10 December 2014

On Spare Time

Koh Samui November 2014 // Personal picture

As I promised on the Shopping Fast Month 5 recap, here are some more in-depth thoughts about free time or spare time, what we do with our time, and what the shopping fast, and my trip to Thailand, taught me about how I spend my time...


This all started when I realized, in October, that the shopping fast was making me spend a lot of time on material objects, paradoxally. Between the time spent editing and organizing my current possessions, researching and testing around my consumer behaviour, a lot of browsing online sites and inspirational pictures (a bit like smelling cakes when you are on a diet), this made me realize just how time consuming material objects can be in our daily lives, even when we don't buy any.

So I have spent the month of November pondering these thoughts about time, as I forced myself to stop spending all that time on my material items, inspirations and other wishlists. Here are a few budding thoughts I'd like to share with you.


Saving Time. But for What?

As I already mentioned, I'm currently reading a book called Faster, by James Gleick. One of the interesting points he makes is: we live in a society where the important isn't spending time, but saving it. Convenience food to save time over cooking, technology to save time over washing laundry, writing and sending "snail mail", getting the news quicker. Saving time on commute, saving time on meals, saving time on shopping with online sites and express deliveries, saving time on bedtime stories (did you know the "one minute bedtime stories" book existed? It does.)

I get it, I also want to save time on daily chores and other life annoyances. But decades after introducing washing machines and other modern time saving technologies, where are we with that? What are we saving our time for? When we are reduced to saving time on the bedtime stories we read to our children, what can we possibly be doing with all that time we are saving?

As James Gleick points out (or pointed out in 1998, as a matter of fact), despite living in a modern society which facilities and technology allows us to save a lot of time on daily chores, we are busier than mankind has ever been. We are working longer hours than our parents did when they were our age. Our schedules are packed to the brim, where did that saved time go?


Laptop: The Time Sinking Hole

I didn't conduct any worldwide research on how people spend their time, but I've wondered about mine. And that's a tad scary, really. What do I want to save time for? Writing (which I do for the blog, but I haven't touched my crime novel in weeks), sports (which I barely fit once a week now), playing the violin (which I do what, 15 minutes a day), playing video games (I have barely touched my console last month), calling friends and family (which I always forget, on Sunday at 11PM I'm like "crap...")

So, in the end, what do I do with that saved time? A LOT of computer and TV series watching. But mainly, a LOT of computer. You know, this becoming that, and I've watched Youtube videos for two hours. Opening the laptop to write, and two hours later I'm still reading and commenting on blogs. Looking for the address of a concert space, and two hours later I'm browsing the latest arrivals on American Vintage.

In Thailand, I didn't bring my laptop at all. And restricted my internet time to 15 minutes a day, to post an Instagram pic and update my friends about the trip on Facebook. And that's it. Well, guess what? Days were so long! When compared to week-end days at home, we got up early, did a lot of visits, by 3PM we were back at the hotel room and relaxed around a book and coconut. I had time to discover my surroundings, time to read books, time to talk with le fiancé, time to sleep, time to reflect about things, time to visit, time to buy souvenirs, time to bathe in the sea... Banning the computer and Internet saved me hours every day.

In comparison, take today, Sunday, as I write and plan this post. I've been writing for my blog for an hour, which was the objective of turning my laptop on, but before that, I had spent over two hours watching Youtube videos, reading and commenting blog posts, and brushing around the daily news. Before I even showered and dressed, it is already 2PM on my Sunday. A whole morning eaten by my laptop.


So... What Else?

In November, I have actively decided to stop myself from browsing online shops, refining my wishlists, investigating brands, and even to go into shops "just to browse". Either I go in with a list and make a 30 mn in-and-out, or I don't go. This was a first step, as I was still spending a long time on the Internet or watching TV series after dinner.

First, I noticed I had extra free time on my hands during week-ends. I ended up calling more friends, going out more, playing more violin and reading books at a decent pace again. I also realized I finally saw time pass during week-ends. You know, that moment when you realize it's Sunday, 8PM, and you haven't read that book around a tea as you meant to, didn't visit any exhibits as you planned to, nor did that run you planned?

Well, this has become more rare in November. Because I didn't spend half my days organizing my closet or going to town and browsing shops for hours (even though I didn't buy anything), as I used to the months before. Old habits die hard, it seems.

With this extra free time on my hands, I naturally turned to what I missed most: reading, playing video games, and playing music. However, I also noticed that, in the evening, I'm way too tired to do any of these things properly. Getting the "item maintenance" noise out of the way made me realize I'm way more productive at certain moments of the day than others. And I still spent most of my evenings watching TV series or Youtube videos on my laptop.

When I came back from Thailand, I decided to take an extra step on the "spending time" front - I have decided to limit computer time. I'll report back in a month or so on how it changed my time spending (or not), but I have basically introduced rules such as - no computer (or any other screen) after 10PM, getting to bed earlier so I can wake up earlier and enjoy more of these early morning hours during which I'm energized, no computer in the morning etc.

I have also decided to dedicate time to computer, to make sure it stays limited, and that I do what I really want to do while I'm online. For example, 10AM to 2PM on Sunday, for all the important computer stuff of the week. It can be 4 hours of youtube videos, or 4 hours of catching up with the bloggers I like and plan my weekly blog posts. In any case, this is a way to feel less like time has "disappeared" while I was mindlessly browsing the web.

Maybe that new resolution explains why I post a bit less often on the blog these days and publish my comments days after the blogger's publication. But I'm okay with that trade-off so far.


Of course, these are only early thoughts as I'm trying to reorganize my schedule. I hope to have more concrete things to share with you in the coming weeks as these new habits manage (or not) to take root. What about you? What do you do with all that time you "save"? How do you wish to spend your time, and is it in line with how you actually spend it?

31 comments:

  1. Limiting laptop-time has been a HUGE thing for me in 2014, and for next year I'm doing the same with my phone. Yup, I'm still glued to my phone, despite my very successful one-week-hiatus. The habit didn't stick, but it will. I find that after a full day at work I don't really _want_ to use the laptop at home anymore, unless I'm actively writing a blog post or editing photos. I do all my news reading and general browsing in free minutes here and there at work.

    So what do I do with my time? Well, I watch A LOT of TV with The Boyfriend, but that is so much better than being glued to a laptop on my own. A few weeks back he re-activated his WoW-account, and some evenings I just sit in my comfy chair and watch him play while letting my gaming-days nostalgia wash over me. When the weather isn't horrible we take the dog for a walk. I also go for way more coffee-dates with my friends now. That tendonitis really was a blessing in disguise ;)

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    1. Oh I remember you one week phone hiatus experiment. It was so interesting. I ahve also noticed a sneaky increase of phone/iPad use since I've set up these laptop rules, that's why I've extended them to all screens (except for TV if it means finally watching this film I've had on my radar for months or finally picking up the console again). I'm thinking it probably takes time to make that rule stick on the long term as you say about the phone After all, at least for me, it's almost automatic to turn the laptop on when I'm on my couchling after cleaning up dinner, and surfing while a TV series is running on the TV, that it takes a conscious effort to think "hey, no laptop! let's turn it off now". I'm really hoping that once it takes root, it become automatic to leave the laptop behind and it doesn't require as much energy as it does today.

      I was thinking I could focus on what I wanted to do with my time instead. For me the most ciritcal time wasting moment of the day is the evening, because we have long days that end late here in Paris - I usually come back from work around 8PM. So all I'm dreaming of is a good dinner and some "brainless" activities. I need to figure out what can work for me at that time, that matters more than internet browsing. Maybe some DIY stuff, some creative activity that is more manual and doesn't require a lot of brain power... If I was living with my fiancé I'd probably be like you: just spend the night with him :)

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  2. I've started trying to limit computer time, too. No laptop after 9:30pm for me (will probably move this earlier) and instead I read books I've checked out from the library down the street. I recently got a new part-time job (which is moving to full-time in Jan) and the majority of my time is spent on the computer there. After working 3 full days each week staring into a screen... I'm just about exhausted by the thing! I guess I am a bit like a moth to a flame, however, because when I come home I tend to turn on the ol' laptop and aimlessly browse/stare at a screen for the night. I've been trying to sign up and try new things in the evening to give me something to do instead of the computer (going to the gym, volunteering at an animal shelter, joining clubs) but there's also a fine balance between being active and being busy for busy's sake. I find after a few nights in a row of being out-and-about I am really excited to have an evening at home to just "putter". But, I don't think puttering on the computer is really as relaxing or re-energizing as I think. Maybe I ought to try out writing in a notebook or reading earlier in the evening instead...? Or another equally calming/reflective hobby.

    Thanks for the great post, as always!

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    1. I'm a different Jess, but I agree - I miss her blogs too! :P

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    2. I should move my laptop time limit earlier too, like you :) It's a good point that when we work in front of a computer all day we surely need a rest, but I'm like you, naturally attracted to it as soon as I come home. It's a good idea to try and find replacement activities for the evening, it gives a good reason to do something else than browsing on the web. I've been going out more often too these days, but I like spending my evenings at home too, so there is a balance to be found indeed :) I hope you find something that works well for you!
      PS: I miss Jess's blogs too, if we are talking about the same one ;)

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  3. I'm tempted to get one of those programs that limit internet access to a set number of hours per day. Now that I've got a separate work laptop that wouldn't be impacted by this decision, it seems like a good idea. I have been forcing myself to close the laptop and pick up a book, and it's refreshing. I also want to get another subscription to the New Yorker or the Economist again - while expensive, I miss the weekly dose of intellectual material.

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    1. Oh I've been tempted to use one of these programs as well, especially when I'm trying to pick up the writing habit again - I turn on the laptop in the morning hoping to move forward with writing my short story and I end up browsing the internet until it's time to get ready for work... I was told about a program called OmmWriter, for the specific purpose of writing on the laptop (it can be used to prepare blog posts or for more extensive writing like short stories and novels), it basically goes full screen, with a nice background music if need be, to focus on the activity, and not be tempted to juggle with tabs and check facebook or news feeds at the same time. I wonder if a "timer" for the laptop time would work too. Maybe a good old alarm instead of a fancy program? Definitely worth digging into in any case, thanks for the input :)

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  4. Wow, I could probably write an answer as long as your entire blog post in response to this. But I won’t .
    I have been wondering about my free time as well for the past couple of months. The immediate cause was my changing jobs, from one that came with evening meetings to a 9-to-5. When the previous job was running to its end, I very much looked forward to all the extra time that would be available to me. I imagined taking up new hobbies etc…. In reality the spare hours filled up in no time. It took me about half a year to become much more aware of how I actually spent those hours in the evening after work, or on weekends, and to make conscious changes. After all, it could hardly be true that I lacked free time – compared to people throughout history, people in other countries without a 38 hour workweek, people with kids even … I always hated the idea of overscheduling one’s spare time, since scheduling (& planning & prioritizing …) is what I do at work. But now I’ve come to see the use of some ‘self-discipline’. Like consciously awarding time for keeping your house in order, for doing something together with the husband. And consciously limiting time spent browsing the internet and even time for social gatherings. I just need some nights to myself each week! I also started getting up earlier because like you say, some things just go better in the mornings. And I recently added even more scheduling by starting a gym routine, which feels amazingly good. All in all I enjoy my spare time much better now. Lately I have even caught glimpses of that awesome feeling of having a couple of hours where there is absolutely nothing that you SHOULD be doing but plenty of possibilities.
    I mean don’t get me wrong, I still occasionally ‘wake up’ from an internet browsing session wondering where the time went, or miss exhibitions that run for six months within my own town …

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    1. I see what you mean when you say it can hardly be true that you have no free time, I have felt the same when I realized my writing project started in August 2013 wasn't even halfway yet 'it's impossible that I have no time to write, in a country like mine where we work less than 40 hours a week and given that I have no children'.

      i'm glad to hear that a bit of "self discipline" and planning help reclaiming your free time, thanks for your input! I'm hoping it will help with mine too :) How I love that feeling that you have several hours stretching out in front of you and no obligations: you can do whatever you want... It 's a shame when it ends up being sucked by the laptop.

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  5. I'm really excited to embrace and live this: when in doubt/fear/sadness/lethargy, create. Create a better self, create content, create something. When I get home, there's too many hours spent scrolling social media and Tumblr. Instead I should create the content I want to see. So far I haven't produced anything yet, but this new mantra helped me find the drive to finish editing my travel photos. Let's hope it grows into more creativity for 2015!

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    1. I love this idea! What a great mantra!

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    2. I love this idea as well! There is some self fulfillment and contentment in creating something (anything really), and it surely is more gratifying to feel like we are spending our free time building something rather than just consuming (information or other stuff). Very good idea, now the trick is to find a creative activity that works with a time of the day when we are rather tired and need rest/calm. Maybe something crafty...

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  6. To add to what you said about overthinking purchases—my very recent experience:

    I have recently decided that some of the things I own I dislike / are tattered. I've finally decided that I should replace them with things I actually like and looked for such things. I found things I liked. BUT, at the same time, I was also reading a lot of The Minimalists blog, where they go on and on about only owning what you need. The result? I've spent almost TWO WEEKS obsessing over the items that I found. Sounds ridiculous, right?

    Yes, it WAS. In the end, I bought the things—when I've realised that it makes me much more miserable to be "minimalist" and not get them. I'm not saying "let's buy everything we want, now!", but I don't want to spend my entire days thinking about shopping! So, my new strategy is to get things that I want, within reason. I would hope that by now I'm already enough of a conscious consumer and am not going to end up just buying things on a whim.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, I see what you mean here, it's happened to me a ew times too. I think that touches on the interesting topic of the paradox of simplicity/minimalism towards objects. In a way they aren't important and we should be focusing our time and energy on other topics that matter, but on the other hand we do need objects, and they do make our everyday life more joyful when they are well chosen so we should spend time selecting what we surround ourselves with.

      In the end I've come to the theory that it is worthwhile to "invest" some time initially in understanding how objects are made, the brands, where to find small creators and craftsmen, what are my preferences (in other words, where and how to find the objects that do fill my needs or bring me joy). Then, when I know myself, spend much less time on material items because (most of the time) I know where to look when I need something, and I know when I stumble upon something that is worth buying. For example in your case, after the initial "time investment", when you stumbled upon the things you liked to replace your old stuff, you would have bought them straight away without wasting time on it because you'd know yourself enough to be sure it's a reasonable and joyful purchase. But on other cases you'd know it's just a "fling" want and wait it out. If it makes any sense...

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  7. Once again, it seems like you read my mind. I think you've also pointed out what my "next step" should be: limiting screen time! It can definitely be a complete time-suck, and I know that my non-computer related activities have suffered because of it.

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    1. I'm glad to hear it, I'd love to read about your own computer screen time limiting once you've tested things out to see how the experiment turns out :)

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  8. My everything is so tied to the laptop that it's disgusting.

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    1. It's definitely something I couldn't live without either, disturbing indeed...

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  9. When I started full time work this year, I found that I had to consciously limit screen time at home, else my other hobbies would fall by the wayside. Overall, it's been quite successful - I for the most part don't use my computer at home anymore, which frees up my time and hands to knit and sew (my two hobbies that aren't computer-related). I even bought textbooks so that I wouldn't look things up online. We still have the TV on, but I have never been a big TV watcher, so the fiance usually has some sport on.

    I now sleep better and get up earlier. Sometimes I am too tired after work to knit or sew, but it is an activity I can now do in the morning (it surprised me that I could get up early enough to do these things!). I don't miss my internet time that much, although there was a lot of getting used to initially.

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    1. Oh I see what you mean about how little time there is left for other activities :) I feel I sleep better and wake up earlier too, when I stop using screens early enough in the evening. And morning time is so much more productive. Thanks for sharing, it makes me feel more confident that I'll make it too :)

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  10. This post hit home with me as I have found my weekend mornings disappearing more and more often this year. Mornings are usually my most productive part of the day, so my overall productivity has dropped. I then complain about how my job leaves me no time for doing the things I really want in life. Thank you for a very eye-opening post! Time to set rules and a schedule for my internet time.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, I see what you mean about the disappearance of week-end mornings :) I hope that works well for you too!

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  11. I use an extension for Chrome "StayFocusd" at work to keep me from browsing blogs and social networks (pinterest is a time stealer) while working. You install it and set a time limit (or no limit) and define which sites are allowed or not allowed. When time expires, you can no longer see those sites...the screen just says: Shouldn't you be working????? (don't know if you can change that frase, but it would be fun if you colud adapt it to what it is you'de like to be doing instead). Of course you can change your settings, but only on the next day, so it helps with auto-control. It's really a bummer sometimes - you wish you had time just to see that another post, but in the end, I never change it the next day, because I remind myself that I have work to do, and I want to get it done so I can go home earlier and be with my family.

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    1. Ah that's a good suggestion, thank you! Right now i'm focused on defining time periods in my day where hte laptop is completely banned, but I definitely need to look into that kind of options for the times I am using my laptop. Thanks for the tip ;)

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    2. That's the one I use too, I LOVE it!! It used to block me from sites all the time in the beginning, but now I hardly ever even notice that it is active anymore. I have it set to a maximum of 30 minutes each day on my favourite time-wasting websites (combined).

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  12. I needed this story right now. Have been feeling overwhelmed with the holidays and keeping up with day to day things which include all the online time. I have slowly been cutting back on some of my blog reading (but am loving yours so keeping this one!!). I hope to some day have more time to just "be". Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. I'm so happy to hear it was helpful for you :) I completely agree on the "finding time to just be" thing. Sometimes I feel this is missing from our modern, fast paced lives. Good luck with organizing the holiday season!

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  13. I so agree with you. Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. I realize that when I do have spare time, it's defaulted to the phone and computer even though I have no plans of what I should be doing there. It's crazy how easy it is to be lazy.

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    2. It is so easy to be lazy isn't it? Especially at certain times of the day, as I have noticed in my case. So much easier to just browse on the phone or laptop than to make a decision to do something. And then we end up complaining we don't have enough time to do this or that :)

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