Kirsti Abbott's dogs walking down a path surrounded by autumn leaves

When life is busy – how do you spend your free time?

“Spare time:  Noun. meaning time available for hobbies and other activities that you enjoy.”

Free time. Time off. Leisure time – whatever you wanna call it – it’s supposed to be a time period when you are not required to work.

Pfft – who even has time to do activities they enjoy when they aren’t at work; especially when you have three weeks of lectures to catch up on, a gigantic pile of clean laundry dangerously close to swallowing up your living room; begging to be folded, just as much as your doggo begs to go for a walk. Oh yeah… isn’t it about time to mow the lawn too?

There is a lot of pressure put on us these days to always feel as though we should continually be doing something productive. It isn’t helpful to find that when you type in the term spare time into Google, you’ll be presented with a whole stack of articles on how you should spend your spare time *productively*.

As a consequence, free/spare/leisure time has become a stigmatised concept in busy workplaces and student life, because when you’re not working – you’re being unproductive.

Maybe spare time is needing to really mow the lawn and using your time to do that. But hey, if you don’t end up mowing the lawn and spend three hours on your phone instead. That is also really fine.

Why should we have to feel guilty for doing either, in our time away from work?

You’ll often find that your working week will be much more productive when you set aside time to rest, recuperate, get on top of your personal to-do list, and develop skills that aren’t work-related. In an era where professional and personal burnout has become a serious issue, it might be time to consider adding ‘free time’ into our ‘to-do’ lists.

So, it begs me to question – what really is spare time and how can we use it without feeling guilty?

To help answer this we chatted to four people from our UNE community who are no strangers to juggling life’s all immediate responsibilities to help us work out how much time you really need to enjoy it freely.

Alexandra Cook
Student Engagement Coordinator for UNE International

Spare time is invaluable. We are so busy with ‘stuff’ all the time, whether it’s work, family, social things, or just commitments. To have time that is entirely your own without expectation or demand is in my opinion the most positive and refreshing thing you can do for your mental and physical wellbeing.

If you had 15 Minutes to spare what might your fill that time with?

Honestly, I’d probably spend that time drinking a long black in the sun at the Goldfish Bowl. Or face timing the fam or a friend.

How about if you had three hours? 

I’d have my coffee outside, do some pilates, cook up something new I’ve never had before, and dive into the book I’m currently reading (which is the Boy Who Swallows Universe for anyone wondering…). There’s also the other side of me, that would aim to get everything on my personal ‘to do’ list done in that three-hour period. Washing, cleaning, paying bills, getting my hair cut, making appointments… just sorting my life out.

Being creative and moving my body is what fuels me and brings me joy. I’m also someone who likes having multiple projects on the go both at work and away from work… I love to cook, so having a few hours or a whole day without plans and a kitchen that awaits = full potential. I also really like exploring new places too and going for walks outdoors, driving to the coast (whenever I get the chance) and spending time in nature. I feel like this reads like a dating profile… “I enjoy long walks on the beach…” haha. Good.

Alexandra Cook Dancing w Little Fish


Dr Jock McOrist
Lecturer in Mathematics

In this era of corporatisation, KPIs, and workplace metrics we are wise to remember Friedrich Nietzsche: “Don’t trust an idea that has not come to mind while walking”.

If you had 15 Minutes to spare what might your fill that time with?

Thinking! I love creating time to lie on the floor and just let my mind wander. Although, if it’s around 11 am then my mind wonders to coffee and my body then instructs me to go to the nearest café. If it’s the afternoon and I’m being good, then I’ll try to do 15 minutes of mobility, stretching, and core work. I have a bad back and so it needs constant work.

How about if you had three hours? 

These days, I’m most likely to be on my bike. For me, exercise is an epic way to clear my mind. I have my best ideas when I am out in the countryside, and so it can be extremely productive to get out on my bike and do a few kilometres. In sport, the evidence is pretty clear that rest and recovery is when your body makes all its positive adaptations. Train hard, rest hard. For me, this is fundamentally true in academia. I work hard. But I also rest hard. Spare time allows my brain to sort and process complicated information in a way that my conscious self just simply cannot do.

Dr Jock McOrist Lecturer in Mathematics, UNE


Kirsti Abbott
Program Leader, UNE Discovery

As adults, we have largely forgotten how to play in our society. I love being productive, purposeful and focused. But I feel great when I just do things because I enjoy them. Because I can. And spare time for me represents that. We are so flat out being flat out… you know? It’s easy to see how people find their personal value in being needed by others for their expertise, skills, knowledge, or resources. When you are constantly pursuing this need to feel valued we can forget that spare time for just being, just connecting, and just playing, is enough.

If you had 15 Minutes to spare what might your fill that time with?

I wear a ring on my left tall-man finger inscribed with the word B R E A T H E. It reminds me that this is singularly the most important thing we can do to stay alive! So, given 15 minutes I often lie down on the floor of my office, find a grassy park space, or sit somewhere with greenery, and just breathe.

How about if you had three hours? 

Oooh, 3 hours…… ahhh, so many things to do! Most options would include being at least partly outdoors, depending on the weather. But I might squeeze in a phone call to loved ones too. I would first check if our dogs (mini dachshund, Dot and gorgeous rescue bitza, Poppy) need a walk, and if so, I’d take them to the Pine Forest north of Armidale or out Kelly’s Plains. But if no dogs, I could jump in the car and drive out to one of the National Parks or Reserves outside Armidale and go for a walk. I love moving my body in diverse ways too – I swim a few times a week and do gymnastics. I love handstands! I do them often and spontaneously; being upside switches your perspective on things instantaneously.

Then there is also the ideal things in 3 hours. Often, I am shopping for groceries and catching up on parenting jobs if the day demands it. Other 3-hour slot activities for me include tidying, picking up after the household, cooking dinner & eating dinner, talking to family, hanging with kids or starting/finishing creative projects.

Kirsti Abbott Program Leader, UNE Discovery

Matt Pine
High Performance Manager, SportUNE

Spare time is crucial for balance in life. It is very easy in our busy lives to get overwhelmed with work, and extra-curricular commitments. More recently I’ve started to realise that not only is it sometimes OK to say no, but it is actually really important to do so to maintain general health and wellbeing.

If you had 15 minutes to spare what might you fill that time with? 

Hmm, with 15 minutes I might tend to my garden, go for a run, walk the dog, or play with the kids.

How about if you had three hours?

If I had three hours, I’d like to go for a long bike ride, planning & cooking a meal, watching a movie, or playing golf.

What hobbies and interests do you enjoy doing when you are away from work

Although I work in the sports industry, many of my hobbies revolve around sport and exercise as well. I also have two kids at primary school and try to make sure that I allow time to spend with them. My kids happen to like a range of sports too, and so much of my spare time is spent coaching teams they are involved in which include hockey, AFL, and cricket. Other than sport, I really enjoy it when I get the time to get into the garden or try a new recipe in the kitchen.

Matt Pine High Performance Manager, SportUNE


Addison Orme
Digital Content Producer

Spare time is a chance to reset. It is an opportunity to just be you. Sometimes the value in it for me is just stopping my thoughts and sitting in stillness.

If you had 15 minutes to spare what might you fill that time with? 

If I have 15 minutes to spare I’ll usually go and make myself some tea and just sit – so simple, yet so beneficial in resetting myself.

How about if you had three hours? 

If I have three hours to spare there is a range of stuff I might do. Recently I’ve been putting time into my house and our renovations which has been quite time-consuming. Ideally, with a break this long I would love to spend it outside. Be it hiking somewhere, or just going for a run.

What hobbies and interests do you enjoy doing when you are away from work

I play the violin (not as much as I should). I have a motorbike I am rebuilding when I find the spare time and funds for new parts. I also spend a lot of time looking after and playing with my son when I am away from work.

Addison Orme playing violin


A huge thank you to all our wonderful busy-bees who used part of their ‘spare-time’ to speak with us about their… well… spare time! Its interesting, but not surprising to see that a lot of the things we value revolve around quality time with friends and family, keeping active or being creative!

If you’re looking for a place to keep active, check out SportUNE’s facilities, they have something for everyone, Or if you’re looking for a little creative inspo. join Creative New England for updates on creative opportunities in the area.