EDIT: Hello from the future! This post is part of the old blog. That means it may be deprecated. However, I deemed it valuable enough to keep around. The new blog starts here!
Free time is just terrible.
All this resource is available to you and you just don't know what to do with it. Or rather, you know too many what's to do with it. Or worse you know too many what's to do with it and you just can't be bothered by the do part. You can't be bothered because any one of them seems like it would require a mountain of effort or, and this is the zinger, because you are not even sure if the do part is the right action.
Let's go through this step by step. Free time? I mean by that time outside of 'work' equivalent activities and outside of the basic levels of Maslow's pyramid of needs. When I was taking classes, I really didn't have much free time (it is important to stress that I still had some though, so if you are in school this could still apply to you!). The studying, the homeworks, the meetings simply eclipsed any real existence outside of school. It wasn't: go to the university and then leave the university. It was: you are a student. Once I stopped taking classes, all of a sudden I had all this free time! I could stop worrying about school once I got back home and partake in something else. Also know that one makes his or her own free time; you decide how you allocate your attention across the different things in your life. Once you work, you can even pay to get some of that time back: more efficient technology, gym at work, tv dinners, sleep less, don't wash... (ok maybe not the last few!).
Seize the day... or night
Ok, you got some free time and you are interested in programming let's say. I mean carpe diem! Time is money! Time is fleeting!
Everybody seems to be telling you to use that time to learn a new language, a new paradigm, work on your own projects and so on. The typical (and getting old) problem then is "But I don't know where to start!". It is such a known issue that the wording on many coding projects reads "Getting Started", "First steps"... The real question is where to start in the face of all these alternatives, each of which has their own "Getting Started" page. The most popular answer seems to be to find a problem you are interested in and go after it.
This is where it grinds down. The problems I am interested in are most of the time quite above me or 'solved': an aesthetically pleasing window manager that integrates with Ubuntu Unity, a human and practical terminal text editor, a more intuitive git interfacer, a command-line podcast to iPod program... Finding the problems turns out to be easy. Great! It's the going after them that is hard though. Ah...
Most of these problems already have potential solutions but they never quite hit the right spot for me. They come close, but then fail the mark at the last instant sometimes. Yet I am experienced enough to know that for them to even get to that point is an incredible amount of work.
Scaling down to lesser problems, leads to categories of problems I oftentimes find uninteresting. I just never understood the appeal of the Euler problems for instance. Programming is a medium through which one can achieve human relevant things. Why bother go down that path if in the end your solutions will never be as good as the existing ones or if the time needed to achieve the desired level of mastery is not worth it in the grand picture of things?
If you shrink down your illusions of grandeur even more, the problems can become trivial.
So you are left with: it's too hard or it's too easy or maybe it is appropriate but you somehow feel the stigma of not doing it right or as well as others that have produced solutions to the problem. This is rock bottom, you have hit the stasis of free time. You have this free time but you feel like you won't be getting any return on your investment no matter how you allocate it.
It's time to step back.
Thinking hard about this and reading about related topics these past few weeks has led me to this realization. Step back. Take a deep breath. Why is this causing you so much anxiety? Why are you struggling to enjoy your free time? It is the external pressure. When others tell you to seize the day and you try to seize it for their sake, you start imposing external judgement on your actions.
Be a more dextrous typer, run your tests faster, never touch your mouse, test first, don't test first, just ship it, do it this way, that way... Noise.
This is your free time. You are not a lean company or an ultimate min/maxer (you can be if this is what you want!) All of this rhetoric above is to get more free time, no? This economic efficiency mindset may make sense in a work environment, but if you start applying it to your free time your life starts to look like work.
Use your free time as you wish. Do the projects you want, the way you want and forget about the rest. This is really nothing new. It's just the kind of thing that bears repeating once in a while. Just step back and find a way to enjoy your free time.
Maybe it is valuable to do nothing in the end. Just let your brain take a breather. Truly relax. Sleep.
Take your time.