Lately, I have had no free time. By “lately,” I of course mean “since November, when I decided that combining going to school full-time with an internship and a job and some freelance copyediting was a good idea.”
Both because I am a glutton for punishment and the idea of quitting anything or truly letting anyone down gives me the sweats, I have not dropped any of these responsibilities. All of this means that something has got to give, and that something has been my free time, and in turn all of my hobbies, interests, and stupid research holes I spend four hours in.
Every once in a while, when I do find a precious, precious spot of free time, I have felt legitimate stress to use it to its very fullest. Over the past five months (and god help me how has it been only five months), these are some of the solutions I’ve found.
1. Prioritize fulfilling and fun stuff
Something I have realized about myself is that if I’m not finding time to read, I’m depressed and angry and grumpy and tired and unfulfilled and my whole life is garbage. Admittedly, I am most of these things all the time, but if I’m not reading it’s especially bad. I’ve also realized that if I’m tired, I may not automatically use my free time to pick up a book. Because of this, I’ve become conscious of the activities that are fun and relaxing for me, but also fulfilling, so I don’t feel like I’m wasting my free time, leading to a tornado of stress and guilt that only makes the other stressful stuff worse. Life is fun.
These activities can be anything, from listening to podcasts to reading the newspaper to cooking to yoga to meditation to some other successful-grown-up-person type of thing. All social things are good for this. If you’re doing something semi-productive, or at least something that doesn’t feel like a stupid dumb waste, then your free time will actually be beneficial instead of something you feel guilty about.
2. Cut out the time killers you don’t enjoy
This is the opposite of the thing above, and also basically the purpose of phones, as far as I understand them? We all have things that we can start doing absent-mindedly and then realize oh lord oh my god three hours have passed and now it’s 2 a.m. and death is coming for me in both a literal and figurative capacity.
For me, this includes: scrolling through Twitter; scrolling through Instagram meme pages; reading Money Diaries on Refinery29 which OH MY GOD HAVE YOU READ THEM THEY ARE AMAZING. A nosy person’s kryptonite. Anyway, I deleted most apps off my phone and I desperately try to stay away from the siren’s call of women outlining their spending in a given week. Now I don’t have to feel guilty for reading the entire post history of some Instagram account run by a 15-year-old Harry Potter fan whose post captions are always like “need to study for chem but I don’t wannaaaa also I think my crush might like me???”
3. Optimize the gaps in your schedule
Unless you are the president, or someone else whose entire life is carefully delineated in a to-the-minute way, your schedule is not COMPLETELY full. The problem, for me at least, is that these blips of free time are deeply inconvenient, such as: the 70+ minutes I spend on the T each day; the extra 15 minutes I have between work and class; the weird hours-long gap between class and a meeting that is just short enough to not warrant going home and back but so long that if I were to sit in the library I would die of secondhand stress, and also probably combust from the growing fury caused by the ever-present performatively and increasingly loud group.
There are two ways of solving this problem. You can use these times to be productive, by bringing study materials on the train or stopping in the library between classes. But because I am not someone who can really Get Work Done unless I have devoted 2 or more hours to the endeavor, this does not work for me. I use these blips for free time instead. I carry a book everywhere (because I hate spending the whole T ride looking at my phone, and also I’m a nerd) and use the hours-long gap to meet up with friends.
4. Have a consistent stress reliever
I’ll be the first to admit it may not be “““healthy””” or “““good””” or in any way advised, per se, but I go out at least once a weekend, every week. There is something about getting elegantly tipsy (or rip-roaring drunk) and going dancing in a sea of secondhand embarrassing BU students that is just fundamentally stress-relieving. And usually the next day I eat a bagel and a salad and stay inside for a concerning number of consecutive hours. This is what works for me.
I would never venture to call this “self-care” (unless in that specific moment I happened to think that would be funny), but it’s good to have a habit or ritual you can look forward to that will also be blindingly fun and blast all stress to smithereens.
5. Save your free days for when you really (really, really) need them
The thing about having no free time is sometimes you really, really need it when you aren’t scheduled to have it. If you know the distinction between when you need it and when you want it, then you can have it when you need it! Usually.
Essentially, even when it’s seven-thirty a.m. and your alarm is going off for work and getting out of bed sounds like a felony-level injustice, you need to think: “Hello, self. Clearly we don’t want to get out of bed, which is normal. Is this because you are sleepy and your bed is nice, or because if you go to work you will have a mental breakdown as Ed Sheeran’s seminal garbage fire ‘Shape of You’ plays for the one billionth time?” By saving sick days and absences, you can avoid screaming in public as the UK’s sweetheart croons a crime in harmony.
6. Try to sleep
I hate sleeping. I have often said that if I had three genie-type wishes, and I had already used one of them on time control, I would use the second to be able to sleep if I wanted to but no longer need to sleep. And I would use the third, of course, for infinite cookies.
Sleeping feels like a waste of time, but the (maybe not) revolutionary truth is that everything else is slightly less nightmarish when you get it. So prioritize it, I guess. Even if it means binge-watching Bill Hader interview clips on YouTube while eating peanut butter cups for five hours instead of six.