Let me ask you a question. How much free time do you wish you had?
Is the answer “more than I have now”? or “All of it, of course!”?
My stock answer is similar. I want all my time to be free time. Right?? Don’t I?!
At least, I thought I did. I mean, I definitely sometimes fantasize about the days when I’m retired and my kids are adults and all of my time is mine, mine, mine.
But, I read a study recently that turned my thinking on its head!
There is a sweet spot for free time. And it’s not actually “all the time.”
Now, of course, having too little free time is detrimental to our happiness and life satisfaction. I think you know that from experience. But it turns out that having too much free time has the same effect! Wild, right!?
In fact, this study found that the sweet spot for discretionary time (i.e. time not tied to obligations) is between two and five hours a day. That’s it!
And you know what? I bet that’s easier to achieve than you think.
Now let me ask you another question: how much leisure time are you getting a day right now? Do you know? Is it in the sweet spot?
If yes, time to do a little happy dance!
If not, I think you can get there. You’re looking for just two hours a day that you can spend doing what you want to do, not what you have to do.
Think it’s impossible? Try these tactics:
First, take a look at your screen-time on your phone. Yes, right now. Are you spending 2 hours a day on social media, the news, etc.? Well, the good news is that you can take back that time for yourself. Instead of mindlessly scrolling away that free time, think about how else you might like to use it.
Make a quick list of things you enjoy doing, things that fill your cup. (Maybe it’s exercise, or Netflix, or knitting.) Make a plan to replace that mindless scroll time with stuff you actually enjoy.
Then ask yourself, am I already spending regular time on any of these things?
If so, simply bringing that to your awareness can help you reframe those things you were already doing as “free time”.
Are you doing anything that you could outsource? What if you hired a weekly or biweekly cleaner? How much time could you get back every day? What about taking your laundry to the wash’n fold?
Could your kids be taking public transit to school? Or could you be carpooling? (Carpooling is a highly underrated resource. I started saving five hours a week by joining a carpool earlier last year!)
Could you delegate more to your kids? (Dishes, garbage, laundry?)
What about your partner? Does the division of labor in your household feel fair to all parties?
Are you working longer hours than you’d like? Is there anything you could be delegating at work? (Not sure? Take a look at your workload and ask yourself: What are the things here than can only be done by me? Depending on your role, everything else could be a candidate for delegation.)
Set a boundary
Is your work bleeding into your free time? What if you turned off notifications (or better yet, removed work email and Slack from your phone altogether)? How about setting boundaries on your calendar so that work meetings are auto-declined after a certain hour? What about signing up for an evening class to do something new, fun, or creative, that occurs right after work so you can no longer stay late?
Break it up
Think there’s no way to get two hours? What if you break it up? Can you get four 30 minutes slots of time to yourself each day? What about an hour in the evening, 30 minutes in the morning, and a couple of 15-minute blocks midday? Your free time doesn’t have to be taken all at once to count!
[Side note: You might be wondering about me and how my time stacks up with the data in this study. So, I’ll tell you. I’m happy to report that I’m in that sweet spot. On weekdays my obligations usually end around 7:30 pm or 8 pm, right around the time that dinner is finished and the kids are starting to clean the kitchen. And I go to bed around 11 pm or midnight. So I’m getting around three to four hours of leisure time a day during the week. And on weekends, it’s quite a bit more!]