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Calculate Your Free Time

Also Known As: Commitments Reality Check

Why should I calculate my free time?

You, like everyone else, have just 168 hours in the week that you can spend as you see fit. You simply cannot do more than 168 hours of “stuff” in a week—if you find yourself falling short on basic necessities like sleep, exercise, or coursework, something has to give. Once you complete this exercise you will begin to reflect on your priorities and consider reducing or cutting commitments that are not as important to you.

This exercise has two parts:

  • Identify exactly how much free time you have by reflecting on your commitments throughout the week and calculating how much time they actually require.
  • Take control of your schedule by adjusting your commitments to bring the amount of free time you have to a level that is suitable for you.

We have provided Figure 1 below as a guide to help you complete Part 1 of this exercise.

Part 1


  • Read through Figure 1 and familiarize yourself with the calculation being made for each commitment.
  • List your commitments in the first column using this template.
  • The crucial step: For each commitment, calculate the time you really think it deserves.  Be as accurate and honest with yourself as possible. Rather than listing how much time you actually put into something, list the amount of time the commitment actually requires if you perform it to your highest standards.
    • For example, it would be nice if your Calculus problem set only took 2 hours per week. However, if you have found that it actually takes 4 hours to complete the work accurately and thoroughly, you should designate 4 hours per week for this task.
    • Likewise, if you have been getting 6 hours of sleep per night but want to get 8, use 8 hours in your calculation. (We strongly recommend this, as studies indicate that 8 hours of sleep per night can promote the health and academic success of college students.)
  • Add up all your results from the Time column.
    • Do not revise your calculations down! You may end up with a total time that is greater than 168 hours, and that’s okay. This exercise is intended to show whether your commitments are realistic or if you need to think about scaling back your commitments in order to succeed in your classes and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Subtract your Total Hours from 168 to see how much free time you actually have.

Figure 1: Example weekly time commitments of a Columbia undergraduate.




(assume 15 credits)

Three lectures (3 courses * 75 minutes * 2 meetings per week), each with discussion sections (3 * 60 minutes), one seminar (120 minutes * 2 meetings per week), one PE class (60 minutes * 2 meetings per week = 990 minutes

16.5 hours/week

Work (casual, work-study, internship, lab research)

This number will vary greatly depending on your situation

8 hours/week


Assume the recommended 8 hours per day

56 hours/week


Assume you take your time and enjoy meals with friends (1 hour each * 3 meals per day * 7 days)

21 hours/week



The prevailing wisdom is that you should spend 3 hours on assignments/reading/studying for every hour you spend in the classroom (16.5 hours in class * 3 hours)

49.5 hours/week


Again, this number will vary with your situation. (Studies show that at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise 5 days of week is necessary for emotional and physical health.)

2 hours/week


This comprises the time you spend walking and riding to class, work, and everywhere else. Assume 4 hours

4 hours/week


This includes the time you spend bathing, doing laundry, and cleaning your living space (we hope!). Assume 2 hours

2 hours/week

Total Committed Hours

The sum of all your committed time from above

159 hours/week


168 (Total Available Weekly Hours) – Total Committed Hours

9 hours/week

Wow!—according to Figure 1, this student expects to spend 159 out of 168 hours each week on commitments! This leaves 9 hours of free time—about 1.5 hours per day.

Part 2

Why do I want free time, anyway?

In a very real sense, free time is another commitment. You commit to your coursework in order to learn and earn high grades, and you commit to getting enough sleep so that you can stay healthy and perform academically. Similarly, you commit to free time for your own enrichment, sanity, and happiness. Free time has a lot in common with sleep, in that it seems trivial to cut it short, yet everyone seems to crave more of it. At least one study has shown that non-work activities are associated with several indicators of well-being.

What might free time include?

Students typically use their free time for:

  • Email, social media, and reading
  • Structured social activities, such as student clubs
  • Columbia-sponsored lectures, performances, and sporting events
  • Unstructured social activities such as parties
  • Medical appointments
  • Grocery shopping
  • Job searching
  • Hobbies
  • Staying in touch with family and friends
  • Generally decompressing
  • And much more!

The amount of time students dedicate to these activities is highly variable. As a result, we leave it up to you to determine how much free time you actually require.

What does this mean for you?

Ask yourself: how many hours of free time per week do you need to pursue all the activities from the list above to your satisfaction?

If you desire more free time than you currently have, the only way to get it is by cutting down on your commitments:

  • Are you taking more classes than you need to meet your graduation goals? You can free up a lot of time by dropping unneeded classes.
  • Are you spending too many hours at your job/internship or commuting? You could try to negotiate a different schedule with your boss, or rethink your commute or living arrangement.
  • Are you doing your coursework as efficiently as possible. As noted in Figure 1, the “prevailing wisdom” suggests 3 hours of homework/study per hour of class time. The truth is that some courses simply require more than this, while for others you can afford to study less. Think critically about your coursework and spend your time on the work that will have the greatest impact on your academic goals.

We recommend that you scale back in these areas, rather than forgo your sleep, meals, or free time.


Ultimately, you must reflect on your own needs and goals in order to create a schedule that works for you. As you move into the next exercise, remember the following:

  • Stay realistic by quantifying your commitments, and recognize that there are only so many hours in the week.
  • Be open to the fact that a shortage of free time can only be due to inefficiency or overscheduling.

In general, if you have questions or are struggling to understand something, always ask for help and support sooner rather than later.

We hope this exercise will help you build your Columbia experience on a healthy and fun foundation!

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