3 Ways to Counter Free-Time Paranoia

3 Ways to Counter Free-Time Paranoia

When I can’t think of any more responsibilities I need to take care of, I become paranoid that I’m missing something. This drives me not to check my planner, because experience has shown that I probably am forgetting something. I want to extend the fantasy for just a little longer by spending a few more minutes knitting, which inevitably turns into an hour. Guilt and pleasure sit uncomfortably alongside each other.

Why do so many students and young people feel paranoid or guilty about not working? Time taken for pleasure and/or leisure feels like time taken away from productivity. Everything must be planned or it somehow becomes unnecessary or self-indulgent.

Even if it’s true that free time takes away from time spent working, there is something wrong with the fact that we cannot rest without feelings of uneasiness creeping in. Free time no longer feels free; it feels like it comes at a cost that we cannot afford to pay.

To counter this guilt and paranoia, here are five things you can do to manage your time better and more realistically.

1. Put forethought into your work time.

Not every moment of “working” has to be the meat of what makes it “work.” Take 15 minutes at the beginning of each work session to plan your goals for the rest of the session. What can you complete this time? What will you save for next time? You’ll feel more accomplished by achieving smaller, manageable goals, and after you’ve finished the tasks at hand, it’ll make it easier for you to relax.

2. Schedule your free time.

Have a set amount of time in which you’re not allowed to do any work. Let people know you will be unavailable for an hour or two, and then avoid checking messages. If you do, ignore everything except what you want to do. If you happen to see an important message, jot it down or set a reminder for later. Forget everything and enjoy yourself!

3. Join a community.

Join a community that matters enough to you that you’re willing to dedicate time to them and only them. Communities that do immersive things together are a good candidate: consider traditional activities like sports, or nontraditional ones like bell-ringing clubs or tabletop RPG groups. After you leave, allow yourself to take half an hour or so of downtime to reflect on what you enjoyed. This gives you an excuse to relax, but also offers the opportunity to meet people and try something new!

Bonus: understand that it is normal and good to “waste” time.

There are limits to our attention span. Concentrating too long is tiring for our brains. Besides, what’s the point of living life if all of it feels terrible? Sometimes you have to let go of what you should do and realize what you can or want to do.

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