We All Need Free Time, But How Much Is Too Much?

Life gets so busy with work, kids, and all those other responsibilities that it sometimes seems like all I’d like to do is stop for 5 minutes and just catch my breath. Like me, you’ve probably seen those studies about how not having enough free time can lead to stress and discontentment. But, it turns out that having TOO MUCH free time can also be a problem. So, how much time should you actually be wishing for? 


Why Is Free Time Important?

Free time is important because it’s the best way to allow yourself to relax and refresh yourself. Since most of us (52%) never take a vacation, free time is the only time you probably have to decompress, unwind, and really allow yourself to breathe. While the old saying is that “money can’t buy happiness,” free time sure can help. But, there are more reasons why free time is so essential.

Self-care feels so indulgent, but it’s actually one of the most basic things you can do to support and improve your physical and mental health. Even if self-care might feel indulgent or selfish, it’s now more important than ever, with FlexJobs estimating that 75% of workers have experienced burnout with 67% reporting worsening burnout. When you make free time a priority, you are setting boundaries and demonstrating that it is important. Free time should allow you to tune out the demands from work and life at least for a little while. 

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes, “No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.”

The Artist's Way

When was the last time you really got excited about something that you did?

Is Too Much Free Time A Bad Thing?

Too much free time could lead to a decline in well-being, according to a new study from the American Psychological Association. That’s why retirement, long-term unemployment or “furlough” are negative experiences. It may technically be free time, but there’s no sense of purpose or direction. 

In the study, Marissa Sharif, PhD, says, “Our findings suggest that ending up with entire days free to fill at one’s discretion may leave one similarly unhappy.” With no productive purpose to my days, excessive leisure time drives me a bit nuts. There’s only so much time I can spend on the beach without any other productive use of my time. 

“To that initial question, shall we quit everything and go live on a desert island, the answer is no,” Cassie Mogilner Holmes says. “We, as humans, don’t like to be idle.” Instead of imagining how copious amounts of free time will solve all our problems, I want to consider more carefully how I can lead a life of purpose and meaning. 

How Much Free Time Do You Need?

Free time is a tricky thing. If you have too much time, you can get bored and listless. But, if you have too little free time, you’ll likely be stressed, and be prone to burnout. The perfect amount of free time may vary depending on your needs, but the sweet spot may be between 2 and 5 hours every day. 

Some studies put that time frame at closer to 7 hours, but I personally think that is a bit long for every day. I could see where you might need that much free time to fit in all your activities on a vacation, but setting THAT much time aside on a “normal” day seems daunting even on a good day. Of course, for you, that might be the perfect amount of time to fill for free time. 

So, no matter what the studies say, you have to find the target number of hours that works for you. Gabriela Tonietta, assistant professor of marketing at Rutgers Business School, says, “The important thing is that you carve out a couple hours in your day, and that you’re spending it in ways you want — not on obligations.”

What Will You Do In Your Free Time?

What you do with your free time does matter, which is why you need to make time for yourself. But you also need to remind yourself that discretionary time will improve your life. As for me, free time serves a purpose to de-stress my life, but it also makes me a better parent, friend, and human being.

So, even if it’s sometimes easy to find excuses to put off taking time for yourself, you’ve got to schedule time for yourself. You can’t leave it to chance. Nobody will do it for you. It’s up to you to make sure that you target the number of hours you need and then pencil it into your schedule. 

Start making a list of the activities. Remember, you could plan a walk by the river for a few hours or you could pencil in stargazing. You might even include your morning yoga routine and the time you spend journaling every day. You may have enjoyed those activities before, but you just fell out of the habit. That’s why you’re putting it on the calendar, so that nobody can steal your time. 

It doesn’t have to be a one-and-done activity. As you work your way down your list, you may find that you want to use free time every day for certain activities, while other activities take up a once-a-week slot. For example, you might schedule the time to cook up your favorite recipe, which you never seem to have the time for. 

Since this free time is all about you, take the time to reconnect with your friends. Schedule some volunteer work at the animal shelter, so you can play with the puppies. Become a classroom helper, or visit the local food pantry to give back. Start a new hobby or pick up some paper to write or draw. 

Remember, your free time is about you, but it’s also about allowing yourself to do those things that make you happy, without worrying about whether it will make you money. So, helping others and being part of a support system for others can be part of the free time you schedule and enjoy. You’ll be amazed by how good you’ll feel when you stop thinking of time as strictly having a monetary value. 

You’re investing in your own happiness and self-care. Along the way, you’re nurturing relationships and making an enormous impact not only on your own health and wellness but also on those around you. Seline Malkoc, associate professor of marketing at Ohio State University, says, “We need to know what makes us happy and take a moment to take stock of our activities, what we choose to do and what really does contribute to happiness in our lives.”


What types of free time make you feel happier and healthier? Share your tips in the comments!

For More Articles About Self Care, Read These:

These 6 Practices Will Give You Your Best Self-Care Sunday Ever

Are You Neglecting Your Most Important Relationship? Here’s How & Why To Date Yourself

These 15 Self Love Affirmations Will Remind You To Care For Yourself

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