free time

Beat the Back-to-School Blahs

Photo thanks to bofh

So. You had a long, luxurious break spent gorging yourself on food, friends and free time. You wasted away the days sleeping in, watching movies and making sandwiches, leaving the mess for someone else to clean up. You had a wonderful, lazy, ridiculous few weeks off.

..Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and school has presented itself as an inevitability that you are suddenly dreading with every fiber of your being. You have begun your goodbyes: “Goodbye, social life! Sayonara free time! Adios fun!” and begun your hellos: “Hello boring academic reading! Bonjour exhaustion! Ola junk food!”. Suffice to say you’re probably not feeling great about the coming semester. Visions of sugarplums summer vacation are dancing in your head.

Never fear! Your guide to beating the blahs is here!

1. Make it easier for yourself

Photo thanks to cfetcher

Get organized! Pick up some colourful binders, label them and keep your notes filed away where you can easily find them. If possible, take an interesting, easy course. Re-arrange your schedule so that it fits your life: for example, eliminate early classes. Stock your freezer with quick, easy meals like perogies, lasagna, edamame, pizza, burgers, bagels, frozen dinners, etc. Make it easy for you to eat whole, balanced meals instead of skipping them or ordering food (expensive!). Stock up on essentials like toilet paper, paper towels, kleenex, toothpaste, etc, so that you don’t have to always be running to the store for more.

Anything that you can do now, up front, to make it easier for yourself in the long run, I encourage you to do! That way, later on, when you’re running out of energy, time, and any essentials, you’ll be grateful to yourself for having cleared away some of the muck and creating a slightly easier existence.

2. Inject fun into your routine

Photo thanks to mlr

Brighten your note-taking with colourful pens and/or paper. Schedule a study/textbook reading/cooking gourmet food date with a friend once a week. Make time for your personal special activities: turn the computer off one hour earlier and spend the time reading, writing, drawing, dreaming. Take the scenic route to class. Create elaborate meals whenever you have time. Dress up for school. Take a bubble bath instead of a shower. Watch part of a movie every time you finish a reading/assignment. Reward yourself for doing annoying tasks (laundry, dishes, toilet-cleaning?) with candy, a magazine, a new eye shadow, etc. Resolve to wind down with a glass of wine once or twice a week. Listen to music while you’re getting ready in the morning.

I know people who say they just don’t have any time for fun. That’s nonsense! As long as you make a small effort in your day to stop and smell the roses & appreciate the little things, you’ll be happy at the end of every day, rather than burnt out and depressed.

3. Fix what’s broken

Photo thanks to daviddoctorrose

Replace that old towel that never dries you off properly. Buy a shoe rack so that it’s easier to find and organize your shoes. Write yourself a reminder to water the plants, take out the garbage, etc, etc. Pick your clothes up off the floor. Move that table that you keep running into. Re-organize your kitchen cabinets so it’s easier to reach the things you use most often. Hang up that picture that’s been leaning against the wall since March. Buy a timer for the oven so that you stop burning things. Re-arrange the furniture so that you feel more zen. Get to class earlier so you don’t get a bad seat.

By ‘broken’ I mean not working. Take a good look at your life, your home, your daily routine, and hone in on the things that annoy you every day. There are most likely several things that bug you on a daily, weekly or occasional basis that only require a few minutes of effort to change. In order to have a successful semester, try tweaking a few things in your life to keep you running smoothly and happily throughout the school year.

4. Make your space beautiful

Photo thanks to missvu

Buy new linens for your bed and make it a cozy, nest-y haven. Keep photos of friends and family around all the time. Clear the clutter off your desk or workspace. Cover the walls with magazine cutouts, photos, murals, collages, artwork. Keep all your favourite things in plain sight. Colour-code your bookshelves. Paint the walls your favourite colours. Hang up a blackboard and write inspirational quotes on it in colourful chalk. Buy scented candles. Have living things: pets, plants, flowers. Always have soft music playing.

Make your house a home, a place where you love to be. Make your bed just for sleeping so that when you cozy down into your fluffy duvet, it feels luxurious and comfy. Light candles, play music, keep beautiful things all around you. When exams roll around, it will be nice to have a special, comfortable place that relaxes and calms you.

5. Cut back on time-wasters

Photo thanks to balakov


One of the things I’ve never understood are people who complain and complain about how exhausted, burnt out and stressed they are, who complain about having absolutely no free time, and who spend several hours a day on facebook. Huh? I don’t get it. Unless your desired use of what little free time you have is to creep people on the internet, than this whole statement doesn’t make sense. The sad part is, I know people who say that no, they have no free time and no, time spent on facebook doesn’t count as free time. Wait, what? So they’d rather be doing activities that they actually enjoy, like reading a novel, riding their bike, hanging out with friends? And they can’t do those things because they don’t have time? But they have time to log into facebook for hours at a time? Confusing.

I’m not exactly a saint on the social media front, and I have logged a good chunk of time on facebook, but I would never claim that I had no time for activities I enjoy. I simply chose to spent that free time online instead of engaged in interesting activities. One of my resolutions for the new year is to cut down on time wasters. Force yourself off of facebook, off of twitter, off your blog reader, stop watching tv shows you don’t even enjoy, quit checking your email 340 times a day, and focus. Force yourself to find other ways to spend that time. Force yourself to do a more mindful activity. It won’t be easy, since your brain would initially prefer to be on autopilot skimming through pictures of that weird kid from high school’s family reunion, but your soul will thank you in the end. Pump up the creativity!

And Breathe Deep!

Find joy in the little things. Always plan so that you have something to look forward to. Put in the work every day so you don’t have to cram at the very end. Spend some time every day re-centering yourself, relaxing, and breathing deep. Work hard, play hard, focus in class (my very best advice to myself, it’s the single best way to spend less time reviewing at the end of the course), don’t procrastinate. Make time for the special things. Get enough sleep and good food. Don’t burn yourself out. Smile.

And banish those blahs!


3 Ways to Have More Free Time

[This post is the third in my Back to School Series]

So maybe now you’ve gotten organized, but you still feel like you have no time to do everything that you want to do! That’s no good at all. Ideally, wouldn’t you like to have enough time for school, work, volunteering, leisure, fun, chores and a ton of free time!? (“Yes please!!”) Me too. And although I haven’t really come close to perfecting this method, I’ve decided to compile a few techniques passed down to me from my family and friends into one handy dandy little post for you to peruse. I know there’s a procrastinator in all of us, but maybe, just maybe, by creating a routine that fits our lives, we’ll be able to avoid that wretched “I’m just way too busy to ______ {insert exercise, eat, sleep, keep in touch, etc here}!!” That’s not the type of life I want to lead! So let’s try out these little techniques, shall we? I know they’re my back to school resolutions!

1. Put first things first

Okay, so the very first technique (that I am absolutely in love with) is the most important (!) and requires taking a leaf out of Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s one of my mother’s all-time favourite books, and she told me about this wonderful solution. I encourage you to watch the video of the demonstration here. It’s really inspiring and I think it will really hit home.

What he proposes is one of my favourite metaphors:

Imagine you have a group of rocks in a variety of sizes, some sand, and a glass jar. You’re asked to fit as much of it into the jar as possible. How do you do it?

You put the big things in first. Once you do, the smaller rocks and sand can then settle down around them. If you don’t put the big rocks in, you’ll never be able to fit all the little things in.

Think of that as a metaphor for life! If you get too bogged down with all the little things, you’ll think you have no room for any of the big things.

When you start building your routine, think of what are the really important things to you and put them in first. The big things are things like:

  • School/studying
  • Food + nutrition + cooking
  • Exercise
  • Sleeping
  • Quality time with friends and family
  • etc

So make a list of your own big rocks! They can be anything you want, anything you feel is necessary in your life. Once you know what they are, the key is to then schedule in those activities first, as your number one priorities. They are the foundation of your life! Once you’ve done that, everything else can settle in around them.

So in your routine, you’ll now have sections of time devoted to the big things: you’ve signed up for an exercise class twice weekly, you’ve developed a schedule for studying in the evenings, you have a loose bedtime worked out, you’ve slotted in when you’re going to cook. These chunks of time are now set out, and now you have room to slot in smaller tasks into your daily routine. See how it works!? Scheduling in the big things first will give you more breathing room when it comes to dealing the other nagging little details of life, without feeling burnt out.


2. Clump like things together.

Photo thanks to mysza

Quick! Think of three things you really can’t stand doing (but have to!). For me, they would be cleaning my room/apartment, paying bills, and doing laundry. Ugh.

I don’t know why they bug me so much: whenever I get going on them, it passes fairly quickly and painlessly. But they’re just tasks I dislike, so it’s hard to motivate myself to do them at all.

My solution for this dilemma is to schedule them all in for one block of time, usually on Saturdays. I commit myself to doing all the nasty, unpleasant things in one fell swoop, so then I don’t have to worry about them until a full week from then. I find this is more pleasant for me than trying to clean throughout the week, or always having a nagging feeling I should pay my bills. As long as I schedule and commit to it in my mind or on my calendar, it’s there, I’ll do it and I’ll be done with it!

My favourite benefit about this system is that it will save you time! If you’re in cleaning mode, you can get all ready with all your supplies at the beginning of the hour, then just go from room to room cleaning. Since you’re clumping like things together, it won’t be as much effort as if you tried to clean one room every day. I find that by grouping like activities together, you’re able to get into the head space of those particular tasks, and you become much more efficient because of it. So just stick everything all in together, and finish it up more quickly!

Also try clumping together things you enjoy: ‘schedule’ yourself two hours for cooking, eating and reading, for example. I find it’s more enjoyable to have a stretch of time for leisure activities, rather than fifteen minutes of fun for every hour of work. Of course, you’re welcome to do it in a different way, but I really believe focusing on one activity at a time will give you more free time!


3. Don’t waste your time!

Photo thanks to Johan L

How many of you spend time every day on Facebook, flipping through photos and lurking people’s profiles? Me too. How many check their email twenty times a day, just for something to do on the computer? Me too. How many while away the hours watching television shows that they really don’t even care about? Me too.

Those are some of my time wasters. Some of my others include lingering on the computer, waiting for blogs to pop up on my rss reader, surfing the web aimlessly, and going on Facebook for no reason at all. It’s not as if I’m on Facebook to catch up with old friends or keep in touch, it’s usually just to see what other people are doing.

And if you enjoy spending your free time doing any of the things listed above, I completely understand. That’s your prerogative! But personally, I feel that those activities are a waste of my time. Those types of tasks are really not how I want to spend my free time; I’m not interested in being a zombie! I’d rather devote my spare time to reading, writing, cooking, skyping with my friends, taking photos and practicing yoga. And of course the activities you enjoy doing in your spare time will be different from mine, granted. But I’m sure you know what you’d love to be doing, “if only you had the time”.

So recognize these patterns! Think of how much time we waste with our eyes glazed over, consuming mountains of information about things we don’t actually care about: like the romantic lives of people from high school, or who will get kicked off ‘A Double Shot at Love’ (one of my low points in reality tv..). It’s ridiculous! And all the while we think we have no time for what would really give us true pleasure.

My challenge to you (and myself!) is to

  1. Recognize your time-wasters
  2. Remember what really makes you happy and fulfilled
  3. Make a conscious effort to cut back on #1 and up the ante on #2!


Tell me..

What are some techniques you use to schedule your life and create more free time? I’m constantly learning, and trying to improve on the way I’m doing things. Having enough time for all the things I want/need to do and have free time seems like a monumental challenge, but I think that committing more fully to these three simple steps will help with that dilemma a whole lot.

Good luck time management whiz kids!


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