How Much Time Off Is Too Much Time Off?

How Much Time Off Is Too Much Time Off?
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When it comes to time off, it turns out that too much might actually be as stressful as too little — at least according to this new study that suggests there’s a “sweet spot” of how much free time you should have in a day. The research suggests that people start to feel unproductive and even stressed out if they have more than roughly five hours of daily leisure time.

Too much of a good thing?

The American Psychological Association recently published research that examined the effects of free time on an individual’s well-being using the data from a few related studies. The first was a 2013 time-use survey that asked 21,736 Americans about their activities in the previous 24 hours and reported on their sense of well-being. The results revealed that people felt better as their free time increased — but that feeling leveled off at about two hours, and then actually declined after five hours. Another study that surveyed 13,639 working Americans corroborated these findings.

Two additional online studies were conducted based on these results, examining people’s sense of well-being based on how they perceived different amounts of time off, doing either productive tasks (hobbies, chores, socialising) and non-productive tasks (doing nothing). For non-productive tasks, the results showed a U-shaped data pattern in which people would feel stress with too little time off (15 minutes), feel good with a moderate amount of time off (3.5 hours), and stress with a lot of time off (seven hours).

The authors note that “although an abundance of discretionary time spent on solo and nonproductive activities did produce a negative effect on subjective well-being, discretionary time spent on activities that were social or productive did not.”

In other words, truly idle time seems to be the source of the stress — there’s a big difference between sitting around in your underwear all day and using that time to meet with friends or even cleaning the apartment.

That all said, the study merely reflects the imagined stress of its participants, discusses broad averages, and shouldn’t be confused with an absolute measure of how people feel.

What can be learned from this study?

As many retirees or the longtime unemployed can tell you, an excessive, purposeless amount of time off can become stressful, even depressing. In fact, without obligations like a job, filling up the day with activity can be its own form of stress, especially when societal norms suggest that you must be enjoying your time off.

However, the studies suggests this is not always true. For that reason, even if you have a time booked off from work to “do nothing,” you still might want to break the days up with some scheduled activity — like exercise or spending time with friends — to get the most benefit from your free time.

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