It has been two weeks since classes transitioned to total online instruction, and if you’re anything like me, the new normal has left you with much more free time than you normally have. Even with classwork to finish, pre-recorded lectures to watch and Zoom video classes to attend, there are still a lot of hours to fill. I find my evenings are especially empty without intramural sports, rehearsals and general time spent with friends.
Before leaving campus, I was on the constant search for more time in my schedule. There were passion projects I wanted to pursue. I needed more time to edit my portfolio and search for a job post-graduation. I wanted an extra hour to call my family. I even longed for a few extra moments just to zone out and watch an episode on Netflix.
Suddenly, I’m faced with hours of unfilled time — and I’m left floundering.
For some reason, I’ve been faced with a lot of unexpected guilt as I experience this new free time. No matter how I fill the hours, I feel like I should be doing something different.
When I take a break and watch a movie or TV episode, I fear that I should be using my downtime more productively.
When I log off Canvas just to dedicate a few hours toward job applications, I criticize myself for not just letting myself relax.
Even when I decide to pursue a new creative outlet, I feel weird about adding more to my plate when there are already so many options vying for my time.
See what I mean?
When faced with the exact thing we’ve been wishing for over the past year (or four years, in the case of seniors), we suddenly don’t know how to react. It feels wrong; it feels unnatural. No matter how we fill the free time, we struggle with the underlying belief that it’s somehow wrong.
While I think it is natural for us to struggle with these conflicting feelings, I also think it is important that we combat them. Is it understandable to feel guilty over how you spend this free time? Yes, but let’s not become complacent in this paradoxical guilt.
This free time is part of our new normal, at least for now. Here’s how I have been working on wrapping my mind around the extra hours. I hope it is helpful for you, too.
- Make the free time part of your schedule.
A good discipline to set for yourself is to create an overall schedule for your weekdays and stick to it. Be careful not to overdo it; I think micromanaging your time could be just as harmful as letting yourself go without a plan. I’ve done both, and they’re both bad.
Personally, I have found that dedicated time to school in the morning and early afternoon leaves me a few dedicated hours to work on The Bison in the late afternoon. Then, I keep my evening hours as designated free time. In doing so, I have made my free hours seem manageable and not overwhelming. It’s simply a time block to fill, just like school and work.
- Balance how you spend the free time.
This one is important. I think the best way to combat free time guilt is not to overindulge yourself with one type of activity. Feeling guilty after binge-watching Netflix for the last week? There might be a reason for that.
Think of the various ways you want to spend your free time in the coming weeks and possibly months. For me, I know I will want to spend time reading, preparing for post-graduation, trying a new creative activity and just plain chilling. Don’t let yourself focus only on one area for extended time periods. Balance the activities.
- Dig into each activity fully.
Finally, the best way to fight that voice of guilt about how you are spending your free time is by fighting back. If you have responsibly scheduled your time and are balancing the types of activities you pursue, let yourself enjoy the freedom. It may be a new experience for many of us used to the hectic pace of college, but there is no need to feel guilty about that. Dig into the time you now have and the opportunities it presents.