Ah, free time. Who doesn't love to wake up in the morning without an agenda of any kind? But although "scheduled free time" might seem like something of an oxymoron, the truth of the matter is that scheduling your free time is actually worth considering. I know, I know: Even for the most organized among us, not every minute of your day needs to be scheduled. Spontaneity can be really good for you, especially when it comes to self-discovery and introspection. That said, even if you aren't always organized (let's be real: how many adorable planners and journals have you bought only to have them sit there doing nothing by collect dust on your desk?), it can be super beneficial to organize your free time. It can help prevent those dreaded chores and random tasks that don't necessarily fall under the heading of "work" from building up over time, thereby helping us keep our stress levels down.
Over at Psychology Today, Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D, explains what she calls the "free time trap" — something I can personally attest to falling into many, many times myself. For Carter, the "free time trap" happens when "your plan is to use that free time to get all those nagging, perpetually incomplete projects out of the way once and for all. But before you know it that extra time has evaporated into thin air and nothing got accomplished." We've all been there, and sometimes, it's totally OK and necessary: If your body is telling you that you need to slow down so you can catch up on sleep, take a walk, call your mom, or just do literally nothing at all, it's important to listen to your instincts and not push yourself to keep ticking off goals on a list. That might just result in sabotaging your health.
But let's say you're realizing that your free time is getting a little too, well, free. If you're looking to shape it up a bit, the biggest tip out there is maybe not the most surprising or innovative on the surface, but is incredibly flexible and useful no matter your situation. What is it? Write a list.
Seriously: Write many, many lists to organize your free time. What if you're used to writing lists for all of your daily responsibilities? Do it anyway. Never write lists? Give it a try! You can use a paper and pencil, an app on your phone, a document on your computer, or heck, the back of an old receipt you've carried around in your purse way too long. The significant thing is that you're making a pointed decision to label your free time and give yourself time and space to organize what your necessities, wants, and goals are.
For instance, let's say you have a few days off from work. Off the top of your head, your first wants are probably to do something fun (or hey, to catch up on sleep). That's OK! Right those things down, and try to be specific: Who haven't you hung out with in forever? Who is in town visiting and won't be around again for a while? Noting these things ahead of time helps you stay organized and actually plan things without waiting for the very last minute. This can keep your free time from becoming stressful.
Aside from pleasurable activities, free time can also be a good chance to get done the things you typically put off. Need to clean the bathroom? Wash your pets? Donate old clothing? List some of these tasks and schedule them in between fun free time activities like watching Netflix or Skyping with your friends. This gives you balance — you're still accomplishing what you need to get done, but you're not jam-packing yourself with obligation after obligation. Giving yourself something to look forward to (like another episode of Orange iI the New Black) can also help function as a reward for yourself after you finishing a chore you might not be crazy about.
While our free time is precious and we want to enjoy it, it's also a good idea to use it wisely, so you don't end up with more stress or frustration later when tasks build up — after all, cleaning the bathroom only gets worse the longer you put it off!