During the periods in my life when I have felt overworked and overscheduled I have looked forward to a time when things would slack up a bit. I would imagine all the things I would do with my newfound time. Lunches with friends! Craft projects! Regaining my musical chops! Writing! Mountain biking every day!
Since I have made the shift to being a full time student, I do have more free time, but no one tells you about the shock to the system – suddenly you have all this time on your hands and no pressure to spend it any particular way.
The first weeks were bewildering. I felt at loose ends. Class would end I would be home, in the middle of the afternoon, with nothing breathing down my neck. No urgent emails to send, no powerpoint decks due the next day, no 1:1 reports to write. I would wallow in decision fatigue. Bike ride? Writing? Practice the piano? The plethora of choices was overwhelming so instead of choosing, I would default to ….
The Internet! You all knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?
A few weeks in to my new life I realized I was frittering away too much time online. (Did you know there are 12 ways you’re sabotaging your nutrition? Do you know about the 7 ways successful people invest their money? Are you aware that the Kardashians wear clothes and have babies?) Some frittering seemed fine and probably a healthy response to my previous overload, so I enjoyed it for what it was, but it was getting ridiculous. Eventually the internet, like junk food, massive hours of TV or (from my earlier life) smoking, left me feeling less relaxed and more just dull of eye and slow of wit.
Unstructured freedom is kind of scary, so I took the fear as a challenge. How to enjoy a less hectic schedule while still being productive, without succumbing to the addictive lure of overwork? Because it really is kind of addictive. If you’re immersed in obligation all the time, you don’t have to think about whether you’re lonely. You don’t have to think about what the future might or might not hold. You don’t have to deal with all those messy people and their needs and feelings and the negotiation that goes along with having them in your life. You just have to put your head down and workworkworkworkwork.
I consider myself a recovering workaholic. I still run my life on to-do lists and I still feel uncomfortable when I don’t have a rough plan for the day. But my bike and I have been spending a lot more time together, I am working up some Bach and Beethoven and I have been letting those scary questions come in and occupy my head when they are inclined to do so.
I’ve been there! The worst part is the people who express their envy of all your free time, speculating on how much you’re accomplishing/all the improving books you must be reading/how you’re probably spending hours working out every day. You feel like a total slacker because all you did that day was go grocery shopping, do some laundry and read something non-improving.
I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who doesn’t spend all my free time improving myself! Unless we agree that all reading is improving.
I totally identify. I’ve taken a week off to “do nothing” or “do all those things I’d do if I didn’t work” and I ended up feeling really bored and dissatisfied. I need the structure that comes with having something regular to do, and plans and lists and things.
Red, that’s kind of how I am, I am finding. Every day I make at least a rough plan. Even if the plan is just “go to the gym, get groceries, read for a while” it’s nice to have it laid out. Are we pathetic? Or just super-duper high-functioning?
This is what retirement is all about! After a year of retirement, I am still trying to decide what I want to do with my time!
Be careful – you are starting to sound like Brene Brown. Soon you will be giving TED presentations. Finding just the right balance of structure, freedom, deadlines, and play time can be very challenging. Ah but when you do…
Hey, I could do worse than be like Brene Brown.