My bad time habits

fullsizerender-7Over the past few weeks, I've been analyzing my time logs from the past 6 months. I began tracking my time continuously in April, 2015, and wrote about the first year here. The next 6 months showed similar themes. Indeed, my sleep average came out exactly the same: 7.4 hours/day. That seems improbable to me at first glance, because each individual night is variable in a way I don't like, and yet over long stretches of time, I must cycle around to that particular number. If I'm well-rested, I stay up late. If I'm sleep deprived, a nap sounds better than something else I might do with the time.

As I analyze my time, I can see a few areas for improvement. Here they are:

I waste time in the car. Because I do not have a daily commute, in my mind I don't face the usual challenges people have of turning this time into something tolerable. And yet the reality is that I do spend the equivalent of an hour a day in the car. It is enough that I shouldn't just write it off. Sometimes I practice my speeches. Sometimes, if I have my kids in there, I try to chat with them. I generally listen to Sirius XM radio (Channel 15: The Pulse, or Channel 16: The Blend). I definitely need to start looking into podcasts, as I would probably enjoy a number of them. I welcome recommendations!

I do a lot of pointless reading. When I'm bored, I'll spend ages scrolling through Twitter. Unless there's breaking news, it's usually not that interesting. I subscribe to a ton of magazines, and while I like magazines, the time I'm spending reading through them is likely crowding out time I could be reading books. Our local library closed for renovations earlier in the year, and my kids' activity schedule is such that I feel like I need to be around in the evenings to help out (even if I'm not driving, being home means that not all 4 kids have to tag along). I used to go to the library occasionally in the evening to work. So, consequently, I'm not in the library — but all of those explanations are really just excuses. I feel like a bigger issue is that my brain feels fried by evening, and I like to read to wind down, and magazines feel like they make no real demands on me (in a way a book does).

I am not very productive on the road. That Twitter habit? I spend a lot of time in airports indulging in it. I spend time on the plane reading magazines. All fine as individual choices for small bits of time, but as I travel more (and that definitely trended up over the past 18 months) I simply cannot write off travel time as useless. I would love tips on how veteran road warriors stay productive while traveling.

My kids get too much screen time. I do not believe that screen time is evil. But especially on weekends, the little one can consume so much energy that it's always tempting to let the big kids watch hours and hours of cartoons or play games on their Kindles. I would like to spend more time doing stuff like making puzzles or building Legos or reading stories or baking with the big kids. I do keep telling myself that we will be out of the hard phase with the toddler soon. Already, he can play for a little bit by himself. I can be in the kitchen and he can be in the basement, and I'll call downstairs every 3 minutes "What are you doing?" and he'll shout up "Play choo choos!" The 9-year-old and 7-year-old are also generally capable of watching him for 10-15 minutes in his room. So maybe this is also just an area where I need to hang on for a few more months and the problem will mostly solve itself.

If you've discovered solutions for any of these bad habits, please let me know what worked!

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39 Responses to My bad time habits


  1. Sarah A says:

    I do a fair amount of baking with my kids; it’s something I enjoy, so I’ve made a concerted effort (and sometimes, it is a real effort!) to include them as much as possible. It’s hard when you have a toddler; I think you are wise to “stay the course” and realize that he will likely be out of most of the trying phase soon.

    My coping strategy when my kids were younger (my youngest is not quite 3, so it wasn’t long ago) was to try to “toddler down” whatever we were doing so they could “participate” in their own way. So for instance, when I was baking with the bigs, the littles would be on a swim towel in the corner with bowls and beans (if they wouldn’t eat things) or pretzels (if they would eat things) to sort and mix. Added benefit: if the bigger kids got bored they often wanted to sort with the littler one. Win for all! Or, perhaps, I would have the bigs at the table with Legos and the littles on the floor with Duplos and I would cycle between. This approach requires a certain flexible mentality on my part that – quite honestly – doesn’t come naturally to me, but it can be learned, and I’ve really enjoyed the payoff. My almost 3 year old and my 4 year old helped me make cookies the other day and it was a joy. They scooped and dumped ingredients, cracked the eggs (! no shells!), and helped clean up. Good luck to you as you wait out and work through the toddler stage!

    • @Sarah – good idea to try to figure out how to “toddler down” activities. I’ve seen the “blanket time” concept listed on various toddler sites, giving things to do that will keep them on a blanket in one place. My little guy moves all over but I probably could try it.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Podcasts:

    -Happier with Gretchen Rubin/ Elizabeth Craft

    – Freakanomics (yes, it’s still going in 2016!)

    – The Popcast (“things that entertain, but do not matter”)

  3. Peter O'Donnell says:

    First, a recommended podcast… On Being with Krista Tippett offers a wide range of stimulating interviews. Second, a suggestion regarding making better use of travel time… I’ve learned to strike a balance between ‘down time’ and ‘work time.’ To do that I set a target of focusing on one or more projects for specific amounts of time, thereby ‘earning’ the right to consider the rest of the hours ‘free’ time.Both are important, but for different reasons.

    • @Peter – I like that idea of giving myself targeted things to do so that then I can relax afterwards. I know I need to plan my travel time well. On one recent plane flight I realized that I had gotten on with no actual work project loaded up to do. So I was kind of fiddling around – and even reading the inflight magazine at one point, which was just a no-win situation.

  4. Helena says:

    Podcasts:
    This American Life
    Freakonomics
    Planet Money
    Story Corps
    Invisiblia

  5. Marci says:

    My first thought: don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re still accomplishing big work goals and spending time with your family. I admire your discipline.

    You seem to get some great ideas reading magazines or following discussions on blogs/social media. So it’s not all wasted time. But I hear you – social media can be a time suck and a too-easy distraction. Our library offers a lot of ebooks. I like to have a few downloaded on my phone so that I can read in transit. I prefer real books, but you can’t beat the convenience of ebooks.

    I also like to watch TED talks or YouTube instructional videos when I have short amounts of time and want to feel productive.

    Games and puzzles are hard to play with wide age ranges. Baking (as was suggested), outdoor play and art projects are easier because everyone can participate on his/her own level. I’m not a crafty person. At. All. But we have had many happy hours creating stuff at the kitchen table. Family Fun magazine and Donna’s Day videos have some fun activities that are kid-friendly and not unattainable Pinterest projects.

    I also highly recommend “Siblings Without Rivalry,” a classic parenting book on how to reduce fighting among siblings. It really helped me with my kids, who (finally!) could play long stretches with each other without bickering.

    Thanks for sharing your goals. I need to look at my time use and make some tweaks as well.

  6. Ashley says:

    Podcast reccomendations!
    -Serial
    -Undisclosed
    -Happier w/Gretchen Rubin
    -Freakonomics
    -The Tim Ferris Show
    -Unsolved Murders
    -Lore
    -5am Miracle w/Jeff Sanders

    to name a few!

  7. Kate says:

    I am trying to figure out how to limit my social media addiction. I am often reading articles/FB feeds during those random 5 minute windows throughout the day which seems okay but then it expands to fill other time slots and it leaves me drained and unsatisfied.

    For podcasts we listen to 99% invisible a lot. Our 9 year old enjoys it as much as we do.

    • @Kate – yes, the problem with much headline scrolling/social media is that it does fill those 5 minute gaps when it’s hard to do much else, and it’s quite possible you’ll get interrupted (so you don’t want to attempt anything requiring focus). I wonder what people did prior?

  8. ElaineF says:

    I’ve always been a big literature reader but in the past few years I’ve been surprised by how much twitter scrolling and other surface social media has eaten into my time and my ability to focus on longer texts. The struggle is real! And important because the satisfactions of longform reading are also real. I’ve had to be really deliberate about scheduling reading time, something I would never have believed I’d need to do. So reading Longform articles on my commute and reading Kindle or print titles before bed. I go back to the NYT Notable Top 10 book lists to find titles I might have missed and also use lists like the Costa to find “pleasure” reading. I like light and “heavy” books but at either level, I want to be engaged emotionally or intellectually or both.

    • @ElaineF – I think I probably should be honest with myself about what kinds of books I’d like to read. I have growing stacks of books I have purchased based on glowing recommendations and then after I get the book I re-read the flap copy and feel like…meh. Of course, if I’m on an airplane and have nothing to read but the in-flight magazine I might give it a whirl, and maybe 50 pages in I’d feel differently.

      • ElaineF says:

        I think that’s really key – read the books you want to read and gently push the boundaries. Some of the best reading are those currently considered B list: Galsworthy, Maugham, Fitzgerald. Austen or Bronte don’t appeal? Give Gaskell or Oliphant a try. Dickens was considered B for many years; back at A recently.

      • ARC says:

        This is why I’m coming to love my Kindle more and more (plus the Kindle app on my phone). I can download a bunch of different options so that if one ends up being ‘meh’ I can switch to something better. I used to be a die-hard “real book” person, but I am starting to really love my Kindle for the portability and ease. I can also read my Kindle books instead of scrolling social media on my phone – IMO a much better use of my time 🙂

  9. Eileen says:

    Regarding travel and reading books, I love Audible. I work full time, often have my own homework, and travel regularly. Also too tired to concentrate on reading at bedtime. Audible is sooo easy and convenient, i downloaded the book onto my phone and listen in evenings while cleaning up the kitchen, doing laundry, when sitting on a plane with all devices on ‘airplane mode’, still works. I get thru a couple books a month, even participate in a book group. Highly recommend.

  10. Gwyneth says:

    If your mind is as eclectic as it is inquiring, there are podcasts on everything from literature to drama to comedy to history to biography to geography to economics to etymology to science to philosophy to farming and more on BBC Radio 4 podcasts too numerous to list, which I find give better value for time (in terms of actual information) than many NPR podcasts in which too much time is spent (for my taste) on navel-gazing by the hosts at the expense of the program’s ostensible subject.

    Before social media, there were so-called “bathroom books” (i. e., collections of short anecdotes, letters, jokes, quotations, definitions, poems, reminiscences, etc.) with which to pass odd bits of time too short to settle into longer forms of writing. They still turn up all the time at used book sales and can be quite entertaining.

    Why not get the older kids involved in other kinds of cooking besides baking too? I don’t remember anymore how old I was at the time, but my mom used to leave behind a menu she’d written out with instructions for my brother and me on what to cook for our own dinner when my parents went out during dinnertime, so we must have time helping her cook dinner prior to that in order to be able to do so on our own eventually.

    • Meghan says:

      Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time podcast is one of my husband’s and my absolute favorites! When a subject interests both of us, we’ll often listen to it in the evening together instead of watching tv. An old one on BBC4 is A History of the World in 100 Objects, and they’re all only about 15 minutes long or shorter.

    • @Gwyneth – oh yes, the bathroom books. Like Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, if I remember correctly. For that matter, Reader’s Digest was organized similarly… Will check out BBC.

  11. Meghan says:

    I have done a couple of things to help with the same time bad habits — specifically the Twitter scrolling and screen time. Both, unsurprisingly, involve lists 🙂 I have a list of “Things to do in 10 minutes or less” that I turn to (not as frequently as I would like!) that includes things that are fun and things I put off but don’t actually take a long time (it also includes “make a list”). I have the Poetry Foundation app and a short-story magazine subscription on my phone (One Story is the magazine) for using those short periods for something more nourishing. I also am trying to just let myself stare out the window or people watch. Thanks for the reminder as I’ve been indulging too much in the email/internet-checking cycle this week.
    *
    For kid screen time on weekends (I say as my kids watch the 3rd movie of the day — one is sick), planning for one out-of-the-house activity *and* one at-home activity (or chore, ha) helps keep it to a minimum. It helps that my youngest is 3.5, not 1.5, and I only have 2, not 4, but maybe working to stretch the big kids’ 10-15 minutes with the baby into longer periods might make a difference for you. My kids also LOVE Kiwi Crate. I love “projects” but am not good at the planning and preparation, and Kiwi Crate makes it easy. I’ve even put together a couple of DIY ones for emergencies when I had a spare hour (PBS has a youtube channel with good craft ideas).

    • @Meghan – I think I have learned, after much introspection, that I am not a Project Mom. This is a skill and interest I have looked for in sitters precisely because I’m so, so bad at it. 🙂 But I do love stuff like puzzles. So probably we should get some more for Christmas and I can trust that the baby will become more independent soon.

      • Meghan says:

        That’s what I love about Kiwi Crate (I swear I don’t get anything for promoting them) – most of the boxes are 100% no parents needed. My kids love it enough that we’re adding an additional subscription (different age group) for Christmas. I hear ya on finding sitters who do what you can’t – that’s what preschool is all about for me!

        • @Meghan – OK, I’m sold! The idea of 100% non-parents needed is critical 🙂

  12. smh says:

    For the work portion of the travel time (I agree with Peter), you could set aside review books or other longer nonfiction that needs to get read for one reason or another. Or you could think of that time as time to get ahead on recurring writing assignments for publication X. Having travel work time set in advance to default to some sort of specific activity reduces worry about how to use that time, but that time can also be easily reallocated if you have something more pressing to do or just want to relax.

    • @smh – I definitely have been using some airplane time to get through books I’m reviewing. I’m working on a rather lengthy one (to be named later) that took the entire to/from trip to CA 2 weeks ago. And then some. I should be more pro-active about leaving that reading for times when I know I will be on a plane.

  13. Lily says:

    I have these bad habits too! I suspect many of us do…
    I second the recommendation for audible – great for long runs and afternoon walks, as well as the commute. Non-fiction works well for me. In terms of podcasts, I’m currently sampling a whole bunch of podcasts from NPR – I just downloaded one or two from each program that looked interesting and will work out what I like. ‘How I Built This’ has been a favorite. If you like Malcolm Gladwell, his podcast Revisionist History was good. I think a second season is in the works. I also subscribe to the podcast of one of my preferred morning news radio shows – when I’m losing focus I take a 10 minute walk and listen, rather than opening the browser to check news headlines. Quick meditation apps like Buddhify have also been good during stressful times.
    In terms of scrolling – I deleted the twitter app off my phone. I still check twitter but the extra step to find the site in my browser and log in gives me time to consider if that’s what I really want to be doing (because sometimes it is – I’ve learned about really valuable opportunities through twitter). I also started a list ‘Things I read instead of scrolling on my phone’ – looking at it is a reminder of how much I got out of reading books instead of too much web time. Buying books and reading them in the kindle app on my phone is also a win – not suitable for things like War and Peace but I’ve read most of your books that way! And I started doing it more after reading ‘All the Money in the World’ – before I felt guilty about spending on books instead of going to library but then I realised that it was a small expense to make much better use of spare bits of time.
    On the road – after a recent bout of travel I learned that it’s best not to rely on work getting done on a plane – I had some awful turbulence and had to leave the laptop in the bag. I ended up with my mantra being ‘time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time’ – using flights as ‘me time’ to nap and watch movies, and then being strict about working at the hotel. I also tend to arrive at the airport early, knowing that if I happen to breeze through check-in and TSA, then I’ll have the chance for a focused burst of productivity at Starbucks.
    My big problem is transitions – I struggle to settle into the next activity and often get distracted by social media on the way. Still looking for solutions to that one…

  14. Aubrey says:

    What Should I read Next? with Anne Bogel
    This American Life
    Reply All
    Brains On! (A science podcast aimed at kids 5-10 that my son loves and I do NOT find the least bit annoying, thank God)

    • @Aubrey- I love Anne Bogel – that would be a good one. And yes, This American Life is always a classic… Now I just need to plan for any upcoming car rides!

  15. Danielle says:

    The problem with a lot of podcasts is that because they are not on radio (many of them), they often use language you may not want your kids hearing. So, I used to listen to many many podcasts while driving – and it’s great with no kids! – but now that my oldest is almost 4 and is a sponge, i have to be very careful…

    • @Danielle- I hadn’t even thought of that, but you’re right – no FCC type rules. Though probably more civil than some of the language my 7-year-old and I heard walking through the Eagles stadium today…

  16. Jean says:

    Join a book discussion group….forces you to read books you might not have picked…and you might end up enjoying…. our local library has several…when our library was closed for two weeks for remodeling…. I just went to a neighboring library

  17. Megan says:

    This comment is a bit late (I was waiting until I had time during a long flight to type out a response), but hopefully will still be useful. When I first started traveling for work, I also read a lot of magazines – when traveling itself was a bit stressful, I naturally counterbalanced that by going for low brain-power magazines… Once my blood pressure started LOWERING when I came within view of an airport, I started shifting toward more brain intensive uses of my airplane time. It seems like you might be at that transition point now☺ On long flights I usually read journal articles (for work), as well as books that are a bit meatier (for work, or fun). You might try loading up your kindle with books you want to read, or using Pocket to collect articles from the internet that you’d like to read “someday”. I also use the time to write long emails to friends, generally typing in Word, then copied into email once I’m connected to the internet again. Planes are also great places for journaling and doing longer term thinking, exploring what are my goals and priorities for the next few months, etc. I’ve come up with a lot of my best plans and ideas on long plane flights and now always bring a notebook with me, to aid my thinking and planning. I avoid podcasts, as I find trying to do things that require me to hear well on the plane doesn’t work that well. (I might feel differently once I finally splurge and get myself some noise cancelling headphones!)

    On another topic, I’ve often noticed reading your blog how you seem to have so much energy, and be able to function on less sleep than I thought I could. Your observation of needing 7.4 hours, on average, was interesting. For me, based on the data collected by my sleep app over the last year, I come out to 8.5. On my most recent business trip, I was aware of how my coworkers would have slept, done a workout, and breakfasted, in the time I ….just slept. I was really craving time for a workout by the end of the week! I’d be curious if you have more thoughts on people’s different sleep needs, or how to handle things when you just need more sleep than most people do.

    • @Megan- I may get there in terms of traveling comfort. I finally (finally!) got elite status on American, and I’m starting to cut the time necessary in airports much shorter (pre-check helps there). These are all great tips.

      As for sleep, it is very true that everyone has different needs, though I suspect there are fewer people who need 6 or fewer hours than think they do. As for me, right now the toddler’s sleep issues are really dragging me down. I get my hours but that involves not doing other things I want to do and taking naps. I think my husband needs less sleep than me. I think it can possibly be a competitive advantage for people but it’s not anything one can change, so you just have to work around it, and focus on using the hours that are available more shrewdly, rather than lamenting the time that must be devoted to sleep.

      (Maybe a post on this…)

    • ARC says:

      I love a lot of things about @Megan’s comment 🙂 I also use my occasional flights for journaling/planning time and it really makes the time pass much more quickly.

      I have come to terms with the fact that I need 9 hours of sleep (and my sleep cycles must be 3 hours because I do better with 6 than 7 or 8). I feel SO MUCH BETTER when I get the full 9 and don’t have any desire to nap AND when I get out of bed after 9 hours, I’m awake and really ready to go, rather than needing an hour+ to get moving.

      So I go to bed around 8:30pm because after a full workday and wrangling kids to bed, I’m pretty useless and end up just surfing the web anyway. So I think about it as sacrificing mindless social media/surfing for sleep, which sits better with me. Because honestly, at 8pm I am just not going to make it to the gym. But I can get up at 6 and do it and be happy about it 🙂

      • @ARC- ok, definitely going to do a post about sleep needs. When I looked at the I Know How She Does It logs, I could see that some people needed more sleep than others.

  18. Jennifer S says:

    Laura, I think you would love Hidden Brain podcast from NPR. They are so good and the perfect length for short drives.

    • ARC says:

      I adore his voice, too. So soothing 🙂

  19. Lindsay says:

    I highly recommend the Beyond the To-Do List podcast. It was my very first one. It’s so good that Michael Hyatt recommends it, and he has his own podcast!

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