With the recent global increase in remote work, it’s become harder than ever to draw a strict line between work and play. Working from home might mean we don’t have physical separation of spaces. And even when we work in-office, it can be challenging to leave on time or forget about work once we’re home.
Hustle culture tells us we must be productive all the time. We can feel so pressured to get stuff done that even being sick can cause a sense of guilt. We’re taught to work quickly, and efficiently, and to continuously produce results, often at the sacrifice of our personal development and downtime.
If you’re often overwhelmed by your day-to-day schedule, spare time might feel like a foreign concept. This guide will explore how setting aside time for yourself can make you happier and more fulfilled, along with suggestions for things to do with your free time.
Why is free time important?
In the United States, the average workday is 8.5 hours. But overworking and constantly being connected to email, group chats, or workflow apps might make you feel absorbed in tasks even when you’re off the clock. If you’re thinking about your to-do list after the workday ends, you’re not disconnecting.
The stress from limited free time contributes to overworking. And, overworking could lead to adverse health problems. Spending 55 or more hours a week working could increase your risk of a stroke or heart disease, depression, and unhealthy weight gain.
Don’t forget that work responsibilities aren’t the only things that occupy our time. On top of work, you have to manage chores at home, your relationships, and various other appointments or engagements. That time isn’t spent resting — it’s spent doing other forms of work.
If we aren’t properly resting, we risk increasing our stress and lowering our productivity. Going to work well-rested means we’ll deliver higher quality deliverables. This means we’ll also enjoy more satisfaction regarding our work performance.
Free time is also important for our sense of self-worth. When we enjoy tasks that we love, ones that aren’t also connected to other obligations like cooking for family or completing a work project, we remind ourselves that our wants, needs, and interests are valuable.
Developing a routine that allows for spare time is essential. Set limits at work, don’t stretch yourself too thin with projects and responsibilities, and build a routine that prioritizes all types of rest.
Direct benefits of free time
Here are some of the perks you’ll enjoy when prioritizing free time.
A greater sense of self
How you spend your free time says a lot about you. You might fall in love with a new book genre or take a crack at an intimidating hobby. This leisure time is an opportunity to try new things, get out of your comfort zone, and learn more about who you are. Without the distractions of work or home duties, you can focus on what you really want to do.
You’re a better employee when you’re happy, healthy, and energized. While professional development isn’t the top priority regarding free time, it’s a great perk. Your career success will likely increase because you’ll be more enjoyable to work with and your work quality will be higher.
Practice setting boundaries
Prioritizing free time daily will sometimes involve setting boundaries with managers, coworkers, and even loved ones. But you’re only a better worker, parent, partner, and friend when you care for yourself. Setting strict work-life boundaries is excellent practice for boundary setting throughout your life.
11 ways to spend your spare time
Here are some ideas for what to do in your free time.
Wellness and personal growth
There are so many things you can learn during your free time about yourself. Here are some ways to slow down, look inward, and become more present so you can truly understand your wants and needs:
1. Meditate: Practicing meditation and mindfulness may help you relax, as it’s proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Find a comfortable position, be it sitting or lying down, and focus on your breath. If you’re a beginner, many apps and podcasts provide guided meditation and mindfulness therapy.
2. Read a book: A great book has more value than just entertainment. Reading books regularly has been connected to reduced depression, improved empathy, and social skills, and even increased longevity.
3. Exercise: Just 30 minutes of exercise daily has exceptional health benefits. It increases blood circulation to the brain and pumps you with feel-good endorphins that can significantly improve your mood. Consider joining a local gym or running club or hiring a personal trainer to keep you accountable.
4. Learn a new language: Language acquisition strengthens mental flexibility, potentially preventing cognitive decline later in life by nearly 4.5 years. It’s also fun and challenging, providing you with a fulfilling feeling of accomplishment as you progress.
Try a language-learning app like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone, or organize a coffee date with someone willing to chat with you in this foreign language.
5. Journal: It’s always a good idea to stay in touch with your thoughts and catch up with your emotions. Journaling is a wonderful way to manifest and project — people who write down their goals are more likely to accomplish them. Try setting aside 15 minutes a day to write your thoughts and goals on your phone, computer, or notebook.
6. Clean up: Tidying your home may feel like an obligation, but it can also be a mindless, relaxing task that makes you feel more organized in other parts of your life. A decluttered space often leads to a decluttered mind. If cleaning the entire space at once is too overwhelming, try spending 10 minutes tidying one room each day.
Creative activities can improve positive emotions, help treat depression symptoms, reduce stress, and decrease anxiety. Fun and productivity aren’t mutually exclusive. Here are two worthwhile free-time activities:
7. Try DIY arts and crafts: Doing hands-on projects and using your imagination stimulate your brain. Plus, you’ll adopt new skills and adjust your perspective by channeling your emotions into a more expressive outlet. You can start small with a sketchbook and pencils or dive right in with a spin wheel pottery class.
8. Learn a new recipe: Cooking is never a waste of time. It’s expressive and delicious, and the number of things you can learn never ends. Following a recipe also allows you to focus on something non-work-related and enjoy a fairly immediate reward.
Turning your brain off isn’t the most productive de-stressor, but sometimes it’s precisely what the doctor ordered. Entertainment can also provide inspiration, an excuse to release emotional build-up, and feel-good laughter. Here are a few ways to tap out and relax after a long day:
9. Watch a movie: Like reading a great book or listening to an enthralling podcast, movies are a great way to step out of your reality and gain insight and empathy regarding others’ lives.
10. Play video games: So many types of video games exist, including beautiful adventure stories and challenging puzzles. Spending a couple hours wrapped up and actively participating in a different world can be incredibly relaxing. It can also keep your brain engaged and active while igniting your imagination.
11. Enjoy a game with loved ones: Maintaining healthy, fulfilling relationships with friends and family positively impacts your mental health. People who engage meaningfully with their loved ones, whether through games, meals, or movie nights, manage stress levels better, are happier, and feel encouraged to start healthier habits.
Try organizing a monthly board game night with your family members or playing an online video game with a far-away friend.
Less is more
If you’re used to prioritizing work and other obligations above all else, it might be difficult to see the value in free time. Or perhaps you understand the importance but aren’t sure where or how to create boundaries.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed, don’t focus on the bigger picture. Instead, start small. This might mean deleting work-related apps from your phone or trying a recipe that takes longer than usual. With time, you’ll notice the effects free time has on your mental and physical health, and creating bigger, scarier boundaries will become easier.