Free time? What is that? Usually I just wait for it to show up…

free timeWhen I’m coaching and teaching academics, I recommend that they designate and protect four kinds of time: Free, Fixed, Focus, and Flow. In this short article, let’s look at Free time.

Since part of the definition of Free time is that it is guilt free, Free time is often a difficult kind of time for professors to set aside. There is always so much work to do and the bar is set so high, it seems impossible to set aside free time. This feeling pervades regardless of whether the bar is set high in one’s department, discipline, or in one’s own mind.

Are the expectations for academic productivity likely to change any time soon? Unlikely. Within this truth, acknowledge that you have plenty of work to do. You have classes to prepare for or tweak for improvement. There are always more writing tasks and responsibilities. And what about all those unreturned phone calls, texts, and emails? You may be thinking, “There’s no time for Free time.”

Here’s another truth: Your brain thrives on having some disconnected time, and that means disconnected from work, disconnected from push, push, push. If you always feel like there’s something else you could be working on, it’s true. And the day you die there will be something else you could have been working on, too. Let’s just say it’s a given that there is always something you could be doing and STILL you are going to designate and protect Free time.

You are more productive, creative, and able to focus when you also take some time off. Just as with the other three kinds of time we’ll be discussing in this article series, I’ll give you a recommendation for the ratio to consider when you’re planning your time. With Free time, make an attempt to protect 1:7 days. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you always have one of every seven days as Free time. You might have four days out of every 28 that are off.

Although you certainly need to have some “time off” during the day, be careful with thinking that 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there is going to give you the same benefit of a longer period of disconnect. Little short spurts won’t give you enough of the rejuvenation that occurs when you have full-on free time for much larger blocks of time (12 or 24 hours, for example). Give your brain and heart and soul a rest. See what happens with your productivity as a result.

A reading recommendation during your Free time is Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (2016, Alex Soujung-Kim Pang). It’s one that I’ve bought for many of my coaching clients and also given out to some early-career STEM faculty in NSF-funded workshops.

In the next article in our series, you will learn about Fixed time and how to use your calendar to help you be more effective and efficient throughout the week.


Meggin McIntoshMeggin McIntosh, also known as “The PhD of Productivity®,” is professor emerita and founding director of her university’s Excellence in Teaching Program.  She is now an executive coach for high-achieving academics who are intent on making a difference through their work.  Whether she’s coaching, teaching workshops, or writing, Meggin’s mission is inspiring joyful work.  You’re welcome to explore and receive many of Meggin’s publications, videos, and classes through her hubsite https://meggin.com.  More and more of them are being offered freely each month so be sure to take a peek if you want more joyful work in your life.