How free is your free time? For a single working adult, free time could simply be the time not spent at work. However, for a mother of two young children, free time may only be the hour or two at the end of the day after the little ones are tucked into bed. While for a graduate student, free time may be only be an idea, because every available hour must be utilized for research, study, and basic human maintenance.
When I was in college and graduate school, I took it for granted that I could run a random errand at 10:30am between classes and still expect to get home by early afternoon. Some years, I remember having jam-packed schedules a few days a week and next to nothing on an odd Wednesday or Friday. Despite the way my classes lined up, the workload was consistent and meant that I spent much of my unscheduled time reading, writing, or studying. As a student, free time did not feel so free. To my anxious, over-achieving brain, unscheduled hours should be utilized to further one’s studies. Unreasonably long reading assignments and upcoming exams meant that there was always something to prepare for in my free time.
When I graduated and entered adulthood full time, free time was no longer an elusive beast. Although my calendar was sectioned into large discrete work chunks, it was an amazing feeling to just come home and not think about work until the next day. My first job out of graduate school was an office job. My experience was not a typical 9-5pm, as I was working three jobs at the time…all the same, the fact that I could indulge in hobbies, rather than simply catch up on required reading was liberating.
Nowadays, my lifestyle teeters precariously between student and employee. For one of my jobs, I am in an office, clocking in and out on schedule. For my other job, I am remote, sometimes researching, sometimes writing, sometimes performing administrative tasks. My work style for this job is akin to the student grind. So, at times, I am filling my out-of-the-office hours with remote work. I quite enjoy this flexibility, however, this particular weekend, I am left mentally drained.
This weekend, I am completing some remote work, which means that I will be slotting some scheduled productivity into my “free time.” While I highly (highly, highly) value the ability to work where and when I want, sometimes not having clearly defined “free time” can add unnecessary stress into my week. I have two hourly jobs, which means that all of my efforts are accounted for, however, it also means that at times, I am struggling to reach a certain number of hours worked in order to receive my desired paycheck. There is nothing (in my opinion) wrong with this system and it gives me some much-needed freedom in my schedule. However, this weekend I feel as if I am now paying for all the flexibility that I enjoyed on other weeks and am booking myself for long hours over the next few days.
Love or hate the five-day work week, it grants us predictability and freedom in our schedules. Working on Saturday and Sunday for me can mean that I work seven days a week, but for shorter periods. At times, I enjoy this routine, because it means that I can leave the office at noon on occasion and take a half-day Boston adventure. However, on other weeks, working even just a few hours on the weekend denies me the mental break that is, perhaps, necessary to prevent burnout. Weekends like this one make me want to rigorously engineer my free time. If I schedule myself to work the mornings over the weekend, then I want to schedule a fun activity in the afternoons rather than simply returning home like any other weekday. I feel that I overcompensate in this way—work longer, play harder.
While my work schedule is not always ideal, I am learning to do my best to work with it instead of against it. Work is inevitable; it is up to us to cultivate our free time in a way that brings us the most internal satisfaction. When you are off the clock, Dear Reader, you are the boss of you and I hope you are good to yourself. Have a happy weekend!