On quiet weekends, I'm often torn between two competing thoughts.

  • "You should relax, Vieker. You've had a productive week."
  • "You should be doing something! Something fun, maybe, but something nonetheless. Sitting around doing nothing is no way to spend your precious free time."

Both viewpoints have some merit. We deserve some rest from our labors, but sitting around the house half the day doesn't make us feel very good. It always seems like it will, though. Unstructured free time is a mirage---it promises happiness but never seems to deliver.

So how do we reconcile the need for a little downtime with the reality that we're happiest when we're doing something, even if that something is just reading a book?

Increasingly, I think the answer is to schedule our free time.

I'm not suggesting scheduling every minute of one's Saturday afternoon or Tuesday night, necessarily, but simply setting some intentions about how to spend one's free time before it starts. I've been finding it helpful to at least decide what important things I want to get done over a weekend and schedule those for specific times. And if I want to take some time to truly veg out and do nothing, I find I can enjoy it more if I've scheduled it. I know scheduling time to do nothing sounds a little bonkers, but it's effective.

One of my favorite writers on productivity, Cal Newport, has this to say about the idea of scheduling:

In the context of work, uncontrolled time makes me uncomfortable. If you’re serious about working deeply and producing high-end value, it should probably make you uncomfortable as well.

Newport is talking about the importance of scheduling work time, but the principle is the same. Scheduling/budgeting a resource is one of the best ways to extract the most value from it, and free time is no exception.