How to liven up your leisure. Plan your spare moments -- don't fritter them away
TO be able to fill leisure time intelligently is the last product of civilization. -- Bertrand Russell One gets the feeling that Bertrand Russell would not altogether approve of leisure seekers in the 1980s -- that those of us who spend our spare hours watching ``Leave It to Beaver'' reruns and picking our way through the five-and-ten-cent store are not, perhaps, expressing the pinnacle of civilization.
And those hours eat up more time than most of us care to count -- four months off per year, counting 52 Saturdays, 52 Sundays, 10 days paid vacation, and a handful of paid holidays, not to mention evenings and (if you call it spare time) mornings to be spent at our discretion.
If you're lying in your lounge chair, avoiding the piles of laundry instead of learning to speak French while building a boat in your basement, welcome to the club.
``Leisure sort of snuck up on us as a society,'' maintains Jan Gault, a San Francisco, Calif.-based leisure management specialist and author of ``Free Time: Making Your Leisure Count'' (Wiley Press, New York, $9.95, 1983).
``We never really had much leisure until the last generation, and then we seem to have gone through a period of leisure shock, leisure overload, with too many activities demanding our time,'' Dr. Gault said recently in a telephone interview.
``Also, we have very little education in leisure -- all our goals are set in terms of career planning, not life planning.''
As a result, ``many people look to their jobs as a big Sugar Daddy,'' she says, ``which is supposed to meet all our needs, be our creative outlet, take care of our physical well-being. Well, it's not.''
A better approach, Dr. Gault suggests, is to examine your needs and see which ones are met by your job, ``then balance your leisure life to meet the rest.''
Such planning, which maximizes your leisure time, is no different from any other form of wise time management. It involves determining your needs -- for creative work, for intellectual and physical challenge, for socializing, for quiet meditation -- and planning outlets to meet those needs.
It also involves tracking down and eliminating the source of your biggest time wasters.
``There's an inverse relationship between what people do and what they say they enjoy doing,'' says Dr. Gault. She attributes this mainly to ``poor planning,'' a problem that she thinks begins to be solved ``once you gain a good perspective of how you're spending your time.''
For example, are you spending time with the people who are the most important in your life, or spending a lot of your time with some other people because of social pressure, at the expense of the important people? If you spend a day or two tracking the use of your time in 12-minute segments, suggests Dr. Gault, you can begin to see such patterns.
``It's not only what we do in our free time that's important,'' she emphasizes, ``but our motivation. Why are we doing this? What are the benefits? Are we doing it because it's expected of us, or because it's a growth experience?''
She defines a time waster as something you don't want to be doing -- which may or may not include ``Leave It to Beaver'' watching. And she believes most of these time wasters are not external problems over which we seem to have no control (like commuting to work or waiting in line at the grocery store) but internal conflicts that drain our energy.
``If you're indecisive, or procrastinating, or eating too much,'' she points out, ``all these things are terrific time wasters.'' And most of them come about ``when we have no clear sense of what's important to us, what we want.''
To get at that, she advises ``a seven-minute stretch of daydreaming -- I'm sure you've got seven minutes, waiting in a traffic jam or standing in line at a store.'' Daydream over your needs -- would you like to be spending more time indoors or outdoors, alone or with others, in planned or spontaneous activities, or in competitive or cooperative ventures?
``Remember a time when you really wanted to do something -- usually when you were young -- like travel, or start a different career. Then try to narrow it down to something specific.''
After you've done this, you can match those needs with a host of activities available -- anything from games and sports to pets, outdoor activities (like camping and gardening), working with groups, specializing in a subject, collecting items, developing a skill (like acting or sewing), or working with your hands.
Once you've developed a list of possible activities, check to see which of them fit within your budget and either use a skill you enjoy or teach a skill you want to pick up. Which of these offers a challenge and a chance for self-development? Those are the ones you'll want to aim for.
When you have a clear idea of what you want, ``plan your life around your personal goals, not around getting the laundry done,'' Dr. Gault says. If some of the goals you set are exciting, challenging ones, ``just knowing you have them to look forward to will help you get past the humdrum, tedious chores we all have to do everyday.''
Such planning ``shouldn't make leisure into a chore,'' Dr. Gault emphasizes, ``with something to do every minute. It should mean that, if you come home at night and you're tired and there are dishes piled in the sink, you can tell yourself, I'm going to take my hour to relax now before starting on the dishes, instead of later.''
The ultimate effect is that your personal goals will eventually be met. ``Things don't just happen,'' she says, ``they require planning. And with planning, you can have a more creative, fulfilling life.''