When You Should Use Your Free Time to Get Ahead (and When You Should Kick Back and Relax)
After weeks of working late, running on little sleep (and a lot of caffeine), and getting through your very long list of to-dos, you’ve finally stumbled upon some free time.
The big question: What do you do with it? Catch up on your favorite shows (Veep anyone)? Go out for a nice meal? Take a long, well-deserved nap? Start working on that proposal coming up in a few weeks?
Wait, what? Yes, free time implies “freedom” from work—so why would anyone do more of it?
Doesn’t it feel really good sometimes to get ahead when we have an hour or two to spare? There’s really nothing wrong with it, plus it usually means more free time later on (and less work-until-you-fall-asleep weeks). With that said, there’s also nothing wrong with turning off your computer and leaving the office at 6 PM sharp. Choices, choices.
When faced with the ultimate dilemma of tackling another set of assignments or turning it in for the day, here’s what you should consider:
You Should Enjoy it if Your Schedule Looks Clear for the Next Few Weeks
The most important thing to do when you’ve been stressed for a long period of time is to release it. When it comes to making tomorrow slightly more relaxing, Muse Career Coach Dr. Suzanne Gelb says “Tonight, after work, make time to do whatever you need to do to release pent-up emotions in a safe way. Run. Journal. Punch a punching bag or a pillow. Hurl paint on a canvas. Sing at the top of your lungs.” These little things are worthy of your free time.
But Get Ahead if Your Next Week’s Just as Packed
Consider what lies ahead of you: Is next week better or worse? If you know you’re going to be overwhelmed again soon, it could be helpful to take some time (not all of your time) to tackle some upcoming tasks. And yes, picking the easier choices is allowed—such as outlining an upcoming presentation, making a to-do list for a big project you need to tackle, or even just emailing the right people to set up meeting times.
You Should Enjoy it if You Powered Through an Incredible Amount of Work
Every strong effort comes with a reward—that’s something I shouldn’t have to tell you. You worked hard, so you deserve to leave the office on time today or start your day on a more leisurely note tomorrow.
But Get Ahead if You Didn’t Accomplish Much
You completed everything that’s due today, so yes, you technically have free time. But truth be told, you didn’t work your brain too hard, and when you look at the completed assignments, you’re not all that impressed with yourself. Maybe none of your upcoming assignments are urgent, but they may also still be important enough to start tackling now—and because they don’t need to be finished immediately, you have the option to take your sweet time.
You Should Enjoy it if You’re Exhausted
It’s obvious that nothing gets done—or gets done well—when you’re tired. So, when the opportunity to relax arises, it’s best to use it to recharge your battery. Go home, eat a lazy dinner in front of the TV (or a book), and treat yourself to an early bedtime.
But Get Ahead if You Have a Lot of Energy
On the other hand, if you find yourself still buzzing with energy even after everything’s complete, you might as well take advantage of the rush and see if there’s any upcoming assignments you’re interested in working on—at least until you come down from the high.
You Should Enjoy it if You’re in Good Standing
If you’ve accomplished everything that was asked of you (with grace and poise, of course), then sure, you deserve to spend your free time slacking off just a bit.
But Get Ahead if You Want to Move Up
However, this could also be a great opportunity to prove yourself if you’re looking to move up. When you have the drive, consider using your free time to help out a fellow employee, or take on an assignment to relieve your boss of extra work, or turn in a project extra early. These little efforts could come in handy when you go to ask for a promotion or a raise.
You Should Enjoy it if You Have Plans
Free time is a great thing if you have something you’ve been meaning to do, whether it’s go for a much-needed run, grab dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, or go to the movies.
But Get Ahead if You’re Bored
There will be times when you probably have the time to do something and nothing to do. For example, your free time might not coincide with other people’s, so even though you’re down for a spontaneous drink, all your friends could be at work, leaving you to entertain yourself. In this case, it might be worth your while to keep yourself busy by getting some work done—even if it’s more mindless activities such as catching up on emails or setting your calendar for the week.
At the end of the day, your free time is yours, meaning you get to make the final call as to whether or not you use it for work or pleasure. Keep in mind when it makes sense for you to get ahead, and when it makes sense to simply relax. No one wants you to become a workaholic, most of all your future self.
As an Associate Editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author