spending free time productively with priorities in mind. Plan for your free time

Taking Back Your Time: How to use your free time (when you don’t have any)

Many of you have told me that it’s a challenge to find time outside of work or other responsibilities to spend on hobbies, personal development, or on other things you really want to do because… Well, you’re just too busy! And I totally hear you on that.

Sometimes, we get stuck in loops of doing the things we have to do to get through life instead of doing what we really want to do. We often tell ourselves that at some point this constant cycle of allowing our responsibilities to dominate our priorities will stop, and that once certain conditions are met, things will get better.


“We don’t really want more time, instead, we just want to know we’re spending our time well on the things that are important to us. – Tonya Dalton”

We think, I just need to focus on work until I earn that promotion, and then in 5 years I’ll have time to spend with my kids Or worse, we convince ourselves that we don’t deserve to spend time with friends or family, because we simply have too much to do and not enough time to get it all done. (Sound familiar?)

This week on Episode 083 of Productivity Paradox, we talk about Scheduling the Un-schedulable and how we can learn to make space in our day to focus on our priorities and on getting back to what matters: truly living our best life with the pursuit of happiness in mind.

Today, I’m diving into what is often a huge stumbling block for so many of us when it comes to how we view our productivity: Free Time. For some, free time becomes this sort of black hole where we think that… if we aren’t filling up all of our time by doing something work-related or with a task that we tell ourselves we “have” to do… then we aren’t using our time wisely at all. But this just isn’t true!

I like to think that we don’t really want more time… Instead, we just want to know that we’re spending our time well on the things that are important to us outside of our normal work tasks and personal responsibilities as well. We want to do things that count in a fulfilling and meaningful way so that we can feel like we have accomplished something at the end of the day that just makes us feel good overall.

So here, I want to discuss how we can take back our time in the pursuit of happiness by learning how to use our free time as effectively as possible when and where it counts.

Let’s get started!


1. Define Your Priorities

We talked a bit about this back on Episode 062… But the more we allow ourselves to focus on those things that we “have” to do, the less time we wind up dedicating to what’s important to us: our priorities. It’s important that we make time for what matters most to us, so the first step in figuring out exactly what you want to do with your free time is to decide what your priorities really are!

Make a short list of a few things that you already love to do or that you really want to do and keep it in your planner or posted somewhere near your computer, desk or workspace. These are the things that you want to make room for and spend your free time on, and it’s a great idea to keep them at the forefront of your mind.


2. Weed Out Time-Wasters

This one can be difficult, because it really requires you to examine your day-to-day activities under the microscope.

What do you spend a lot of your time on that isn’t a priority on your list? Think about how often you check your email (and recheck it!), the amount of television you watch when you come home from work, and so on…

It’s important to really take a close look at these things and honestly think about whether they’re necessary or not. If there is a way to reduce or eliminate the time-wasters on your list, great! Weeding out the smaller, less important things we have a habit of doing every day will not only give us space to make room for what matters most… but it will also increase how effective we are in spending our time in the long-run.


3. Make Room

Once we have a clear idea of what our priorities truly are, it’s imperative that we then make a conscious effort to schedule time for them.

For example, if one of your priorities is to exercise, then it’s important that you find a reasonable spot where this can be done throughout your week and nail it down.

Block out a pocket of time where you will devote your energy to exercise, and then schedule the rest of your life around these set times.  Often, getting into the habit of a set routine is the most challenging part of time-blocking… But once you begin to make an honest effort to redefine your time and stick to your plans, making space for what truly matters to you becomes second nature.


4. Learn to Say No!

Back on Episode 007 of the podcast, we talked about how saying No can really mean Yes… And I think it’s important to remember here!

Think about it this way: If we constantly say Yes to every single request that we receive (whether it’s at work or at home), we will either never have any free time… or, we will never truly feel great about how we’re spending it.

Instead, it’s important that we learn how to say No to non-essential requests so that we can instead say Yes to using what precious time we do have in the pursuit of our priorities.


5. Plan Your Weekend

Often the misconception about planning is that… by planning your entire week, you’re left with no free time. But I’m here to tell you now that the exact opposite actually happens when we sit down and consciously plan our week through the weekend.

While I’m not necessarily saying that you should be planning everything right down to the chores you need to get done over the weekend, I do think it’s important that we consciously plan for a little fun.

Think about how much television you watch at home when you don’t have anything planned… For many of us, it’s often more than we might like to admit, right? To reduce the amount of time we spend on mindless activities like television or scrolling social media when we don’t have anything scheduled, I want to encourage you to start planning for 3-5 “anchor events” to make sure that you’re really investing your time in activities that make you feel good about how you’ve spent your weekend by the moment that Monday morning rolls around again.

These could be small things, like planning to take a run on Saturday morning, going to brunch on Sunday with friends, or even completing a half-hour of reading for fun (if reading for pleasure is on your priority list)…

The point is that if happiness is something that you’re looking to cultivate, then planning for all of the fun things you want to do in your free time is a sure way to allow happiness in your life to flourish. If you know you have something fun planned for Saturday when you sit down and take a look at your schedule on Monday… then the anticipation of a fun weekend ahead is often a great way to give your entire week a positive jump-start!


When you have free time, how do you like to spend it? I would love you to share your experiences with your free time and how you make room for happiness to grow in your own life in the comments below!

And if you’re looking to learn a bit more about how to schedule the often un-schedulable, check out Episode 083 of Productivity Paradox where I discuss the importance of spending our time with intention so that we can create space to focus on our priorities and other interests!



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Tonya Dalton
Tonya Dalton