As I outlined in the previous part of this series, you will generally have less time after you start a job. If you’re coming from an academic background like I do, this might seem hard to believe — I was personally very much looking forward to start working full time after being a student, so that I would have more free time, and I was both right and wrong. The truth is, the fundamental nature of what I consider to be free time has changed, as it is quite different now that I’m working full time compared to when I was a student.
During my studies, I’ve had periods of time when I worked (i.e. studied) waaay more than I work right now. During exam seasons, or when being busy with assignments, I would spend days being locked inside my room working from dawn to dusk, and longer. Now, there have been times when I pushed to ship something and I stayed at work from 7am to 9pm, but that has been quite rare, and I generally enjoy very nice working hours of about 9 to 6ish. The interesting thing is that despite this, I still feel that my time has become scarcer. Why is that?
I think the answer to that question lies in consistency. The main difference now is how little time I consistently have outside of work, day after day, week after week. Previously, there were always more-less free times after busy times, but now the base load is constantly quite high. Not just that there are no 3-month long vacations anymore, but where before I could pretty much schedule something almost at any time, nowadays any leisure activity is limited to: 1. the mornings, 2. the evenings, or 3. the weekend.
These three, consistent, well defined blocks of time are really not that much. Considering I’m no longer a reckless student and want to care about my health, I try sleep at least 8 hours, and exercise about an hour a day, which gives me about 4 and a half hours of free time a day on working day1. That sounds fine, but when you add the time for hygiene (30min), and cooking and eating (1.5hrs), that leaves me with something over 2 hours of free time a day. That is surprisingly little.
Furthermore, this is not even considering all the being-an-adult tasks, like groceries, laundry, paying bills, dealing with authorities, or looking for new flats, which will inevitably come up, and also considering you’re not procrastinating with your other tasks at all (hello YouTube 😏). When you add all of this up, you generally find you have no free time left throughout the working week, and sometimes it even works out negative, so you will have to sactifice sleep, working out, work, or something else.
This is bonkers! At first, I could not believe this - I’m fresh out of uni, with a regular working-hours job, and already have no time? The red-pill realisation that follows is that this is the most free time I’m going to have from now on (until I retire), it is only going to get worse! Once kids come up, and probably some medical issues with age, and more responsibilities, the time-pressure is only going to increase. In other words, I need to make most out of my free time now, as it will only get more difficult.
So what can one do?
The first thing I’ve found to help is to exploit the consistency of working life in order to establish a daily routine. Since my working days are all pretty similar, it is much easier to form habits that repeat daily. Aligned with doing first things first2, I’ve established a morning routine in which I wake up early every day, and do the things I really want to do, like reading and learning. Since I like exercising in the evenings, I’ve similarly committed to starting my training session the first thing after I come home from work — the fact that I’m already in gym clothes after my cycle really helps! Having a daily routine has really been great so far, and allowed me to be much more satisfied with how I spend the little free time I have.
The second point is increasing your time efficiency, which will come more naturally now. Given less free time, you will tend to spend it more efficiently, just because you know that if you don’t, you simply won’t accomplish the things that you want3. Whereas in my student times, I could waste days watching YouTube videos, now I almost never watch any, because I rather spend that time doing something else. Of course, you still need to remind yourself of this, as an afternoon can be wasted very easily with mindless scrolling/watching 🥲.
Lastly, remember that weekends are a bliss. Whereas during student times, there was literally no distinction between weekends/national holiday days and regular days, and I was generally studying every day, now you can (and should!) not work during these days! I really mean it — do the things you love, spend time with loved ones, and try to minimise time wasted on things that don’t spark joy — you still need to pay your bills, but please do something enjoyable first (more on this in the next section)!
Overall, I really think the scarce free time that is left besides working can be enjoyed, and many things, such as exercising, are perhaps even easier to do consistently now compared to when I was a student. Free time won’t ever be the same, but it is now easier to establish a routine and be efficient, so make the most out of it ⏳!
24 hours minus 8 for sleep, minus 10.5 for work (8:30 to 19:00), minus 1 for exercising gives 4.5. ↩︎
Doing First Things First is probably the personal productivity principle I’ve found to work the most for me, so I really recommend it. My consistent observation is that the probability of actually doing something is inveresely proportional to the time in the day when I schedule it — if I decide to do something the first thing in the morning, I’ll probably do it, but if I plan it for the evening, I very likely won’t! ↩︎
Continuing with my productivity tips, this is another one: Best productivity is out of necessity — it is constrained productivity. You are much more productive if you know you need to do something in some constrained window — that is why you suddenly turn into a report writing machine when it’s 5 hours to the submission deadline 🙃. ↩︎