Create free time to spend on activities you enjoy + stress less by preparing for the unexpected
Who wants to create free time this weekend? I haven’t yet been able to fly through the sky like Supergirl, but I do have a superpower. I kick-ass at productivity. The key to my power is working ahead to create free time, and I want to share this power with you.
We all stress about how to get everything done, particularly when balancing college, work, and family. Throw into the mix the nature of life and unexpected things that pop up and even this supergirl feels overwhelmed and panicked at times. I share my strategy to mitigate the stress of last-minute unexpected things and how I plan to create and use free time. Who’s up for less stress?
How to Work Ahead and Create Free Time
The first step is to plan ahead and set mini-goals leading up to a bigger goal.
Let’s say that I have an exam scheduled for the 20th of the month over the first 6 chapters of my textbook. I pull out my calendar and write that date down on the 20th. Then I decide what are action steps that I need to take prior to the exam and list them out:
- read chapter 1, take notes
- read chapter 2, take notes
- read chapter 3, take notes
- review notes
- read chapter 4, take notes
- read chapter 5, take notes
- read chapter 6, take notes
- review notes
- Day 20 – take the exam
Once I have a list of action steps, I plan those out on the calendar as well, spacing it out between today and the exam date. As I assign these dates I look to see what else is on my calendar that needs consideration. Do I have a big presentation at work? That’s not a great day to read a chapter. Am I going on a weekend trip? I can plan ahead and get the work done before departing and spend that weekend school-free!
As you plan things out, be sure to set your deadlines before they need to be done, thus working ahead. Could you cram all of those lessons in the week leading up to the exam? Absolutely. But that approach will leave you no free time the entire week and greatly increase your stress and anxiety.
Use Free Time to Make Free Time
Once you have a list of action items and due dates by which you will complete them, start working. Maximize this even more by making good use of the free time you have today that you didn’t anticipate.
It might feel counter-intuitive to work harder in the pursuit to create free time but stick with me. Let’s say that you have an evening at home and put the kids to bed right on time with no challenges. Love when this happens! You don’t really have anything pressing to do for the evening, and you have a couple of hours in front of you. It is a great opportunity to make a choice about where to spend this time.
Some nights this happens to me and I decided that I really want some free time now. I cash in my free time to read a good book or watch Netflix. I’m intentional about spending my time doing something fun, and it feels so good!
Another night I find a few hours unaccounted for and decide that I’m going to save my free time for later by doing something now. I look ahead at my to-do list and pick something that I can do now so that later in the week I will have the free time when I really want it. And at the later date, I enjoy it guilt-free because it was earned. This is a choice to create free time this week.
Again, be very intentional about this and it will feel equally as good. It sounds weird, but if you think about all the ways you can spend that free time you’ll get the double benefit of pleasure now from the thought and pleasure later from actually doing it. Try it!
If you find that you never have unaccounted for time, you need to take a look at tomorrow and plan your time more intentionally.
Why this Strategy Matters
This strategy probably doesn’t sound like it creates free time because you don’t see it right now. This is also why 35% of American adults of no savings. 🙂 It doesn’t always feel good at the moment, but boy is it nice to have when you need it!
This week my family got hit by a stomach bug, and it was bad. Seriously bad. For 3-4 days, I did nothing but try to keep us all alive. That means no work, no cleaning, no errands, nothing. Once we finally started to return to normal life, I was really stressed about how behind I was going to be with work.
I pulled up my email and my calendar and realized that it really wasn’t a big deal. College Study Smarts ran like clockwork without my presence because I had written posts and scheduled them out ahead of time. My email wasn’t terrible because I had cleared my inbox out before I left on Monday. I had several emails to catch up on, but it only took me one day to catch up.
That type of recovery at work would not be possible if I had not worked ahead and caught up on things prior to getting sick. How would your studies fare if your family got the stomach bug and were out of commission for 4 days?
Here’s the truth: you never know when you are going to be sick or have a major life event.
That would be great to plan for, right? Unfortunately, life throws these things at random and we have to roll with it. If you want to be an awesome college student and make excellent grades, you have to study ahead and bank your free time. You will want to spend it on something fun (like a night out) or you will need to spend it in an emergency (like a stomach bug). Count on the unexpected.
With this strategy, you don’t have to stress the unexpected!
If you like this idea as much as I do, check out my article for Time Management Ninja.
Are you good at working ahead on tasks, or are you a last-minute finisher? Leave a comment and let me know how your time management skills are.
Try It Yourself: 20-minute Challenge
- Identify a big school goal, like a paper that is due or an exam date.
- Make a list of all of the small steps needed to accomplish the goal.
- Start with the due date and work backward to assign dates to your action items.
- Put the plan in motion and be intentional with unaccounted-for time. Do you want to spend it right away or save it for down the road?