What do you do with your free time? Do you get super motivated to improve yourself or do you go straight for your phone? And if you tend to waste your free time, are you prepared to do something about it?
The lockdowns of Spring 2020 created a new version of “haves and have-nots”. In this case – with free time.
- My parents and most of my friends lamented how bored they were with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and so much free time to kill. (Grr.)
- Some of my friends told me they caught up on Netflix. Those were also the same friends who were super-caught up on the news and social media. (Ugh.)
- Some of my friends picked up fun new skills like home-renos, gardening and baking. (Kinda jealous.)
On the other hand, my wife and I felt like we barely had any free time. And that’s because we have small kids who need constant attention and our own passion projects (like this blog.)
We’d desperately try to generate an hour or two of free time each day, but it wasn’t easy.
Sometimes though, if the stars, the moon, and rainbows aligned just right, we’d get an extra fifteen minutes of sweet-sweet silence. Trouble was, we weren’t prepared enough to use that fifteen minutes of free time for our best advantage, and so we’d just squander it away.
And now, with Winter of 2021 fast approaching, I don’t want to be stuck unprepared again.
Whether you just have those precious 5 minutes or you have 5 hours, use your free time to grow and become more successful. Follow this list below to blast yourself off to super-impressive status once 2021 comes around!
Spend your free time on learning something new:
Now I’m all for different forms of investing, but I still think the most valuable investment you can make is in yourself.
1. Read a book.
Did you know that Warren Buffet and Bill Gates read at least 1hr/day?
I’m sure it’s not surprising. Every time I read an autobiography or listen to an interview with anyone impressive, the message is always the same. They make time to read.
(By the way, if you’re in budget-y mode and don’t want to go crazy at Barnes and Noble, read my not-so-secret way of saving tons of money on books.)
What do these successful leaders read exactly?
- Autobiographies: Many leaders cite being inspired by learning how other successful people think. Reading about others’s challenges and how they overcame them also puts your own problems into perspective. (Grocery store running out of toilet paper doesn’t seem quite so catastrophic when you read about Britain’s food shortages during the WWII.)
- Fiction: Patrick Stewart wakes up half an hour early just to read fluff and fiction. Otherwise the day will get away from him and he’ll never get around to it. Reading fiction might seem like a waste of time on the surface, but it has some great benefits that we’ll get to later.
- How-to guides and “self-help”: Many great leaders wanted to leave a legacy and distilled all their knowledge into one book. If you truly commit to applying what they teach, you could change your life!
And it’s not just “me time”. If you’re a manager at work, promoting an “atmosphere of learning” can increase business productivity by 37% according to Success Magazine.
Here are a few things I’ve read recently and would totally recommend:
However. If you want to learn a brand new skill like programming, marketing, or even management, I’d suggest that you…
2. Take a course
I can tell you. As a manager, the employees who take courses in their free time not only gain major respect from me, they rise through the ranks very quickly.
You may think that you can just pick those skills up yourself. But then why haven’t you?
A course is designed to make you learn.
Someone took their years of experience and broke it down in a way to make it achievable for you. They ask the right questions. They point you in the right direction. They do the research to give you the best tools.
Take it from me – a major cheapo extraordinaire – when I try to put things together myself, I just go down the rabbit hole of YouTube, forums, and blog posts. (And then I hate myself a little bit for wasting so much time.) Don’t tell me that has never happened to you.
But the worst part is that I’ve just “consumed” so much information I don’t even know where to start.
When you invest in a course, whether you have a couple of hours or just five minutes you can sit down and get right to the good stuff. No fluff.
What should you take a course in?
- If you’re thinking of retiring to start your own business, take some marketing or business development courses. (There might even be some low-cost ones offered through your city.)
- Take courses to upgrade your skills at work, or add some new skills that will make you even more invaluable.
- Take courses just for you like learning to invest in Real Estate.
Spend your free time on deep thinking.
Every morning my wife takes time to write in her journal. At first I thought it was some “Dear Diary” fluff, but then she told me that’s how she comes up with good ideas as well as learns from past mistakes.
It was after some intense journaling that she decided to pursue early retirement before me!
As for me, I like to reflect by talking things through. So we take some time off each day so that we can just figure things out – out loud.
4. Schedule deep thought.
Many leaders, including LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner schedule two hours of thinking time each day. If you don’t intentionally give yourself that time, it will always get away from you.
I have a whole day set aside each week (I’m retired, remember) where I don’t schedule anything or give myself any aggressive targets.
This is the day that I usually produce something. Maybe it’s a killer blog post. Maybe I’ll decide on a new house to buy for my portfolio. Maybe I’ll decide how to motivate one of my employees.
Whatever it is, I save my hard decisions for this day and give myself WAYYY too much time to sort things through. I allow myself to go on tangents, stare at the wall, and listen to some new music.
And whether it’s an action plan or a brand new cookbook. I have NEVER had a deep thought day where I wasn’t proud of my output.
What are you supposed to reflect on?
- If you’re a manager at work, think about what processes you could implement to empower your team (and free yourself up.)
- If you’re a parent, reflect on how you can maximize your time with your family
- If you’re re-evaluating your finances, ask yourself what can you focus on to really make a difference? (or monthly savings.)
Spend your free time on improving your finances
Networking and finances may not sound like they go hand-in-hand, but I can tell you that every exciting job offer I’ve ever had came from networking, and my all favorite employees that I’ve hired came through networking as well.
When you’re on a timer – like you need a new job NOW or you need to hire someone NOW – things can be pretty stressful.
At that point, networking means “catching up” with everyone you know with the same old request. It could also mean going to industry events on a mission, aggressively evaluating the pros and cons of every person you speak to.
That’s not fun for anyone!
Networking is fun when you’re NOT on a schedule. Choose someone you like and find an excuse to email or call them. Use your free time to make one call or blast out a handful of emails like:
- “Hey Layla, I remember talking about your ski trip last year. You going again? Looking for some recommendations. How are you, by the way?”
- “Hey Sunil, what was that economics book you recommended? I can’t stop thinking about our last conversation. Wanna catch up over Zoom next week too?”
- Or use your time to check out some industry events (even if they’re virtual.) Bonus points if your company pays for you to go, and if you learn a new skill at the same time!
I also love volunteering to increase my network. I meet lots of interesting people and get to give back! Double-whammy!
An 80-year-long study by Harvard showed that the quality of your relationships predicted how happy and healthy you are as you age. Relationships need time. It’s not a one-and-done thing. So use the free time you have to focus on one of the most important assets.
Some people deal with finances by sticking their heads in the sand.
If you’re a FIRE escape reader, I’m sure that’s not you. But you do have to make a regular date to check in on your money. And more importantly, finding ways to make it work for you.
This is important, because even with a little bit of effort you can generate a lot of freedom and time for your future.
If I invest $1000 at 7% interest and pay a cleaner $25/hr. In 10 years I have just created $1000 extra dollors OR an extra 40 hours of having a cleaner. Wahoo! Now I have MORE free time!
Here’s how you can use your time wisely:
- Open up an investment account and put some money into index ETFs. (This takes 15 minutes if you use my guide.)
- Go through your regular fixed expenses and see which ones can be reduced by taking action. (Think mortgage, student loan payments, car payments, bills. Everything!)
- Read through this “Free Money” article and see what you can apply to get some extra cash in your pocket.
- Pick a state, city, or neighborhood and research what it takes to buy a rental there. (Get away from thinking a rental property has to be nearby. Long-distance rentals are where it’s at!)
And whatever you save – be sure to use it to use any of that extra cash to improve your financial future! Invest it! (Be it in yourself, in real estate, in stocks, or even just in learning how to invest.)
Spend your free time on “feeling better”
7. Do something that drives you.
I’ve told you about my goal to turn 6,000 people into millionaires just from reading my blog. (If you don’t know how to become a millionaire, start with my guide.) So needless to say, working on my blog drives me.
Even though I barely make any money, (except when you, dear reader, sign up for the FREE Morning Brew newsletter, I get a coffee, thank you very much 😉 I’m happy to spend my free time writing.
It’s the end goal that does it for me. Thinking about all these people who will have financial freedom and can choose whether or not they want to work. Just like I can.
There’s a reason that Google gives their employees one day a week to do just stuff that they want. (Although I don’t really recommend spending your free time on your day joy at all hours of the day.)
If you have some ideas that you think are smart… or just fun, it’s very empowering and energizing to follow through on them. Especially when they’re not assigned by someone else.
Don’t have something “meaningful” to you, think of it this way:
Sometimes, what “drives me” is taking care of something that “drives me crazy!”
- It can be automating something annoying at work, like re-organizing a spreadsheet, making some email templates, or writing a piece of code.
- It could be taking care of that thing you see everyday that makes you go “ugh”.
- It can be tinkering with broken things in your garage or starting a side-gig.
As long as you’re motivated to do it, or putting it off “gets to you” you’ll feel better, so it’s worth it.
Newsflash! Did you know that exercise makes you feel better? Yep. It took a research team to find out that regular exercise (30 minutes a day, five days a week) gives you better brain health, uplifted mood, and reduced stress, and you get to read about it here!
I love going to the gym – mostly for the cheap daycare – and if you have a stressful life, spending a couple of hours at the gym will do wonders for your psyche and for your sleep. But even if that’s not an option, you can still get a good workout at home.
- Toddler’s bored? Do some pushups with them on your back. (Surprisingly hard.)
- Waiting for the coffee to brew? Do some squats while you wait.
- Having an after-work drink with your spouse? Do it while stretching.
Then you can feel healthy and productive!
Pro tip: (Yeah, okay… I know I’m not a pro.) Don’t get distracted during your home workout.
I often find that during my “rests” between sets, I’ll wander away and do something else (usually my blog) for like an hour. So set up cues to keep you focused.
Newsflash 2! Sleep is also good.
It’s true. It makes you more efficient and effective. And if you’re finding yourself a little sleep-deprived, use your free time to finally get your 8 hours of sleep.
I know, I know. We all have way too much to do. Or our kids wake us up. Or we just can’t sleep. But if you start looking for ways to improve your sleep, you’ll find them. Here are a few things that have helped me and my wife, and will hopefully help you too:
- A workout during the day will tire you out enough to help you sleep.
- Wake up early. It will make you tired come night-time
- Have a wind-down routine. No phones allowed! Why not read or stretch before bed – combine 3 tips in one 😉
- Teach your kids to sleep. Honestly. Tire them out, bribe them, do what it takes. Here are a few resources that will help:
10. Do something unproductive.
Being time-efficiency-obsessed, I’m finding this very hard to write. “Wasted time” feels bad. But that’s only because our thinking about being unproductive is all backwards.
Give yourself some me-time. It will make your work-time even more effective!
“Everyone’s screaming and yelling. He’s sleeping, asleep on the bleacher, can’t wake him up. He took a stumble into the ring. You’ve never seen a guy more relaxed before going into a world championship fight, and then he can turn it off so deeply, and man, when he goes in the ring you can’t turn it on with any more intent than he can. And his ability to turn it off indirectly aligned with how intensely he can turn it on.”– Josh Waitzkin about Marcelo Garcia at the Brazilizan Jiu Jitsu World Championships (which he won).
When you’re always “doing something” you’re burning up your brain energy. Your brain needs some time to turn off. Ever notice that you come up with the best solutions while you’re in the shower, or out on a walk. I like to think of that as my brain “recharging” by giving me good ideas.
By doing something totally unrelated to work, you make new connections too. You might notice a magazine with the perfect color-scheme for your next marketing project. Or you might stumble across a fictional character who effortlessly handles the same situation you’re going through. Who knows!
The key to not feeling guilty about this unproductive time is to balance it with being productive.
- If you’ve just completed a major assignment, you can reward yourself with some video games.
- If you’ve just crushed it at the gym 5 days in a row, you can take some time to relax in the sauna.
- If you’ve just finished two leadership books, read a fun one. (I have a strict 2:1 useful:useless book reading ratio).
- If your wife has been patient with you while you pour hours into your finance blog, you can take her out for some Salsa lessons… So I’m told.
If you have energy reserves, you can own any situation. You will excel, be proud of your reactions, and avoid burnout. If you walk into something hard already depleted you’re in trouble.
Some “fun” books to read in your free time.
FYI – some of the recommendations may have affiliate links – which means I may earn a small cut if you choose to purchase after clicking. They are all genuine recommendations though.
TL;DR – Spend your free time to become more successful
- Whether you have 5 minutes or 5 hours – plan ahead
- Spend your free time on learning through books or courses
- Spend your free time on deep thinking and reflection
- Spend your free time on checking in with your finances and networking
- Spend your free time to feel better: do something that drives you, exercise, sleep, and do something “unproductive.”