Leisure Time, Not Idle Time

As I’ve mentioned before, I was able to create, launch, and build up The Simple Dollar during my leisure time in the evenings after work over a two year period. Simply put, I filled much of my leisure time with this site, day after day, week after week, month after month, until it had built up a revenue stream large enough that I felt comfortable enough to start doing it full time.

This is something that I often encourage readers to do for themselves. If you’re passionate about something, fill your leisure time with it and see if you can build it into something you can do for a career.

There’s a key word I’m using here. Leisure. It’s the distinction between leisure time and idle time that often catches people off guard and makes them feel as though they don’t possibly have time to engage in such an activity.

Here’s a great example of what I mean.

There was a time, early in my career, where if I came home from work and felt tired, I’d flop on the couch and channel surf for an hour or so until my wife came home. At that point, I’d get up and lethargically start making dinner with her. After dinner, I’d often still feel beat, so I’d just play a video game or something else that didn’t require a ton of effort from me.

If that were my evening routine, I would have never been able to build up The Simple Dollar. It simply wouldn’t work.

Now, flash forward to 2006. What did I do then if I came home from work tired?

Simple. I’d directly address the tiredness. I’d go into the bedroom, lay down on the bed, close my eyes, and let sleep take me away.

When my wife arrives home, I’ve spent the last hour doing as much as I could to address my tiredness, leaving me much more capable of utilizing the rest of the evening in a successful way.

The same thing happens in the late evening. Let’s say it’s ten o’clock and Sarah and I have just watched an episode of a television series that we both enjoy. I’m feeling tired but, for some reason, I don’t want to go to bed yet.

A few years ago, I would have channel-surfed or played a video game for the next hour. Now? I’ll go prep tomorrow night’s supper or do some laundry or something like that, pushing me to being tired enough for bed while – and this is key – getting something time-consuming out of the way for tomorrow.

This, of course, leaves tomorrow night more wide open than before, which gives me time to play tag in the yard with my son and daughter and a game with my wife after the kids are in bed.

Leisure time is time spent engaged in an activity for my own personal enjoyment or growth. Idle time, on the other hand, is time spent on whatever activity happens to be at hand. In short, I try to find room in my life for genuine leisure time and avoid idle time.

Some obvious questions pop up.

What if I’m too tired for an engaged activity? Simple: get some genuine rest. Go to bed early. If adequate sleep isn’t doing the trick, work on your diet or talk to your doctor. If you’re doing certain things (like simply sitting there channel surfing) because you’re too tired to do anything else, then you need to make some other changes to your life.

What if I can’t think of anything to do? This can only be true if you have no goals in your life, no desire to find a better job, nothing you wish to improve at, and no activities that you find enjoyable. If all of these are true, then I would suggest talking to your doctor, as I would suspect depression.

What if I just want to “veg out”? There’s nothing at all wrong with a relaxing activity as long as you’re making a conscious choice to engage in it and it’s not done out of idleness.

I’ll give you an example. Sarah and I have watched several different science fiction TV series via Netflix by watching roughly three episodes a week. We set aside that time to just kick back and enjoy the show at hand. We get comfortable in the basement, enjoy the show together, then turn off the television when it’s over and do somthing else.

We don’t idle afterwards, channel surfing. We don’t talk ourselves out of going to bed just to see what’s on the other channel. If we’re tired, we go to bed. If we’re not tired, we’ll go find another activity to do together. If one of us is tired, that one goes to bed and the other stays up to do something else.

What if my leisure time is completely filled with other activities? Committees. Boards. Bible studies. Book groups. Game nights. Boy Scouts. It’s easy to fill up a schedule with so many responsibilities that it feels like you have no time for anything else.

It’s important to remember, though, that you’ve chosen to fill your leisure time with these things. If you’re happy with those choices, great! If you’re not happy with those choices, step back from the ones that give you pause and look for new ways to use that time.

Genuine leisure time is valuable – and more abundant than you think. If you separate it from idle time, it can provide all the space you need to take on personal goals and get involved in things you might not otherwise enjoy. Without it, I would have never been able to start The Simple Dollar and have such a powerful opportunity to bond with my family.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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