The Counterintuitive Value of Free-Time Management
"Happy Friday!" If you are a weekday nine-to-fiver, this is music to your ears. "TGIF" means the weekend is coming, singalling time off.
How will you spend it?
Some people proudly announce that their weekend plans are to do "nothing." Others have a long list of errands, home improvement plans, and other projects they are unable to tackle during the week. Many people fall somewhere in the middle — planning to balance barbecuing and beach going with balancing their checkbooks.
Where do you fall on this spectrum?
The answer is important. Because according to research, ironic as it sounds, time-managing-time-off is an important component to quality of life.
Leisure Boredom Blues
Can you imagine being bored or depressed during your free time? Apparently, this is a real problem. A problem, however, with a practical solution.
Wei-Ching Wang et al. (in 2012) investigated the relationship between boredom and leisure time. They cite previous research defining free time as the "discretionary time remaining after meeting work obligations and self-maintenance requirements."
Leisure time can similarly be defined as time where we have the freedom to choose our activities. They note various definitions of such time blocks, unencumbered by obligations and mandatory chores, are available to be used to pursue goals such as happiness and pleasure.
Nonetheless, Wang et al. observe that many people experience free time negatively. This mindset causes them to view such periods as merely "killing time," prompting leisure boredom or even worse, destructive behavior.
Their research, conducted using hundreds of undergraduate student participants, examined whether five dimensions of managing free time (which they described as including "goal setting and evaluating, technique, values, immediate response, and scheduling") could predict boredom during leisure time.
They found that the five dimensions were negatively related to leisure boredom, and that four dimensions significantly contributed to boredom during leisure. They suggested that given these results, students could prevent boredom by proactively organizing, planning, and managing leisure time.
Breaking Boredom's Bad Habits
Most people can relate to being bored.
This negative psychological state is often tied to being forced to sit in a meeting, class, airport, or other controlled environment where our entertainment/ recreational/ informational options are limited.
But for some people, boredom prompts bad behavior.
Wang et al. (2012) note that previous research ties boredom to negative psychological outcomes including despondency and obsessive-compulsive symptoms, but also to harmful behaviors including drug or alcohol abuse, drunk driving, and Internet addiction.
Following up on one of these negative results, in a more recent study, Wei-Ching Wang (in 2018) explored the relationship between leisure boredom, managing free time, and Internet addiction.
He began by recognizing boredom as a trigger for excessive Internet use.
Sampling 475 undergraduate students, he found that managing free time reduces leisure time boredom, and leisure time boredom increases Internet addiction. The key to preventing problematic Internet use appears to be reducing boredom through effective free time management.
The goal appears to bolster strategies to beat boredom, in order to enjoy leisure time in a fashion that is healthy, socially appropriate, and lawful. But how do we handle the scenario of having nothing but time? For many working people, that is called "retirement."
Sure enough, research indicates we might do well to plan this time wisely as well.
The Leisure Time Blues
Many people who have slaved away, pouring their hearts and souls into a profession for many years, understandably look forward to retirement. Some retirees waltz right out of their office into a waiting limo to the airport, plane tickets in hand, ready to see the world, visit the grandkids, or embark on some other type of pre-planned adventure.
But other employees, after the retirement party punch and cookies, wonder — what now? Here too, as with shorter blocks of free time, proactive planning predicts post-career contentment.
Wei-Ching Want et al. (2014) found that retirees who effectively manage their free time enjoy a higher quality of life. Again, perhaps not surprisingly, proactive time management appears to improve enjoyment of life during retirement.
We are told repeatedly throughout our career to plan "for" retirement in terms of saving money, but it appears we might also do well to plan retirement itself — in terms of strategies for pursuing goals, scheduling activities, and planning other enjoyable ways of spending our free time.
Leisure Time Well Planned
Free time is apparently more enjoyable with a little forethought. Good time management skills predict good use of time off. So look forward to your leisure time — live well by planning accordingly.
This column was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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