As everyone knows, parents are notoriously busy and short on what might be called “free time” – at least, that’s the common perception, largely driven by the realities and responsibilities of having a new child in the house.
In fact, to speak of “free time” for parents might seem a bit confused, in and of itself.
It’s not exactly like parenting is a job where you finish work at 5 PM and then have the whole evening to watch Netflix and do whatever else you feel like.
Nonetheless, every parent still has moments in the day that they can spend on things other than duties directly related to parenting.
Whether those “free moments” come in the form of several hours at a time, or only an occasional handful of minutes here and there, while the kids are preoccupied with a new toy, such as the Kaiby Baby Box.
When all is said and done, there are plenty of things that a parent can do in order to get a greater degree of control over their time, so that they can then, in turn, achieve more of the side projects they want to achieve, and so that they can feel more refreshed and rejuvenated, in general.
Here are just a few tips to help parents optimise their free time.
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Reduce the number of things to focus on when you get a free moment
One strange consequence of the fact that we are all now more spoilt for choice than ever before, is that it’s now more difficult than ever before to actually make a decision about what to do whenever a moment of free time presents itself.
According to Barry Schwartz, author of the book “The Paradox of Choice,” an overabundance of choice in our lives is actually very often a major problem – to the extent that it can cause serious psychological distress, while also making it much more difficult to actually reach any sort of decisions, or to achieve much of anything at all.
According to some psychological research, there is a “sweet spot” for choice. Various studies have found, for example, that when shoppers are presented with more than a handful of prospective choices, their overall likelihood of making any purchase at all diminishes greatly.
In other words, having to filter through a variety of different choices and make a decision can actually be tiring enough that it’s simply easier not to make a choice at all.
Clearly, when it comes to choosing how to use your free time, this can be a very real problem. Because it’s not as if you only have a couple of choices at your disposal – such as a question of whether to read a book, or to draw a picture.
Instead, with the incredible resource of the Internet at your fingertips, your options are essentially limitless. You could watch an unlimited number of YouTube videos – skipping from one to the other every few minutes, and keeping dozens of tabs open at the same time. Or, you could read a bunch of different articles. Or play video games. Or listen to an audiobook or podcast. Or update your social media profiles.
Of course, if you’re a busy parent and you don’t have a huge surplus of free time available, it’s especially important that you’re actually able to reach quick decisions about what to do with the handful of free moments that you have.
So, one of the best things you can do in order to actually make the most of your free time, is simply to reduce your possible options.
Consider using an RSS reader such as Feedly in order to aggregate articles and videos from your favourite websites, so that you can easily pick one to focus on at a time.
Or, choose a particular book to read whenever you have a few moments available.
Do whatever you can to short-circuit the decision-making process.
Take advantage of systems and techniques that can allow you to make progress on things in bursts of a few minutes here and there
There are various tools, technologies, and systems out there that make it much easier to capitalise on the spare moments you find here and there.
It might be, for example, that you want to read a particular book, but that it seems like a bit too much fuss to carry the book around the house with you and to open it to the right page every time you have 10 minutes or so to kill.
But maybe by using an eReader, you’d find that the whole process becomes much more streamlined, and that you’re able to effortlessly keep the device nearby and flip it open for a couple of minutes at a time without any fuss.
By the same token, certain platforms for things such as event planning, journalling, or any number of other things, can significantly increase the effectiveness of those free moments that crop up throughout the day.
Practice the art of doing things mindfully, with your full attention
Multitasking – in the sense of deliberately trying to do several things at a time – has been found by researchers to be ineffective, while also significantly ramping up stress levels and negatively impacting mental health.
If you have some free time at your disposal, it will go a lot further, as a rule, if you practice the art of doing things mindfully, with your full attention.
If, for example, you were trying to plan a family vacation, you would certainly be able to get the task done a lot more quickly and efficiently if you gave it your undivided attention, rather than if you were trying to carry out a conversation at the same time, will also having a podcast on in the background.
Even relatively short snippets of free time can be surprisingly productive if you are able to effectively focus your attention for those periods.
Leave yourself some moments for silence and stillness
Every parent has plenty of responsibilities to handle, and the need to be productive is very real indeed.
That being said, though, you shouldn’t actually try to use every spare moment that you have in order to “get things done,” unless it’s absolutely essential.
Sometimes, you should really just allow yourself time for silence and stillness. Not only does this help you to destress and to get in touch with your own thoughts and feelings, but it can go a long way towards “recharging your batteries,” so that you are more energised and upbeat when you do eventually get back to the hustle and bustle of life.
The famous Norwegian explorer, Erling Kagge, argues in his book “Silence in the Age of Noise,” that silence is a rapidly fading commodity these days, what with constant distractions and sources of entertainment on offer at all times of the day and night.
Without those moments of silence, though, it can be too easy to live in a perpetually distracted and inattentive way, and to burn out dramatically as a result.
Set yourself goals that actually inspire and motivate you
According to the writer Laura Vanderkam, author of the book “168 Hours,” one of the primary things that differentiates high achievers from the rest of us is that high achievers “make time” for the things that they really want to achieve, throughout the day.
Throughout her book, the author refers to real-world examples of high-flying professionals who, for example, still managed to find plenty of time for their family activities, hiking, hobbies, side projects, and more.
According to Vanderkam, the degree to which you actually feel inspired and motivated to achieve something is also the degree to which will be able to “find time” to squeeze that thing into your day.
In other words, if you want to make the most of your free time, set yourself goals and projects that actually genuinely inspire, motivate, and uplift you. If you don’t feel excited about that personal project of yours, you’re going to be fighting against yourself all the way, in order to actually make any headway on it.
If you want to get into shape, for example, try and focus on a fitness routine or activity that you genuinely enjoy for its own sake.
Consider tracking your time for a while, in order to see how many “spare” minutes you actually have in the day
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and as if there just isn’t enough time in the day – especially if your main priority is something as important as raising a child.
Often, though, our perception of how much time we have available to us is actually badly distorted, and doesn’t really reflect reality.
For example, the average westerner apparently spends several hours a day watching television – in addition to another few hours spent engaging with their smartphones.
One great exercise you can do for a while – and one that is also endorsed by Laura Vanderkam – is to track your time each day using some form of “timesheet” or app. Do this for at least a couple of weeks, and be as honest and accurate as you can with your reporting.
If you’re anything like most people, you will likely find that a significant chunk of your day is actually being spent on “time wasting” activities that could be replaced at a pinch. But before you can actually set about redirecting that time, you first have to get a clear picture of what is actually going on.