Strict, Loose, and Free Time: A Productivity Guide

Lately I’ve been trying to conceptualize this approach to managing unexpected spare time.

This may seem super obvious and trivial in hindsight, but I think more and more people are forgetting this concept as they become more and more glued to digital content. Any chance we get, we’ll stare at a screen, absorbing versus producing. Let this be a reminder and wake up call to the lazy consumers we are today!

First and foremost we’re going to define what I mean by Strict, Loose, and Free time. You can and should probably come up with your own names for them so they’re easier to remember. I considered using Lock or Tight instead of Strict for example.

Second we will need your To-do/Idea list. A backlog of stuff you’ve been meaning to do basically

Part 1: Definitions

Strict Time is a fixed timeframe that you can’t get out of and requires your full presence or attention. Obvious examples include your 9 to 5 work, class, meetings, church, etc. You can doze off or sneak in texts, games, and reading feeds, but you are unlikely to accomplish anything else other than your main job here. However, you can have random thoughts and epiphanies in these situations and when that happens you should immediately note it down in your to do/idea list. Strict time for me is mainly training clients.

Loose Time AKA Downtime may include anything in the Strict category, but with a bit more leeway. For example, you’re at work, but waiting 10 minutes before a scheduled meeting and have time to browse the net. Loose time frames are situations where you need to be present, but you can focus on more than one thing. The length of time may or may not be fixed such as: waiting for a package to be delivered, waiting in a lobby for any kind of appointment, getting out of anything in the Strict category early, standing around at a party, or being stuck in traffic. I hope that illustrates the point. Loose time is sort of a limited Free time that we can use to be productive which will be described below. Typical Loose Times for me personally is waiting between clients or when clients cancel.

Free Time is obvious and everyone’s favorite. This is the time you don’t count, the time you can spend wasting away on video games, netflix, napping, etc. This is our most unproductive state, but it can with some discipline and time be managed to include some loose time productivity.

With me so far? You’ve probably thought of these things yourself, but I hope the following concepts and examples will help you recognize and implement them easily.

Part 2: The List

We will now need your ongoing To-do/Idea list. For me personally, this is a sticky note I keep on the front screen of my phone at all times. These tasks are things I jot down very quickly and in pseudo-code language so nosy people don’t understand what I’m planning if they try to read it. Some of these such as oil/den/pw with the dates are just little indicators that remind me the last time I went to get an oil change, dentist, or a password change for some account that requires constant updates. You might also have multiple lists like I do. I have a list on my wordpress for blog ideas that I might write on my phone first, and another list on my computer for random ideas I come up with (like opening this business)

Some of the items on this list have been there for over a year, while others quickly populate and get done. I want you to list out 5 to 10 things you’ve been meaning to do that can be gradually accomplished in both Loose/Free situations. Whether it’s going to the dentist, getting an oil change, or grocery shopping for the week. Maybe you need to have a talk with your boss, a loved one, maybe you’re about to take a leap on a big purchase or decision. One of the things I found to be most effective is keeping this list limited like RAM on a computer. If I find my sticky note getting full, I will automatically take care of the quickest task before adding more because having an unlimited growing list is useless and stressful. This approach has been very effective. Here is a snapshot of my screen over the months. You’ll see some things that stick around and others that come and go.

If you have made your list, your next step is to start categorizing the time in your week. What are some situations that constitute Loose Time for you? Is there a Free time block on the weekend that you didn’t completely fill up? For example, if you plan to go to the park with your kids, grocery shopping, and the mall and finish those before sundown without anything else planned, you have a window you can use as your Loose time. It’s 4pm, the kids are napping and you feel like jumping on the TV or taking a quick nap. Before you do this, try to set aside 20 minutes to read that book you’ve been meaning to finish.

Part 3: Recognition and Action

Anytime you find yourself wondering what you should do with your time should be considered Loose Time. On this thought, it’s important to note that your Loose Time should never be too long. I would say if it’s anything past an hour, you’re probably going to have to consider it strict time. Loose Time is best used in chunks because if it feels strict, you are more likely to avoid it and stick with Free Time. So if you have some kind of project you’ve been working on, make sure it’s one that can be broken up into smaller parts, otherwise it needs to be strict time. Working on your car for example can quickly go from a Loose to Strict endeavor if you run into problems along the way. if your project renders your car disabled until fixed, you now must finish the job before moving on with your day. This happened to a client of mine who was hoping to finish painting his bumper before coming for a session, but ended up being at a step requiring more time and attention than expected. It was better to finish the job and skip the session because coming back for it afterwards would mean a huge time setting up again. Notice that Strict time doesn’t necessarily mean a negative one. My client loves working on cars so you can consider it sort of a ‘Strict Free’ Time :P

Part 4: Examples and Tips

Personal Example: Typical

When I’m cooking rice, it will take 20-30 minutes depending on whether I’m doing white or brown rice. In this period I tend to:

  • Jot down ideas for this site/blog that are on my phone into the drafts section ~5 min
  • Do the dishes ~8-15 min
  • Go fill up two 3 gallon water bottles ~3 min
  • Take out the trash/recycle ~1 min
  • Read articles online ~ variable
  • Derp on youtube ~ variable

By the time the rice is done, I’ve been super productive and am ready to eat.

Personal Example 2: Using media as a timer

Sometimes I’ll have 30 minutes before a session, meeting, appointment, or what have you. I typically watch 20 to 30 minute videos whether they be entertainment or educational (John Oliver!!!). Let’s say I have a 24 minute video. I know that as long as I watch it uninterrupted I will pass exactly 24 minutes with 6 minutes to spare without having to constantly check the clock. It’s a very cool feeling knowing that the math works. There is no logical way I can finish the 24 minute video and have 30 minutes pass. Use this if you have things to catch up on, audiobooks to listen to, etc. It’s powerful, magical, and of course, productive.

Personal Example 3: Fitness related

Waiting for a client to show or client cancelled and I have a bit of time before the next. Foam roll or a small workout or read that dense anatomy book. This is also done while waiting for clients to finish showering.

General Example 1: Weekend Outing

Surely you’ve experienced coordinating an outing whether with friends and family to a restaurant, park, or house and need to wait on people to get ready. This is a great time to sneak in stuff because people telling you they need 5 minutes usually means 20. Start taking care of the stuff that needs attention when you get home later such as cleaning up your own mess you made in getting ready. Take the clothes you didn’t pick off the bed, get your laundry ready, pick out your evening clothes, read some emails, pages, or videos you bookmarked but never got to, etc etc.

General Example 2: Earn your free time

You have the whole day to yourself. You have 10 things on your to-do list. Before you go into free mode, just do 1 of them, just 1. Whether you end up doing 2 or more by the end of the day, just get that 1 done (or started) and you won’t feel any regret!

General Example 3: Business Travel

Let’s face it, when you travel for work, only 25% of your trip is really spent working. The rest is lots and lots of downtime, commuting, and sitting around waiting for things to happen or people to get back to you. This is probably the best time for you to catch up on things you promised yourself and others you would do. Make a list for this, you’ll thank yourself later. (To my clients: hint hint, foam roll)

General Example 4: Gamers!

Games such as League of Legends matches can range from 20 – 50+ minutes. Make sure you play a mode that won’t exceed your Loose time, or it will become a strict time and screw with your remaining plans if you’re the type that must finish the match. This would be a horrible choice to make right before your weekend outing in example 1!


And that’s about it.

Just try to catch yourself slacking as much as possible to be aware of how much time you really have, then gradually build up things to do to maximize productivity. The idea is to turn these spurts of work into more predictable and regularly occurring events in your life so you’re moving towards something everyday. Hope you found this helpful.

By the way! Loose time is the exact time I use to write these blog posts. And it is likely your Loose Time that is allowing you to read this :) And to clients of mine who like to vegetate at home, if you’re reading this you better be doing some of the homework I gave you!

A lame venn diagram to recap: