In Between: The One About the Value of Free Time

Sometimes I don’t have anything particularly funny or snarky to write, and sometimes I’m in between more academically-aimed historical or other scholastic pieces. In those periods, I still have things I want to write about, they just fit somewhere in between.  This is the fourth post in a category I call “In Between.”

As part of my master’s curriculum, I recently participated in a multiple-day project that serves as a sort of “rite of passage” for students in the program—an over-the-weekend policy analysis exercise designed to “simulate a real-life work environment in which rapid-response and “land-on-your-feet” skills are at a premium.”

While the project was certainly a valuable education in rapidly developing a meaningful policy analysis product, I came away from it with, what was to me, a profound realization that a civilian school just coopted my entire weekend—with the explicit intent to use the weekend, not weekdays—for a project that could have easily been programmed into a weekday setting with just a little pre-semester intradepartmental coordination.

At this point, I’ll stop the rant about this specific incident for two reasons: 1) I love my program, and I feel like they’ve got it figured out in terms of how to educate and train well-equipped public policy analysts and policy developers; and 2) I’m a big boy who knows how to manage his time, and the two days I lost to this project (spent at home, with my family under the same roof) are no comparison to time I’ve lost deployed, in the field, or otherwise separated from my family for the Army.

Yes, I’m whining a little bit in this post, but I only do so as a segue into this question: Is it more valuable to get people used to giving up their personal time for work because that’s the “real world” or to emphasize the importance of establishing a personal balance that resists sacrificing personal time?

I first approach this question by insisting that “real world” jobs should not need to sacrifice personal time unless it literally involves a legitimate crisis or life-or-death decisions. There are exceptions, of course, and most of the ones I can think of involve field exercises or NTC/JRTC rotations that are designed to ensure soldiers are trained to accomplish life-or-death missions.

It’s no surprise that increased work hours lead to diminishing marginal returns. In other words, working too much can be counterproductive, and recent studies suggest that this holds true both for a company’s productivity and for an individual’s health.  Other studies have linked increased risks for things like stroke and coronary disease with long work hours. Bottom line: a rested and healthy workforce is a more productive workforce.


When it comes down to it, organizations, both military and civilian, are well within their rights to take your nights and/or weekends. It’s our American culture to overwork and it’s what you sign up for. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, and we need to educate the future leaders of both our civilian and military organizations of the frivolity of needlessly wasting our subordinates’ time.

To make a final clarifying point: there’s a difference between time management failure and free time cooption. The former is a personal responsibility—you wait to work on an assignment until days before it’s due, and you’re forced to spend a Sunday holed away behind a computer. That’s on you. The latter is on leaders, and it’s well within the power of leaders to plan training and events during the duty day when not in the field or down range.

Ultimately, it’s about caring for your people.

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2 thoughts on “In Between: The One About the Value of Free Time”

  1. In the mid-1980s and well into the 90s we had to schedule a weekday comp day for every weekend day of training…including gunnery, NTC train up, etc. But even for NRC prep we went home most weekends.

    I understand it’s a different world but if the landing craft aren’t in the Chesapeake Bay you can cut your soldiers….and yourself….slack to keep fresh.


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