Long time readers know that over the past few years, I’ve been exploring best practices for making the most of many segments of the week. First came mornings, then weekends, then work days. I wrote a piece for Fast Company recently on What Successful People Do During Lunch. So what does that leave?
Week day evenings — which have long been a struggle for me to use well. I think they are for many people, which I was reminded of when I studied the schedule of someone whose life is very different from mine.
Mark is a senior vice president at a major bank. His children are grown, and he lives by himself. He responded to my call for time logs this winter, and sent me his schedule.
His 168 hours spreadsheet showed that he had a good life. He exercised regularly in the mornings before working at his office from 8-5:30 or so. He spent his work days on lots of high quality activities: planning meetings before they happened, coaching his direct reports. He saw his girlfriend a few nights per week when they often socialized with other couples.
The issue was what happened on the other nights. After noting when he ate dinner in his time log, he then cut and pasted his spreadsheet entry from one night to the next: “TV, games, email, read magazines.” While this was partly seasonal — he plays a lot of golf on summer evenings — he did feel he could make better use of these after work hours during the months when he couldn’t play golf in his midwestern state. He asked for some suggestions.
My first thought was to start fantasizing about what I’d do with my evenings if I didn’t have to answer to anyone else. But I also realized that Mark’s question was one many of us will face. There will come a time in most of our lives when we can start adding things back in. When we get busy with work and young families, we let a lot of hobbies and activities go. Then, slowly at first, but then inexorably, we realize that hours that were once unavailable are available again. What should we do with them?
Even if our evening hours aren’t free like Mark’s are, there may be more choices available to us than we realize. My kids and I often fall into the usual routine of eating dinner, then watching TV or bickering over toys in the basement until the toddler’s bedtime. There are other things we could be doing. But all these things take effort and decision. The problem is that it’s easy to get into the habit of letting these hours pass without thinking through how we want to spend them, and so we let them slip through our fingers.
There is nothing wrong with leisure. I love true leisure time. But there is a big difference between coming home anticipating turning on the new movie you ordered that’s directed by someone whose work you just discovered…and coming home and watching something on HGTV that’s mildly interesting, but not that interesting, just because it’s the channel that happens to be on. There’s a big difference between spending an evening reading a book you got at the library because your friend said the author was fantastic… and spending an evening flipping through a magazine you already flipped through before, just because it’s there. And in my case, I can let the evenings happen with all their whining and kid TV marathons, or I can nudge the kids into some activity (like stroller races down the driveway) that I know will put us in a better mood as we enjoy the late summer evening light.
Even just having a project to absorb you — cooking something challenging, perhaps, or decorating the house — can shove off that sense that these hours are wasted.
So that’s what I suggested to Mark. We spent some time on the phone thinking up activities he’d enjoy for his evenings. He thought he could try a few on occasion. Not every night. Sometimes you really want to do nothing. But nothing gets old after a few nights in a row.
He did wind up taking on a few projects, like making some more elaborate dishes (he reported he’d tried a nice sirloin beef stew). He painted the bathroom, the spare bedroom, and the hallway leading to his front door. And then, of course, the weather got warm, and it was out to the golf course. The key for Mark — and all of us — is to find activities that make us as happy as golf makes him, or are mildly enjoyable if your options are more constrained than Mark’s. Then we can make space for these things in the evening hours. Things you love to do are generally energizing, not draining, which makes them great to do in the evening after you’re tired from work.
How do you spend your evenings? If your evenings are spent caring for young children, how do you anticipate spending your evenings once they’re older — or how did you spend your post-work evenings before they were born? In my young single days, I actually sang in three separate choirs in NYC to get me out of the house in the evenings.
In other news: If you like these time makeovers, please consider pre-ordering the paperback of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. This compilation of my bestselling ebook series contains several bonus time makeovers, as well as time management tips. You can purchase from Amazon here and Barnes & Noble here.
Photo courtesy flickr user fauxto_digit