The Hard Facts: Free Time is Friend Time

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“49 percent of women say they do not have enough free time. … Women who set aside regular free time are ultimately more satisfied with their lives – 50 percent report being satisfied versus 41 percent of those who regularly postpone their free time.” (“Women Need More Free Time Says Real Simple Study” ; Fishbowl NY, 3/9/2012)

The lack of free time is one of the biggest detractors from adult friendship, if you ask me. Because whether we feel we have free time or not, we make time for work and errands and family and fitness. But with friends, we wait until time opens up. On that rare occasion when, “wow! I have nothing going on this afternoon,” that’s when we call a buddy and invite them for a pedicure or to see The Hunger Games. 

Those other to-dos—work, exercise, family, chores—are priorities, but we treat friendship as a luxury. Something we get around to when we have an extra hour to spare. But, according to this study, almost half of us don’t have enough free time as it is! And so we miss our BFF time, those very important moments that helps us relax, laugh and connect.

If that’s all hanging with pals was—just an excuse to kick back—it might not be so bad that women continually postpone it. But keep in mind that time spent with friends also dramatically increases your odds of long-term survival, delays memory loss, lowers stress, improves sleep, and boosts your immune system. It is probably the best thing you could do for your health.

The Real Simple study quoted above found that much of the time pressure women feel is self-imposed. According to their research, the free-time deficit is often caused by poor delegating or not letting go of control. That’s not likely to change all too soon.  Sad, but true.

So I propose a mental shift. To fit in more time with friends, which really is as vital to our health and happiness as anything else, stop thinking of it as a luxury. Friendship shouldn’t be a free-time activity. It should be a make-time activity. Add “spend one hour with Sally” to your to-do list. Right after “schedule doctor appointment” and before “grocery shopping.” Fit it in there now, so you won’t forget about it later when ever elusive free-time disappears.

Added bonus: Suddenly there will be something on your to-do list you’re actually looking forward to doing. Ta-da! Magic.

Are you one of the 41% who doesn’t have enough free time? Does that lack of free time keep you from seeing friends? Do you think the “free-time” to “make-time” mental shift can work?

Chicago! I’ll be reading tomorrow night, 3/22, at 7 pm at Open Books. It will be a meet and mingle event, and you know what that means — new friends for all! I’d be so thrilled to see you there. 


Filed under The Search

56 responses to “The Hard Facts: Free Time is Friend Time

  1. Great article. So true!!

    • I love this message. I have lived much of my adult life as a bit of a work-a-holic. A recent car accident has given me a much needed slow down and time to think about things like this. I need to make a bigger effort to stay connected with friends, even after I return to my busy work life.

  2. I like to combine “friend time” with “exercise time” and often run with friends in order to get both done at once – works well but sometimes means getting up at 5:15 am to do it!

    • This is exactly what I was going to say! It’s healthy in all kinds of ways, and makes exercising more enjoyable. Double whammy.

      • Frume Sarah

        Yes. I was recently invited by a potential friend for a walking date. We went once…and it was a perfect match. Same stride. Similar body type. Complimentary goals. We’ve keep one another motivated AND it’s been a great way to get to know someone. Sweating, no make-up — you just can’t hide behind outer trappings.

  3. Deb Prewitt

    I completely agree with you. And I confess I struggle making time for friends. One thing that has helped is that a bunch of us have organized groups that we get together for, so there is at least a group activity that we put on our schedule once a month. 🙂

  4. This is the hardest fact of life. Where is the free time? My God!!
    How to manage it?? I have been trying it.

  5. When a guy doesn’t find time for our gal pal we tell her “if he was really interested he’d find the time”. To me it’s the same thing with friendship, a true friend will always find the time for coffee, to send a card, to bring a plant and some wine to their new house etc. I run my own business, teach, work out and volunteer but I can always find at least a half hour for a friend

    • I totally agree with you. Two thumbs up !

      And its not about putting someone on your to-do list as she mentioned in the OP, that does not work. I don’t want to be an item on someone’s to-do list, I want them to want to be with me. I want them to be taking things off the to-do list because they want and need to be with me. And sometimes I don’t want them to be multi-tasking while being with me. That’s ok sometimes, but sometimes I want & need their undivided attention.

      Its a two way street, I strive to treat others the way I’m wanting them to treat me.

  6. Thank you for the concrete reminder of how important it is to make girl time with my friends more of a priority.

  7. I agree you to have to invest time in relationships. And most importantly, if someone calls you and asks to go to a movie or have coffee – say YES! I also agree with the mental shift. There IS enough time. Shifting to a perception of an abundance of time can work miracles. I used to put off my friends as if they were a luxury. But once I placed them in the proper perspective and priority, everything else has fallen into its place. I have time for all the fun things AND for getting the work that needs to be done completed. Sure, sometimes the laundry sits an extra day, but does that really matter?

  8. I recently adopted more children, and it seems it has sent most of my friends into hiding! I guess for fear of having to spend time with me while I multi-task and fold the laundry… Sure wish I could accomplish this mental shift, but I honestly think I just don’t have any free time. 😦

  9. This may be my favorite post of yours so far.

  10. Anonymous

    Hanging out with friends is one of my top priorities. We go to a dance class three times a week and out to breakfast after.

    Other friends have been in what we call a “women’s group”–five friends that have been meeting every other week for thirty years.

    I cut down on obligations in other areas by doing everything in my own zip code.

  11. Jen

    This is so true…and so hard. I have been desperately craving friend time and have even made several attempts to schedule it. Sadly, my friends haven’t made the mental shift. They accept my invitation, I write it on my calendar, then they forget and schedule other “must-do” chores, and when I call to make sure we’re still on, they tell me they’re so glad I called because they’d forgotten all about it and cancel. Ugh! I know they don’t mean to slight me, but I am hurt…. 😦

  12. I have the time, I just don’t have the friends to fill the time with. It’s so hard to meet new friends after a move to a new city. Your blog has inspired me, perhaps I should run a personal ad. MWF seeking BFF.

  13. Anonymous

    I have three jobs and run my own business. What is this “free time” you speak of? It sounds lovely… 🙂

    I think the “make time” idea looks great on paper, but I think for a lot of us, it’s really tough. For me it would be a matter of “which client’s deadline do I blow to hang out with this friend?” I’m getting old enough that I can’t do all-nighters any more… 🙂

    I really admire people who are able to make this work! That being said, I’m going to see “Hunger Games” this weekend with a friend even though I really should be working…

    • I hear you – I own and operate 2 businesses. I love the flexibility of being able to make a daytime date with a friend and then catch up on my work in the evening. It took me a couple of years to be “ok” with that in my head but it works and is very productive both on the personal and the professional side!

  14. I think a lot of people have gotten lazy in their effort to actually see friends face-to-face in the modern world of Facebook. People will leave a comment on my wall saying “We should hang out, it’s been awhile.” But then, they never try to do anything more than that, even if I take their remark as an invitation to try to set something up.

    What can be frustrating is when friends say they wish they could hang out with me, but are too busy and don’t have time.

    I can’t help but think. “You are busy? YOU!?! I’m working a full time job, and additional part time job, running my own business, and saving time for my husband and everything else but am still willing to try to make time for you. If you have to spend 3 hours of your day watching television, at least invite me over to watch a show or two with you. Effort has to go both ways.”

  15. People are all so different. I’ve tried for so many years to get things going with people and it works and it doesn’t. Adult life, with kids and work added in, makes people so single minded and a little boring when it comes to mixing it up. Maybe things are changing for the younger generation,I’m 47, for the past 16 years all my friends have pretty much been obsessed with raising their families, and I have mine too…but the friendships have become tethered to what the kids are doing, the friendships become secondary somehow.

    I don’t have time to flesh this out, only to say that having true friends in adulthood takes work. Like you say, you have to make a concerted effort to make it happen. Anymore, if one of my few close friends calls me out of the blue, I drop what I’m doing and make time. I feel as if my friendships are these tender little plants and most of life is made up of voracious weeds (responsibilities as weeds, love it). Friendships are what bring joy – they require tending.

  16. slowblossom

    What a supersonic idea — “time with my friend” on the daily to-do list! The concept of intentionally, consciously making a “mental shift” is one I will put on my to-do list today, and if anyone wants to “spend time with Sally,” that’s me, so send me word!

    However, I don’t really need to put it on my list. Because I’m a freelancer and can often make my own schedule, and especially because I don’t have a lot of work these days, I’d consider myself part of the 59% — I make a Lot of Free Time, as does my BFF, Andrea, an RN. Yesterday we met here in rural Maine for a long walk smack dab in the middle of a work day, something we often do. . . . So my answer is Yes, the mental shift from “free time” to “make time” works, and when you get in the habit of making time with your BFF it’ll become so organic you won’t need to put it on your list.

    Chicago! My home town. Rachel, here’s hoping you have a super experience at Open Books!

  17. There is nothing like grabbing a quick coffee with a friend I between all the “to do’s”. I often BBM and do super quicks before 8am. We can all fit in a 20 or 30 min macchiato and it makes the day more exciting. Seeing my girlfriends lends an energy to my day that would not have otherwise been there. Friendship is a need, a human right so to speak, much like having a roof over your head and food to eat! Doing the Calendar thing can be tedious, it’s the spontaneity that I love. Oh, and Go well tomorrow night, they’ll love you.

  18. I agree, I would like to make more time for my friends. One of my close friends and I make it a must to talk everyday. We chat about anything and everyting on the phone. If we have gone through a day without talking we know something is wrong. I get texts from her like, “hello, are you alive?”, she is joking, but there is some truth to her concern. I don’t think there has been a day in years where we haven’t at least text messaged eachother. The day that we don’t we both know will be a day to worry. Knowing that she is waiting for me is a big comfort. We do our best to spend time together, but the constant contact makes up for our often quick visits.

  19. This post came just at the right time. My husband travels all the time, leaving me to care for our toddler. And while I love it, I thought recently, ‘i’m cranky, i need to schedule some girl time.’ Now I’ll do it ASAP. Thanks for posting…

  20. I have a friend from Indiana who just moved here to Florida where I moved recently. However, until I find a job I can’t even invite her over for lunch (my son and I don’t even have enough food for ourselves a lot of the time!) Would she understand? I’m not sure. She’s living with a rich boyfriend. You’d be surprised how many “free” activites actually require at least a little bit of money for a cup of coffee or something!

    • Anonymous

      You are right, this is a huge issue! Rachel mentions in her book that her year of friending was a big money investment.

      She found that investment worthwhile, and I don’t dispute that, but if you’re struggling financially and having a hard time paying your rent/mortgage or affording food, many of the friending options in her book are out of reach. Especially if you’re in a big city where spending money to socialize is the norm.

      It’s difficult because you don’t want to come off as not being a fun person to someone you don’t know, but you also don’t want to share your financial dirt with a relative stranger.

      • I heard a woman on CNN the other day talking about losing her job and how isolated she became because she didn’t have the money to socialize at all anymore. Even a movie is pretty expensive! I think social isolation is one of the fallouts of the high unemployment rates in the U.S. Even the best of friends don’t want to ALWAYS just sit and talk or do their nails. And when you’ve just moved to a new community, you’re right, who’s going to want to start off a friendship with, “Just so you know, I’m poor.”?

    • Ana

      yes this is definitely an issue & has even come up on this blog. now that the weather is getting nice, can you meet for a walk, or to sit & chat at a park? bring a water bottle so no need to “grab a coffee” or anything.

      • Yes, I can call my friend and suggest that we walk together. It’s embarrassing, though, even with someone I know well, to have to say,”Sorry, I don’t have enough gas in the car to meet you today.” It just seems easier not to plan it in the first place.

  21. You’re right and it’s not right!!! We need to make time. Housework will always be there, life won’t!

  22. your comments are right on target! My BFF and I schedule lunch every 6-8 weeks. We never leave the restaurant without synching calendars and scheduling our next time together. Then that date becomes sacred and rarely cancelled unless family emergencies.

  23. I am a graduate student who spend most of the time in the lab. Since my schedule is so packed with my research and lab work, its difficult to meet my friends but as you said, in the weekends I sometimes find myself drawing up a plan to meet which person at what time. I find this works for me and gives me something to look forward to during the week. Of course, the friend in question might not be free but then in that case I make her take a rain check and simply try and make a plan with another friend to meet. It might be just a simple plan, mostly its always either going over and rolling around with nail polish and junk food or going out to a quiet cafe and talking over a hot cup of coffee. Before I always wanted to go to a cool place like downtown and shopping and stuff with friends to ‘hang out’ with them but for some reason these days, a cozy time with friends, doing next to nothing but talking gives me more joy. Either I’m getting old or learning to appreciate the small things in life. Anyway, I think the effort to open a little free time to meet old friends goes a long way to keep you happy.

    • I totally agree with you, s8w9a.

      Friends will understand if one is busy with works.

      What’s more than to show that you value in their friendship in making an effort to hang out with them and chat, even if it’s an hr or so.

  24. Christina

    I have plenty of time… just not the motivation. I guess as an introvert, I like my own company too much! The best friendships for me are where you get together once or twice a month…. any more than that, and it starts to feel like a job or other obligation.

  25. Interesting research….

    I really should forward this to my friend who always exhibit this “I will meet you if I am free”.

    Now I have a better stand when I state this research. 🙂

    “It is for your overall wellbeing that you should make time to meet me and hang out” LOLZ

  26. It’s quite difficult to balance one’s life…but I do make time for family…( they always come first ) before anything….
    —Great Post.

  27. Hey 🙂

    I really liked this article. I’m prpably not really the reader your blog usually gets (just turned 17) but to some of your articles I can really related.

    I thank you so much for writing this article. I know so well what you are talking about. For me it is not so much work that uses up most of my hours, but school and schoolwork.

    But your article was a great inspiration and I just texted my friend to meet up with her (and coincidentally actually watch The Hunger Games with her).

    I really like your Blog…keep going like this 🙂

    Love, Tamara

    • Free time is the hardest stuff which we never get in the world. I am a teacher by profession. During the day time I am so much immersed with the children in the school, I forget the whole world. Off I come out still the mind is occupied with the thoughts of the children who could do like other children. I try to find out the ways to make them understand the idea of anything that teach. Meanwhile personal work is sidelined or completely forgotten.
      Thanks for your brilliant article. And hope to read more.

  28. It’s easier for me to make time to spend with friends if we share a passion such as taking a day hike, plein air painting, making beaded jewelry, or playing music. A couple of years ago, I joined a plein air meet up group, where I’ve met a GF that is interesting, fun and likes to paint. Also I get together once a week with a small group of women who love to make beautiful jewelry. We spend most of the time gabbing and we share design tips and provide helpful critiques to each other. We’ve had one retreat and a field trip to a local city event.

    Gloria, great strategy for setting aside time.

  29. Great insights! I think I was part of statistics (no free time) last week :)) I’m not letting that happen anymore. I agree, there should be time for rest (or time with friends) 😀

  30. Totally agree with the theory, and it works well with single friends, but I sometimes feel I don’t want to take up the family time of my Very Busy married friends, who need family time and more hours in the day. Maybe they just have to be scheduled further ahead…:)

  31. As a novice blogger I was directed to your site and to read your suggestions! Now I read, and read, and read, and shared, and emailed and introduced your blog to 4 friends and my youngest daughter who is 21 years old. Kind of tells you that I am ancient, and I am! A 54 year old wife, mother and grandmother of 5 trying to learn how to blog. Whew… tired just thinking of it. Just wanted to let you know that I have read several posts and will be ordering your book soon. Blessings to you and your husband from Sunny San Diego, CoCoinBonita, Socorro Alaniz.

  32. yablogtherapy

    It is sad to think that cleaning the shower is higher on the priority list than seeing friends. At the moment, I am so exhausted from work that “no brain activity time” seems higher up on the priority list for me. I’m tossing up between staying at home on the couch or playing aqua golf with friends on the weekends. As I said, how sad.

  33. Jumping up and down and cheering about this post. Yes, yes, yes!!!
    You can’t give what you don’t have and spending time with friends will ALWAYS fill your stores.
    Scheduled this one to post this week on FB and Twitter!!

  34. artistmum

    I just read your 3 tips for building your blog audience. I am very new to blogging so I just wanted to thank you for your advice. And congrats on your book! That is an incredible achievement 🙂
    About BFFs, my artist friends have to make ‘playdates’ to catch up. We find a day that works for us and bring some Watercolors or our medium of choice and just make art. We eat a bag lunch too! It works for us but it is very hard to make that time happen. Lots of things get in the way like jobs, work at home, laundry, cooking and the list goes on!
    Wishing you continued success 🙂

  35. Just founf your blog because I’m also going to start a blog. But the thing that got me was this post. I’m an artist and I’m so used to being alone in my studio that I don’t get out enough to culitvate new friendships. I’m older now, friends have moved away and I’m feeling the need to connect with more people to open up my world. I love the idea of the meeting with friends should take priority ( it hasn’t) and starting a poker night. Who knew that a poker night would really resonate. If you saw me you would not think poker. (G)

    • I can’t belive my first comment has a spelling error. My apologies. Must do a spell check before hitting the “Post Comment” button. Sorry.

    • artistmum

      Checked out your website. Wow! Your paintings are fabulous!
      A poker night sounds like a good way to have a fun night with friends. Go for it!

  36. I used to feel like there was no time for hanging out with my friends. Then I realized why not make an app that would solve this problem.

    Ufree is the next generation of collaborative scheduling. It makes scheduling time with your friends as simple as ever by showing their live availability. Come check it out at

  37. Rachel – I just found your blog and I would like to take the day off work and read through it all. I know I will be back here often. Your posts are throughout provoking and I am amazed at how the ones I have read already resonate with my experiences. I have slowed down my life pace over the past number of years and have time aside for friendships. There are great people I would like to connect with more in life and I find their full schedules make it difficult to do so, however those I am able to connect with have greatly enriched my life. I did need to consider adjusting my expectations and counting my blessings. Keep up the great posting. I look forward to reading more of them. 🙂

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