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House in Order

Too often, we all find ourselves with spare moments or unplanned days off work and have no idea how best to use today’s most valuable commodity — free time. But with a little advanced thought and organization, you can use your down time to really advance your career, house projects and personal goals.

Ten tips to use “down time” effectively

If you haven’t already, use the time to prioritize or set goals. It might be a good time to interview life coaches. You can go online to www.thecoaches.com and click on “Find a Coach” to obtain a list of coaches and numbers. Most will offer a free half-hour “interview” session.

Draw a wheel of life to see which area you should focus on during your free time. A wheel of life is simply a circle drawn on a piece of paper. Around the circle write the following categories: Personal Growth, Significant Other, Family & Friends, Career, Money, Fun & Recreation, Health, Home & Garden. Give each of these a number from one to 10 (one is near the center of the circle, 10 is on the edge. Now connect the dots. Is your circle a smooth wheel, or does it dip toward the middle on one or more categories? Concentrate on the categories that need improvement. Make an action list that would help bring that low number to an 8, 9 or 10.

Look at your calendar and see if there are errands or projects you could tackle to get a jump on an upcoming holiday or event. Go to a card shop and stock up on birthday cards (bring your calendar or birthday lists and don’t over-buy — just get what you need for the year). In January, if you find yourself with some free time, go stock up on wrapping paper and Christmas cards at 50 percent off or more — organization can save you money, but again, buy only what you will need. Your calendar should spark several ideas for using your down time effectively.

Like productivity expert Stephen Covey says, “Sharpen the Saw!” There’s no better use of down time than improving your skills, so whether it be practicing guitar, conjugating Spanish verbs or browsing online for current information on your area of expertise, you won’t be wasting your time; you will be strengthening your skill set. Break out the Rosetta Stone.

Keep a file of articles and papers you want to read and take it with you whenever you have any kind of appointments — medical or otherwise. You’re using your down time to get a pedicure? Great, but instead of reading the latest on Britney in People magazine, take your reading file and absorb the information you’ve saved that will really make a difference in achieving your goals — even if it is just recipes that you’d like to try or a story about theatre in The New Yorker.

Shop for healthy food and try a healthy recipe. If you’ve clipped some interesting recipes and have them handy in a file, you will be able to use a free day very effectively in the kitchen and add some great dishes to your repertoire.

Organize a drawer, a closet, a room, the garage. Down time is perfect for taking on an organizing project. Choose a drawer if you only have half an hour, the garage if you’ve got one or two days and the weather is cooperating.

Exercise! I can’t stress enough the link of exercise to organization. If health and fitness come first, the rest of life falls into place more easily. Do some strength training, be it push-ups and crunches in front of the television or a Pilates class. Get in some cardio. Look online for local fitness classes and try a new one.

Have some fun! Update your Netflix queue. Check out programs on television and set it up to record them. Browse a bookstore. See a movie. Get in the car and go to a museum and spend a few hours getting educated and inspired.