Four tips for reclaiming and savouring free time

Four tips for reclaiming and savouring free time

How do you use your free time? Do you often feel exhausted at the end of the weekend? Billy has some great advice for making the most of your evenings and weekends – so you can go back to work feeling refreshed.

There’s an observation made in the 1995 film Before Sunrise that neatly corresponds to our present-day gadget obsessed society. “What good is saved time, if nobody uses it? You never hear somebody say, ‘With the time I’ve saved by using my word processor I’m gonna go to a Zen monastery and hang out.’”

Between email, texting, social media and Google, a significant portion of our daily lives is consumed by digital technology. Additionally, new apps are constantly being invented to swiftly compress protracted tasks. But meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine a society more dedicated to round-the-clock productivity than contemporary Britain.

Technology isn’t solely to blame for this state of affairs, mind you. The central importance of smartphones is symptomatic of the modern imperative to always be on call, which in turn necessitates high-grade multitasking skills.

The economy hasn’t recovered from the crash of 2008, and the uncertainty regarding the UK’s immediate future suggests a period of abundant growth remains a distant prospect. As such, a sense of insecurity courses through the working population, which prompts us to try harder to prove our worth. As a side effect, we’ve come to regard as worthless any activity that isn’t patently productive or useful.

But free time – that is, free from economic considerations and strains for efficiency – is crucially important for our overall well being. Work and its associated stresses typically raise blood pressure. If we fail to reset, the consequences can be detrimental to our physical and emotional health.

So how do we prevent this from happening? Here are four handy tips for reclaiming and savouring your free time.

1. Resist hyper-organisation

How often do you return to work on Monday morning wondering where the weekend went, or feeling like you need another two days just to recover? We’re so accustomed to optimising productivity that our weekends begin to resemble mini-working weeks. Not only do we cram in all the chores we couldn’t complete in the week (domestic tasks, clothes shopping, answering lingering emails), but also our leisure activities tend to be rigidly timetabled.

A heavy workload places great pressure on leisure activities; we expect them to satisfy and excite, enhance and rejuvenate all at once. As a result, we scrutinise the quality of our Saturday hiking trip or football-oriented Sunday afternoon instead of fully embracing the moment.

2. Find a hobby

Finding a hobby into which we can subsume ourselves is a reliable way to actualise quality time. A key requirement is that the hobby isn’t motivated by its utilitarian value, but rather is something done simply for the sake of it.

So while learning the guitar in order to start a covers band or building terrariums to sell at the market aren’t objectionable goals, try finding joy in the pure process of learning and experimenting. By doing so, you’ll enter the wonderfully enriching flow state, a close relative of happiness.

3. Introduce a daily mindfulness exercise

The psychological benefits of mindfulness are gathering more and more support from academics and employers alike. Mindfulness is about paying attention – “just noticing” – and it’s an excellent way to regain mental clarity.

Mindfulness requires slowing down and paying close attention to yourself and your immediate surroundings, and this process of psychological uncluttering can be simply implemented. Here’s an example:

When sipping your first cup of tea or coffee for the day, set distractions aside and notice the temperature, savour the taste and pay attention as the liquid travels from the cup, through your lips and down your throat. Your thoughts will naturally begin to wander, but with each sip bring your attention back to the taste, temperature and feel of the drink.

It sounds exceedingly basic, but even a 15-minute daily exercise will leave you feeling clearer and more in tune.

4. Digital detox

Chances are you’ve already considered going on a digital detox. Perhaps you’ve even successfully avoided all gadgetry for a weekend and spent the following week boasting about it. But a digi-detox needn’t be an all-or-nothing affair akin to a month-long fast or silent retreat.

Technology-free spells can be easily inserted into your daily schedule. If work is too persistent to clock-off during the immediate after-work hours, why not switch off your phone an hour before bed and reboot after leaving the house the following morning?

During your commute, keep your phone in your pocket and observe your surroundings or attempt a meditative breathing exercise. Throughout the day, keep your phone out of sight when conversing and try to prevent emails and social media from completely ransacking your lunch hour.

There are apps that can help, too – Forest lets you set a timer of how long you’d like to be smartphone-free, and gives you credits each time you complete your goal. With your credits, you can plant real trees around the world.

And yes, when permissible, forgo the smartphone entirely when engaged in a truly valuable activity like a close friend’s birthday party, a child’s sporting match or a two-hour David Bowie special on BBC2.

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