Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

3 Simple Rules for Making your Free Time Count

January 16th, 2009 · 21 comments

RelaxedThe Trouble with Freedom

In Tuesday’s post I repeated a familar refrain: underschedule! By now, you probably know my argument by heart:

Having significant amounts of unstructured time in your schedule provides three benefits…

  1. Time affluence which generates happiness.
  2. The ability to master the small amount of structured things you leave in your schedule — the only route to becoming famous.
  3. Freedom to expose yourself to positive randomness, the key to stumbling into cool opportunities.

The argument is clear. Putting it into practice, however, can become problematic. I know this because I’ve received several e-mails from students reporting that they’ve given underscheduling a try, but didn’t know what to do with all that free time.

The result: lots of doing nothing, which made them unhappy, which, ironically, made them procrastinate more than ever before on their work, which made them even more unhappy, and so on.

In this post I want to help rectify this problem. Below I’ve listed 3 simple rules to help you get the most out of your experiments with an underscheduled lifestyle:

(1) Once a week do each of the following:

  • Attend a talk on campus.
  • Go to your nearest Barnes & Noble, grab a stack of books that seem interesting, spend at least one hour with a coffee reading through them.
  • Identify one person who has done something you find cool then send them an e-mail asking them a concise and specific question about how they got started down that path.

These three things are simple. I don’t care when you do them, just make sure you do all three before the week is done. They’ll act like rocket fuel for your curiosity.

(2) Start a Saturday Morning Project

As you might remember, a Saturday Morning Project is a big, ambitious project (when described it makes people say “wow”) that has no external deadlines or outside pressure for you to complete. For example: trying to get a short story published, or grow a blog, or launch a microbusiness.

The key it is to constrain your work on this project to the same time every week. I like Saturday morning because it’s unlikely you’ll ever have anything else scheduled then. But any time can work.

There’s something energizing about making consistent progress on something cool. It energizes you for the rest of the week, not to mention that you’ll begin to shake loose interesting opportunities as you make progress.

(3) Plan Adventures

Free time that you leave free drains energy. There’s nothing more demotivating than sitting on your dorm room couch, lethargic with laziness, with absolutely nothing to do. Avoid this situation at all costs.

Instead, plan adventures for your free time. In the short-term, gather a crowd to see a movie at the art house theater. Or, check out trivia night at the local bar. Or, figure out how to make good martinis. Whatever. Just organize something with a goal and that involves other people.

In the long-term, seek out, register, and plan to attend as many interesting events in your area as possible. Some of the most interesting students I’ve met are those who are constantly leaving campus on Saturday morning to go attend some conference in the next city over that they somehow finagled a student pass for. There’s no better way to bathe yourself in positive randomness.

(Case Study: browse through the archives of Hack College; notice the huge amounts of interesting events and conferences those guys talk their way into!)

Conclusion

Being underscheduled is significantly better than being overscheduled. But if you can’t take advantage of your newfound time affluence, things can still get grim. Take your free time seriously. If you don’t use it for something, it just becomes wasted. The key is finding the right something that keeps you happy, interesting, and impressive.

How do you make optimal use of your unstructured time?

21 thoughts on “3 Simple Rules for Making your Free Time Count

  1. Nate says:

    Wow. With respect to finding more meaning behind underscheduling, this is exactly the type of post I was looking for.

    I know for sure that if I had not underscheduled last semester, I would have missed a few research opportunities, where networking with fellow students in my major proved more useful than my faculty adviser.

  2. Sarah says:

    I love the idea of emailing someone once a week to see how they got started. I already sent one!

  3. Nazim says:

    Some of the most “interesting students” not “interest” students.

    I love this whole philosophy of underscheduling however would developing a video game be a good Saturday project?

  4. Nick says:

    Thanks for this Cal – came at a pretty good time for me. I’ve undersheduled pretty successfully last term, but unused to all the free time just idly frittered most of it away (in an unsatisfying sort of a way). This post is just the push I need to get me using my free time more wisely.

    @Nazim: I would think that qualifies pretty well, providing you have a modicum of knowledge already on how you’d proceed. Every so often I help out a couple of open-source projects (including a game) – I find it a great way to do something satisfying and substantial-feeling, without too much commitment or effort (compared to starting something from scratch). Plus you get to meet and work with cool people.

  5. Nice, there’s many excellent points to interact with, I’m impressed… As a student, I know your advice to be true. I’m a fan of a sat.day morning project. Being over scheduled is never a good thing. Winning your free time can be a matter of failing or passing a class. You’re right, it must be taken serious. I’ll add more later. Thanks for sharing.

    -Mig

  6. Study Hacks says:

    Thanks for this Cal – came at a pretty good time for me. I’ve undersheduled pretty successfully last term, but unused to all the free time just idly frittered most of it away (in an unsatisfying sort of a way). This post is just the push I need to get me using my free time more wisely.

    Nick, keep me posted on how your adjustment to underscheduling progresses. I’m trying to gather more real world stories about this particular piece of advice so I can better hone my understanding of it in practice…

  7. Study Hacks says:

    I love this whole philosophy of underscheduling however would developing a video game be a good Saturday project?

    Sure. Sounds like an excellent SNP.

  8. Also, as a college student I took advantage of the free concerts/plays/activities on campus. It’s amazing how much you can experience as a student and how many influential people you can network with if you’re not occupied with busy work.

  9. Study Hacks says:

    Also, as a college student I took advantage of the free concerts/plays/activities on campus.

    Excellent addition. The arts offerings on many campuses are extraordinary.

  10. Melody says:

    This whole underscheduling thing is great, I actually started that before I found this blog. It works in Medical school! Really, I switched to the 5 year plan and now I have a life again. The first two years I had 23-27 credits, not my choice but now I have about 12 per quarter. This post will help me be more productive with my free time, there are some great ideas I haven’t tried yet.

  11. The saturday morning thing is great. I should apply it more on my blog, cause now I’m making the blogs on the day himself, which forces me to get less sleep, or less homework done. Should do it, but it will be the sunday morning, I guess.

  12. Jenna Puckett says:

    I think this post is very relevant to the successful implementation of your under scheduling idea. Personally, I don’t want to waste my free hours on TV, playing internet games — anything where I zone out and lose my precious hours!

    It’s been a challenge for me to shut the door on my roommates and focus on my personal projects. Being social is a part of being interesting, but personal projects can require intensive alone time. It’s an interesting balance.

  13. Daniel says:

    Awesome ideas here…thanks for the insights here!

  14. Em says:

    Good advice! I have definitely experienced the vicious pattern of boredom leading to more procrastination. Can you give some more examples of saturday morning projects and adventures?

  15. Andrew R says:

    Cal,

    I wish that I had remembered this post when I started my semester this fall. I followed your rule of one and narrowed my extracurriculars to one thing and focused on school and work. I found myself so bored…and now I’m struggling over winter break to pick up the pieces of my procrastination and poorly planned semester.

    This is definitely an important part of going to the Rule of One from my former hectic schedule (where I was in meetings/class/working from 8am-9pm).

  16. Rehan says:

    I have just one business that I launched around a year ago and is going well. I work just three days a week (FULL TIME) on that project. I thought I should start a side business to earn some extra income in my free time. But I’m afraid, the new business might result in a reduced focus and concentration over my primary business.
    What should I do in my free time?
    I really need help.
    Thank You!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *