Finding Free Time When You Don’t Get Evenings and Weekends

How to cope during an endless stream of workdays or when your off-time is on nontraditional days

If you search the terms “gig work” and “free time,” you’ll locate oodles of articles on how to make extra cash by side-hustling in your spare hours. But full-time hustlers or giggers will find few words of wisdom on how to find much-needed free time.

Gig or project work doesn’t always have a set schedule, and peak work times can vary, depending on what you’re doing or your specific industry. That means traditional free-time chunks, like nights and weekends, can often be taken up with making a living.

But everyone needs leisure hours to tamp down stress, avoid burnout, and get proper rest. Plus we need free time to tackle “life work” like the laundry or grocery run. We’ve put together some strategies for cobbling together R&R and fitting in personal chores.

Know when to expect your next “reprieve” day.

You may not have a regularly set day (or days) off each week. Instead, your workdays might string together—with five here, seven there, or even a long stretch of nine at a time. If that’s the case, just be sure you do, in fact, have a free day on the horizon. Aim for at least one within seven days, if possible, to recharge. This Entrepreneur article describes why time off can make you more productive. Knowing you have a reprieve coming, even if it’s a random Tuesday, can help you stay motivated to tackle your current hustle. Of course, finding one day off a week isn’t always possible, so read on for additional solutions.

Fragment your free time.

Gig work and freelancing sometimes mean working for two weeks straight without a full day off. That might be because you’re slogging through an intense project with a tricky deadline or you’re in a push to make extra cash on gigs before the kids are home on spring break or before you go on vacation. Getting stuck in one of these long work grinds can be tough. Eke out free time where it makes sense.

Many gig workers have their hands in different sectors of the on-demand economy and need to work in smaller bursts of peak times rather than in one long shift. Maximize that free time in between those work spurts. If you’re a ride-share driver, you might enjoy shuttling morning commuters around. Mid-morning is a great time to then grab a coffee break or a walk in the park before turning to work for the lunchtime food delivery rush. Then maybe you can fit in a few personal errands before turning your efforts to your direct-selling business in the early evening. Quick hits to recharge and get life tasks done will help you stave off work fatigue when a big break isn’t possible. Just be sure not to go too long without a real rest day.

When you do lock in chunks of free time, even if it’s just 15 minutes, honor it as best you can. Avoid checking your email or thinking about work worries. Try to be present with what you’re doing, whether listening to your favorite podcast or walking the pooch. If you’re on the hunt for your pockets of free time, read through these NPR interviews to see how others have found theirs.

Incorporate “workday lite.”

As independent contractors or gig jugglers we can throw the idea of “days on” or “days off” out the window. We’re going to have gray areas at times. Yes, we should aim to have days off in our schedules, but we can also stop thinking of a workday as a full 8 (or more) hours of work.

The “workday-lite” strategy involves doing work on most days and balancing it out with adequate free time to reboot. We know that a traditional work week crams 40 hours into 5 days, with 2 consecutive days off. But some people thrive on switching up that formula, freelancers especially. If you’re a project worker like a writer or programmer, large chunks of free time might give you anxiety or the feeling that you “should” be working. For example, completing a few hours of work on the weekend and shortening your work time on the weekdays can keep “freelancer guilt” (this Motley Fool article explains what it is) in check and even aid productivity. Therefore, during heavy periods of work, a lite workday on what would typically be a day off can actually boost work-life balance rather than impede it.

Gig work is perfect for the workday-lite strategy. Mastering shorter shifts and working on most days can make any grind more enjoyable and less of an endurance effort when on the clock.

Embrace or outsource certain chores or errands.

Our free time isn’t just used for lounging. Usually, we have a few tasks to get done each week that keep our lives running smoothly. Make a list of your typical chores and errands. If you loathe a specific task, maybe you can afford to outsource it by taking on an extra work assignment or an extra hour of gigging. The grocery delivery fee might be worth not spending your valuable free time jockeying for cart space. This Forbes piece explains why “buying time” can indeed make you a happier person. On the other hand, maybe you kind of enjoy going to the grocery store. If so, work this “fun chore” into one of your fragmented free-time spaces so that when you have a full off day, you can truly kick back or do a favorite activity—like go for a long bike ride or take the kiddos to the zoo.