Being Strategic With Your Free Time

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How do you manage your free time?

If you’re a solopreneur or freelancer or side-hustler, you’re dedicating a lot of your free time to running your business. After all, when you’re your own boss and support staff you’re responsible for everything under the sun, from working on client projects to learning new skills to making sure invoices get submitted on time. 

While it’s important to invest in your business and career, you also want to be choosy about how you spend your free time. 

If you're constantly working and tending to your business, you’re going to eventually end up running on fumes. Your downtime is essential for your creativity, inspiration, and well-being. 

Below we take a look at how you can be more strategic with your free time so that you can get important work done while also making sure you’re carving out time for rest and recovery.

Designate a firm end time

The great thing about being a freelance writer or artist, or having your own side business, is that you’re not working on a strict 9-to-5 schedule. You have the flexibility to set your own business hours. 

But the downside to this is that you might end up working through the night or over the weekend. Without anyone telling you to stop or go home, your only clock is your internal voice.

So create a hard out for yourself. Your day should have a distinct set of working and non-working hours so that you have time for rest and play.

If you’re finding it hard to sign off, then create a close-of-business ritual for yourself. After you shut down your computer, light a candle in your room. This is a nice and pleasant signal to yourself that work is over and it’s time to transition into off-duty time. Or leave your house and go for a walk as a way to end your day.

Write your to-do list on a post-it note

To help you maximize your free time without running the risk of being a zombie the next day, make sure to keep your to-do list focused and concise.

To achieve this, write your to-do list on a post-it note. It’s a clever trick to force yourself to prioritize. You can’t do a million things in one sitting. And you can’t fit a million things on a single post-it note. So you have to choose your most important tasks.

If your tasks can’t fit on a post-it note, then save them for the next day or upcoming week.

Schedule in free time 

Scheduling in free time might sound over the top but sometimes it’s the only way to get yourself to follow through.

Plus, designating a time for rest and relaxation helps you manage your day better. You’ll be more likely to be productive during your on-duty hours and actually take a break when it’s time. 

To feel like you’re really taking a break, stay off your devices and do something restorative like journaling or coloring. Or try to do nothing at all. 

Have a plan for “sandpaper” situations 

We all have those personal and professional obligations that eat up our free time and mental energy.

Whether it’s the friend who always wants to hangout but only when it’s convenient for them, or the client who wants to meet with you at all hours, these obligations make you feel bitter, overwhelmed, and resentful.

Career coach Megan Hellerer refers to these types of situations as “sandpaper situations.” She writes on her blogA “sandpaper situation” is one that makes you feel like “sandpaper” to be in, or even to imagine being present for: it chafes, it’s uncomfortable, there’s a quality of friction and roughness, and it’s just plain unpleasant.”

One solution is to simply be more aware of the types of situations that make you feel stressed or overwhelmed. It might help to take a look at your upcoming week and see which meetings or social plans you’re dreading. 

Then, make an action plan to remedy the situation. You can set a boundary and say no. Or negotiate and present a counter offer. For example, if your client wants to meet with you over the weekend, you can say that you no longer book weekend sessions and you can propose a meeting date that is more convenient for you. 

Of course, if you’re not used to setting boundaries, and if the thought of saying no is bringing even more stress, take baby steps. Simply being more mindful of what you say yes or no to can help you be better prepared the next time around.

Dedicate a specific time block for deep work 

Another way to be more strategic with the time you have is to schedule in time for your deep work.

Deep work is work that requires your full concentration. It’s creative work or brainstorming or problem solving. You can’t accomplish deep work in a few minutes or during a part of your day that’s bound to have interruptions. You need a concrete block of time to get lost in your work. 

Take a look at your planner and identify blocks of free time. For example, maybe you have an hour in the morning or Saturday evenings free. Block out this period in your planner for deep work and deep work only.

This way, you won’t have anything else interfere with your deep work, and you’ll get your most important work done. 

Have a not-to-do list

You have a to-do list but you might also want to think about having a not-to-do list. This is a concrete list of tasks or obligations that you don’t want to occupy yourself with during your precious free time.

For example, maybe it’s saying no to responding to client emails on the weekends. Or saying no to “pick your brain” meetings for the next month. Or saying no to doing a big house project on the same weekend as an important creative project.

Having a not-to-do list is similar to making a plan for sandpaper situations. You’re being realistic with the time that you have and you’re not going to overextend yourself by doing a hundred different things. 

Knowing what you’re not going to do is just as instructive as knowing what to do. 

Written by JiJi Lee
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