One Week of Freedom 3

We writers sure do complain a lot about not having time to write, don’t we? Yet there’s a common stereotype that when you’re a writer, people automatically imagine you must have a lot of free time. We constantly have to tell people our writing time is not the same as free time.

And then there are those of us who are bad at time management and only write when we have free time left over after using up all of our free time. It’s confusing and counter-productive.

You know what I’m talking about. The hours spent watching mindless YouTube videos, playing video games, browsing social media and only half-paying attention to what you’re looking at. I’m guilty of all of the above.

And if you’re anything like me, then you realize that you don’t need any of these distractions in your life, but you don’t want to quit them, either.

But can you take a little time off from them? (The answer may surprise you!)

I discovered this a while back, when I tried to take three months off from playing video games. Three months proved to be a bit too much for me to stick with, but during the time that I did abstain, I learned a bit about myself.

First off, when you give yourself extra free time, you find that you have to fill the void in any way possible. I quickly realized my dependency on YouTube videos to fill the void was not healthy and swore that off as well.

Without these two things (just two things!) in my life, I got bored. Like, really bored.

But I also realized I could replace them with more productive things. I read a lot during that period, finishing some books within three days. My apartment stayed clean.

I was no longer pacifying myself with mindless tasks. I was getting things done that I had wanted to do for a long time, but wasn’t able to do because I “didn’t have time.”

(It also helped that I had the incentive of listening to audio books while I cleaned or exercised.)

This month and next month, I want to talk about breaking bad habits and building new ones. It’s not an uncomfortable topic to talk (or read) about, but its actual application is pretty difficult. Some people are able to reinvent themselves like a chameleon changes its complexion. For non-reptiles, though, a more measured, methodical approach is more appropriate.

I know from experience that before you can add things to your lives that make you a more productive person, you have to make room. Merely replacing bad habits with good ones is not effective unless you’re in boot camp and you have a drill sergeant to facilitate the change with a hammer.

Let’s be kinder to ourselves and ease ourselves into it.

Pay attention to the things you spend the most time on. Any time you find yourself thinking, “Man, I could have used all that time to write,” consider that an activity you can take a break from. It will still be there when you get back.

Just take a week away, see how you feel. There’s a certain power you’ll feel when you realize you want to go back but you instead tell yourself “no” because you’re on a break.

You’re not quitting anything forever (unless you want to). You’re just taking some time away to make room for the things that are more important.

You can set different guidelines for yourself, too. You can decide that you’ll take a break until the end of the semester, if you like. Or you can limit the activities you’re on break from to weekends.

Get someone to help you, if you like. I recently had someone hide Breath of the Wild from me because even after beating it, I was still spending hours a day playing it.

If you take a break from one thing and find that you’re filling the void with equally unhealthy time-sucks, add them to the list of things you’re on a break from.

And remember that I said we’re being kind to ourselves here. If you’re cutting out something like YouTube, you can allow yourself to watch instructional or informational videos if you like. I follow a couple of writers on YouTube. I even use a separate account to follow them so I can stay more on-task when watching them. The danger here is the potential to stray off-track. If you find yourself going to the gaming videos, maybe it’s time to close the browser for a bit.

Whatever you decide to put away for a bit, even if only for a week, it’s not going anywhere. In fact, when you get back to it, there may even be more for you to enjoy. Subscriptions can stack up quickly. The temptation to avoid, then, is binging.

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

About David Shank

David T. Shank is a writer, runner, and musician, in that order. His blog is hopefully an oasis among the vast ocean of negativity that is the Internet. He lives in Cleveland studying how to write good.

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3 thoughts on “One Week of Freedom

  • A.S. Akkalon

    I’ve always liked the idea of short periods away from something. Saturday with no internet, for example. You’re right, at first you tend to find yourself terribly bored, but then you find more valuable things to do and it makes you much happier. I think you’ve inspired me to have a go at a couple of these. 🙂

  • Jonathan Nash (@ReadingNReding)

    I always find committing to a new task is the most difficult endeavour. Sliding back into hold, nasty habits – – in contrast – – is the easiest. How do I cope with those moments of relishing in the bad habit while feeling guilty, telling myself I will never be able to crawl out of this again? How do I stave off unwanted temptations into my bad habits?

    • David Shank Post author

      I know exactly what you mean. I’ve gone through periods where I’ve wanted to stave off a bad habit, and instead I’d end up indulging in that habit for way too long. This is especially true for video games.

      I think a good method can be to change your vocabulary a bit. If it’s something you want to quit forever, you can remind yourself “I don’t do that anymore, that’s not me.” It’s easy to become a victim to your own words, to call yourself an addict and believe you’ll always be an addict. So if you’re telling yourself you won’t be able to crawl out of this again (and believe me, I know that feeling) then instead try telling yourself, out loud, “I am in control.” You might not believe what you’re saying, but hearing the words might just boost your confidence and give you the strength you need.

      Last and most important thing I’ll say: The struggle is the same every day. Every day you’ll have to put up with the same old temptations, and every day you’ll have to be the one to make decisions. It gets a little easier once you realize how much better you feel without your bad habits, but don’t let this comfortable feeling lead you to thinking you can reintroduce the bad habit into your life little by little. I admit, after a while you don’t have to put such a bar on it, but you have to remember that it’s really easy to backslide. You know yourself better than anyone else, so it’s up to you to decide what works for you.