Updated: Jan 31, 2021
Which do you like more, coffee or chocolate?
I definitely like chocolate. It’s kind of addictive, it gives me a little bit of a sugar rush, and there are enough different kinds to keep it interesting. Especially if we’re including peanut butter and chocolate together, then it’s game over. The problem with chocolate is if I eat too much of it I feel awful. We’ve all probably made that mistake as kids on Halloween, and maybe once or twice since then. It’s a fine line between a treat and a problem.
On the other hand, I really like coffee. I like the taste of coffee as much as I like the taste of chocolate, but coffee makes me feel good for a long time after drinking it. The caffeine does wonders for my productivity, mood, and motivation. When I first started trying to get into coffee in high school, I never craved it. But I kept trying it and trying it, and before too long I was hooked.
When we have free time, our default choices (Netflix, social media, video games, drinking alcohol) are like chocolate. They make us feel good for a while and they are fine in moderation. But if we only partake in chocolate, we’re going to feel pretty bad about ourselves.
A new THING introduced to our free time is like coffee. A THING could be yoga, reading, running, cooking, sewing, coding, painting, etc. At first, we’re probably not going to obsess over it. We may even have to teach ourselves to like it. But the more we stick with it, the more we’re going to realize we enjoy the way it makes us feel. Eventually, we’ll crave it. We’ll consume more coffee and cut back on chocolate.
This year I’ve discovered new THINGS like I discovered coffee when I was in high school. On my journey to fill my free time with purpose, I have picked up 8 new THINGS in 8 months. I always go through a period of adjustment where I get used to the new routine (the taste, if you’re still okay with the coffee simile), but each time I’ve come out the other side craving my new THING whenever I have free time.
New THINGS, like coffee, make us feel good for a long time after enjoying them. But I’m not here to tell you to cut chocolate out of your life. Any coffee drinker knows that coffee and chocolate pair well together. That’s true for THINGS and our default choices too.
Some days I get home from work and start out with a “chocolate habit” (a default choice), like immediately pulling up Instagram or turning on YouTube. Of course, this turns into an hour of clicking recommended videos or scrolling. Then during hour 2, I feel guilty about how I spent hour 1, so I make coffee but let it get cold. In other words, I pull up the latest blog post I’ve been working on or unroll my yoga mat, but feel lethargic and let myself take a quick nap first or procrastinate by responding to some text messages. Before I know it, hour 2 is already winding down. So I do the equivalent of chugging cold coffee, which is not pleasant. I’ll try to catch up on lost time by writing really fast, which results in word-vomiting on the page. Or I’ll try to focus on yoga but feel so guilty about how I spent my earlier free time that I don’t get a lot out of it. On those days, I go to bed feeling unproductive and generally wishing I had made better decisions with my time.
It turns out the order of operations during my free time matters. Let’s assume that on any given day I’m going to do my THING and a couple of my default choices during my free time. Doing my THING first ensures that I have used my free time purposefully before I even consider one of my default choices. As discussed in the previous chapter, scheduling my free time really makes a difference here. Following a self-prescribed schedule helped me establish a routine of doing my THING first.
After getting used to doing my THING before my default choices, I noticed something interesting happening. My THINGS were becoming my default choices. Instead of coming home and immediately looking up what college basketball games were on that night, I would unroll my yoga mat or pop open my most recent book. The more I defaulted to a THING with purpose rather than YouTube or scrolling social media, the more days I went to bed feeling great about how I spent my free time.
A major milestone in the journey of filling your free time with purpose is when you notice that your default choices have changed for the better.
Here’s the takeaway: drink your coffee first. Once you’re finished, grab a handful of m&ms. Life is all about balance.