting a lot of things done – e.g. upgrading our website, working on our logo, discussing the content and strategy.

Not that all of this would be bad. But what was really essential was to contact people and see whether there was any interest at all for that kind of workshop. But this “sales” task felt out of our comfort zone, and we quickly realised how we were trying to escape into other, less important tasks.

So, we started planning 2-3 hours per day to do just that. Great. But that was not enough. Those 2-3 hours had to be pushed all the way up on our schedule to be the first activity of the day, otherwise it would not be done due to a “lack of time”.

Miraculously, the other way around, there would still be time for the other activities to be done. Our lazy part of the brain works in mysterious and powerful ways.

Procrastination

Small amounts of procrastination can eat up quite some time during your day.

My morning routine can last somewhere between 1h30 to 2h30, depending how much procrastination lies between each of the routine sequence elements.

When I wake up feeling fresh and energetic, it all goes much quicker and I jump from one element to the other without questioning my routine. To the contrary, when I wake up feeling tired, I wonder.

“Maybe I can skip my little workout today, I’ve been really good lately and my body may need some rest” (lost 5 minutes). “Hmm, what should I do next, maybe today it’s better to start with another routine element” (lost 5 minutes). “Should I really do my cold shower routine today?” (lost 7 minutes)… You get the picture.

What to do about that?

First, as mentioned earlier, you should make sure to be well rested, well nourished, and stay as relaxed as possible. All this will help you have the energy to enforce the things you truly want to do.

Second, you should build a routine. This will help you minimise procrastination time. It may be hard at first to implement it – baby steps will help you.

Tie new habits into old ones. Some amount of procrastination will always be there at some point, and that is fine.

But you do not want your procrastination brain to push you into checking Facebook for 3 cumulated hours during the day without even properly noticing it. There are better things you can do with your free time.

Saying “Yes” more often than “No” – at Home and at Work

Saying “no” is a big time-saver. It requires training and effort. It is all about priorities and balance.

I learned this when studying in college. Two opportunities came up at the same time and I felt like I could not say “no”. I decided to do both at the same time and felt stressed and frustrated not to be able to give my best to any of the two projects. After that, I promised myself to not do the same mistake again.

It saves a lot of time to say “no” to things or people that are not that important in your life.

And it also saves a lot of time to have your priorities straight. If you decide to take on two important projects at the same time, fine.

But be clear – both in your head and while communicating to others – about which one has the highest priority.

Tell people involved that you may be less invested in the second project from time to time, when the first project gets in the way. It will save you a lot of energy to do this beforehand.

Time-Wasters

Netflix, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook… when used in excess involuntarily, those become true time-wasters. Neuroscientists have done tremendous work to make those all the more addictive, which makes it difficult to resist to temptation.

What could help you against this?

Find out what exactly triggers your desire to use Facebook or watch a series on Netflix.

Are you trying to avoid doing something? If so, try maybe doing this task right in the morning the next day. Are you feeling alone? Replace the Netflix habit with a quick meditation session. Are you just trying to rest because the past days or hours have been exhausting? Take a longer break…

There is no easy fix, as everyone has a specific trigger and behavior, but if you manage to pause and at least think about your behavior, you will go a long way.

Related questions:

How can I get more free time during the day? Find out where the biggest chunks of your time get lost. My bet is that most of the time they will be later in the day (e.g. watching TV at night). Set a rule that will help you minimize the time wasted by those habits. For instance, I have a curfew for watching movies (not after 8pm) and for electronics (not after 10pm). Guess what? I meditate and read more often than ever before.

How can I improve my free time? Define which of your free time activities are having a rather negative impact on you short or long-term. Design your behavior to either limit your time spent doing these activities or to replace them by better ones.   

Books That I Love – To Help You Out:

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