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Free Time [publisher's letter]

Publisher Tracy Patterson with her dog sitting in the desert resting up from a hike

Tracy Patterson

This month’s article, “The Art of Doing Nothing,” reminded me about what’s been crossing my mind these days, almost on a subconscious level.
I’ve been keeping a daily planner for a while now; it’s quite robust, with my time-management schedule, list of tasks, and numerous mindset questions that I answer in the morning—plus I journal in the evenings.
My planner does keep me organized, aware of time, and helps me to remember to do things I might otherwise forget. However, lately, I’ve been feeling a little like it’s more of a continuous “to-do” list, and that I’m spinning around on a hamster wheel, without having a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day.
Part of this may be due to my tendency to fill my day with trivial tasks and push the big goals off—the ones that really count. Rather than devoting my time to meaningful pursuits, the day ends up being filled with busy work. This is pretty much classic procrastination―it’s amazing how long one can drag out some minor task, spending hours on something that should take minutes.
The other part of my discomfort is the “free” time I schedule. The thing is, it’s not really free, because I make a list of things I can do in this allotted time! I’m not actually free to do simply nothing—to sit and stare at the wall if I feel like it, or just do whatever I feel like in the moment. If I don’t do something that is acceptable in my free time, in my mind it becomes wasted time…
One could argue that for each of us wasted time can mean something different, depending on our interests; but, really, what does it matter what we do in our free time? When I was a kid, I didn’t get to the end of the day and think, “Wow, I sure wasted a lot of time trying to build that fort today, when I could have been playing kick the can.” I just did whatever I did that day, living creatively in the moment.
As an adult, I not only assess whether or not I deem the free time I spend a waste, but also often think that no matter what I’ve been doing, I should have been doing something else. Even when I am trying to meditate, I’ve actually had to stop because there was something else I just had to do!
To me, overthinking is the culprit, and relearning my childhood talent of how to “just be”—to spend free time doing whatever strikes me at the moment, or doing absolutely nothing—is key to clearing my mind and refocusing on meaningful goals.