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Tips to reclaim elusive 'free time'

  • Story Highlights
  • Psychologist and executive coach offers tips to maximize free time
  • Get more out of free time by prioritizing what and who is most important to you
  • Some may be avoiding larger internal conflicts such as anxiety, fear, sadness
  • Younger workers highly value quality of life and see themselves as free agents
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(CNN) -- Busy workers who find themselves fighting a losing battle for more free time often wonder where it all goes. Psychologist Lynn Friedman told CNN.com that maximizing free time may require prioritization and a new outlook.

Prioritzation is key to maximizing free time, say experts.

Prioritzation is key to maximizing free time, say experts.

Q: How valuable is free time among younger workers?

Friedman: In my work-life seminars, young people tell me that they are concerned that their pursuit of career goals will hinder their quality of life. Many attempt to negotiate work arrangements that allow them to pursue their avocations and to "have a life." They no longer see in their future the traditional gold watch retirement gift from an employer. Rather, they see themselves as "free agents."

Q: How is it that so many Americans seem to lose track of the free time they have in their schedules?

Friedman: Some of these people may not be losing track of their time at all. They may simply be pursuing their own priorities and not yielding to those that others have attempted to externally impose.

For example, their spouse may think that they should come home and "be productive" but they may prefer to spend free time at the local watering hole with friends or colleagues.

Also, people may lose track of free time because they're unconsciously trying to slow down and relax in a fast-paced society that doesn't always appreciate, "stopping and smelling the roses."

That is, they may take the scenic route instead of the express highway.

In other cases, the squandering of free time may signify an internal conflict. For example, the person who's always moving might want to consider what they are avoiding by being too busy to think what happens when they allow themselves to slow down and be thoughtful.

Do they become aware of anxiety, fear or sadness? Similarly, what does the workaholic avoid when he doesn't allow himself free time? Is he avoiding close relationships or intimacy?

Q: What general guidelines can busy Americans keep in mind to extract more value from their free time?

Friedman: Examine your priorities. Identify what and who is most important to you. Ask yourself if the way you manage your time reflects your priorities. If it doesn't, consider how you might shift your schedule so that it's consistent with your priorities. See calculator that assesses your free time »

On a pragmatic level, if you have a long commute, figure out how you might shorten it or at least make it more pleasant. Consider trying to cut commuting time by telecommuting one or two days a week.

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If you enjoy the social aspects of the workplace, consider carpooling with a friend or colleague as a way of enjoying the commute or at least spending time more efficiently.

Consider walking to work or parking at a distance and walking part way. Consider what steps you might take to relax and enjoy the people and things that are most important to you.

Lynn Friedman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and executive coach in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She is on the associate faculty at Johns Hopkins University.

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