Free Time

It’s been a bit since anything showed up here. I’ve been intending to write something and plenty of subjects have come to mind, but for various reasons it just hasn’t happened. It’s not that I’ve been too busy, there has been plenty of free time when I certainly could have sat down and written something. But every time I found myself with free time there has always been something else I’d rather do.

Just couldn’t get it in gear.

Back when I was working, idle time used to be a very rare occurrence. One hundred percent of my day was preallocated with things I had to do. Work used up a majority of the day. Sleep used up the second largest chunk. Eating, a quick shower and brushing teeth took up most of the remainder. On my days off there was hiking, skiing, camping or some other activity. The days were filled, there was always something scheduled. The small slivers that escaped the docket were always crammed with something else I wanted to accomplish. Time was precious, and when I had any to spare I certainly wouldn’t waste it.

On the day I quit working all of that suddenly changed.

For a week or two it felt like I suddenly had all the time in the world. There were an unallocated 70 or 80 hours a week free of any scheduled activity, huge blank spots to fill in my daily existence. I had the freedom to fill those blank spots with anything I wanted. It felt like an almost infinite amount of free time, and at first I didn’t know what to do with so much of it.

I was bored.

I started filling those time slots with other hobbies, interests, things I’d always meant to do but never had the time for. And that’s the thing, those blank spots were quickly filled. Soon I had just as much leftover free time as I’d had before when I was working. Where did those extra 70 hours go?

 


 

These days I intentionally try to schedule in large chunks of unallocated time to my days. Sometimes that just becomes what I can only describe as a fantastic waste. I’ll use the free time to surf the internet or unconsciously mess around with something on my phone. It seems a good a use of time in the moment, and then later I inevitably feel guilty about wasting it on something as stupid as facebook.

It is probably good to waste a little time here and there, to not always feel pressure to accomplish, to not always be doing something productive. Those moments of wasted time are actually quite valuable as a way to relax, unwind, recharge. The problem is when one allows himself to exist in that mode for too long, past the point that that off time is offering any benefit. Ten or fifteen minutes every now and again is plenty and then it’s time to go find something else to do. But I’m usually not very good about sticking to a short periods, I am too easily tempted by digital distractions, I tend to get sucked in for hours.

It’s easy to imagine people used to have a lot of quality free time back in the good old days, back before screens took over the world. I suspect back then life was actually more fulfilling, for most anyway. Instead of fluffing away time people actually spent it talking with their neighbors, reading a good book, building something.

But I probably wouldn’t trade places with those idealized imaginary contemporaries of yesterday, this technology is a great tool when used wisely. It allows us to communicate instantly across the world, access a limitless collection of information, and yes, at the same time also waste a lot of our lives. We just need to learn as a society what is and what isn’t an appropriate use of our screens. For some people that’s a very hard distinction to understand.

And then there are people like me, fully aware that I’m wasting fleeting free time on screens, but frequently unable to tear away once I get sucked in.

 


 

It’s not as if I frequently waste a lot of my time sitting in front of a computer or a TV. There are lots of other interesting things going on in my life. It’s just that every time I do get in front of a computer I instantly turn into a technology zombie, and cease doing anything else. The problem is localized and only happens when I am in front of a screen. I’ll fire up the laptop intending to do something productive and instead just get sucked into something that is most definitely not.

Finally after a few months of slacking, today I was actually diligent for a bit of time on a computer. Somehow I didn’t succumb to the temptation of youtube, wikipedia spirals, or trying to set the world’s highest solitaire score. In a period of relative focus I managed to write for a bit, but it wasn’t easy. And that is coming from someone who frequently goes weeks without touching a computer or a cell phone, it is not as if I don’t know how to live without electronics. I feel like it should be easy for me, yet I seem to consistently fail to resist the temptation. As soon as distraction is within arms reach I fall for the trap.

How does anyone manage to get anything done without succumbing to the delicious temptation of digital distraction? Apparently many don’t, social media and other time waste is apparently a major problem in the workplace. Or, here’s another study suggesting that the average person spends more of each day in front of a screen than they spend sleeping. Bugger, I should probably wrap this up and go do something with my day.

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