Last week, I left work on Friday and shoved a few things in my bag with my computer. They included information for a memo I needed to write, a publication I’ve been meaning to read for several weeks, an article from a colleague, and several half completed to-do lists that I intended to consolidate. I figured I’d get those done during some of my free time that weekend.
Monday morning, I got to my office and pulled all those things – untouched since Friday – out of my bag.
Because there’s no such thing as free time.
My weekend is just a full as my work-week, the content is just different.
This led me to think about why I was bringing things home on the weekend in the first place. They all had something in common – they weren’t preventing me from getting the essentials done, but they were all activities I planned to “get to” during the work week when I had a moment of free time. Which meant I didn’t get to them because….there’s no such thing as free time.
If you’re familiar with the Meyers-Briggs test, you’ve heard of the P-J categories. Perceiving vs. Judging. In brief (and forgive me if you’re a MBTI expert who craves greater nuance in this description) Perceivers go with the flow, Judging types tend to organize and stick to their plan. I sit right on the border between these two categories, which gives me a peek into both.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing J types over the years. Their ability to sit down, think through all their tasks, get them done in order and on time is what keeps complicated projects clocking right along. They’re the reasons we ever accomplish anything on time.
And I’ve loved working with some of my favorite P’s, too. They bring a spark of creativity – what if we tried this? – and when everyone’s in crisis mode, they’re the ones who lighten the load with humor and a helping hand at the last minute.
For a P, all time is free time, waiting to be programmed in the moment. For a J, free time is planned, down to the minute.
I’m using the ends of the spectrum to make a point:
If there’s something you intend to get done, you have to actually make a decision to do it.
Unless something you’d planned falls through, free time won’t just pop up out of nowhere, like an oasis of relaxation waiting for you to kick back and get those long-delayed tasks done. And, when you do get an unplanned moment, will you spend it reading work materials or going for a walk?
The P may decide late in the day, the J may decide three days in advance, but they’ve both decided – that’s when the magic happens.
There are several tricks borrowed from the world of time-management that can help make this happen for you, whether you’re a P, a J, or something in-between.
- Use a schedule for everything, including those things you’re going to “get to when there’s time”. This includes returning phone calls, sending an email, that errand to the post-office to mail the package you were going to drop off when you had time.
- Decide not to do something. That article you’ve been carrying around for three weeks. Will you really read it? Let’s be honest and get rid of some of the should-do’s that aren’t must-do’s.
- Schedule some quality time. Don’t let your to-do list become your life. Use it to manage your time, including the time you spend with family, friends, and on yourself. After all, all work and no play makes….well, you know.
- When something falls through, use that moment to do something meaningful with your “free time” – that could be focusing on an important work project earlier than you planned, or it could mean going for a walk and refreshing your thoughts. Either way, having a better handle on how you’re spending your time will help you make the most of it.
When we begin to master our time, we’re not dependent on that elusive prey: free time.
For a related post, with additional resources on time management, click here.