One of the problems of daily life is that it can get a bit, well, dull. Routines are great. They make it possible to build good habits into a full schedule. But when too much sameness stacks up, weeks, months, and years can disappear into memory sinkholes. We want to enjoy time, but we’re marching through the routine of getting ready, commuting, working, commuting, doing dinner/kid baths/bedtime, then screen time, and going to bed to do it again. It’s the low moments puncturing the routine that tend to stand out (e.g. stomach bugs and the like). With so much that can go wrong, it’s always tempting not to build in deviations when things might go right.
Hence boredom. So how can we build a little more good excitement into life? That was the question posed by Emily Stricker, who responded to my request for time makeover volunteers for the “Tranquility by Tuesday” series.
Emily is an in-house attorney at a large corporation in Colorado. Her husband is a software engineer, and they have a 2.5 year-old and a 6-month-old (plus a dog). She was looking for ideas for “getting more meaningful time into weekdays.”
She sent in her initial time log. It was not a typical week — because these things never are. Her 2-year-old was sick with a stomach bug and couldn’t go to daycare, and so she and her husband put their usual plan into place (they split days; one would take a morning, the other the afternoon. It’s inefficient with commutes but has the upside of neither of them having to take the day completely off). In general, the evenings consisted of TV after the kids went through their bedtime routine.
There was, however, one massive deviation. On Wednesday, her parents came by post work to watch the kids, and Emily and her husband went to a concert at Red Rocks.
“It was really fun to get out to a concert,” she says. “We went with another couple, and were saying how we hadn’t seen them without any of our respective children in almost 4 years!” She says they hadn’t done a good job of setting up a roster of sitters, so big adult-oriented adventures involved an extra step, though the experience was exciting enough to make her think they needed to be pro-active about doing this.
As she mulled over the fun of the concert, she noted that “I’d also like to find ways to venture out with the kids a bit too. It’s tricky with their early bedtime and our intense focus now on getting our son to be a less picky eater, but if we started trying some things in that regard, we may be surprised.”
Now obviously no one is going to go to a concert (that has them out until 11:45 p.m.!) every night, or even once a week. But this adventure somehow managed to fit in a busy week and gave them something to look forward to and enjoy even in the midst of the stomach bug mess. The key to having more fun is to look for occasional opportunities to bust the rut in a good way.
In other words, while they hadn’t done something like that in four years, they could become the kinds of people who did do things like go to weeknight concerts, and had more day-to-day adventures too.
When Emily and I talked on the phone, I shared one of my time mantras. Last week in Catherine’s makeover (such as it was…) I mentioned the idea of creating a back-up slot. Anything that matters needs to have an extra spot in case stuff comes up. This vastly increases the chances that it happens! Emily got this mantra: One big adventure, one little adventure.
Here’s what I mean: when you think through your weeks, think about how you can build in at least one larger fun/new/exciting event (like a concert, or maybe a weekend day trip). And then also think about how you can build in one little adventure too — the sort that can go on a weeknight. Having at least one night a week when you don’t march through dinner/bath/kids-to-bed/screentime can make life feel more memorable, and more meaningful.
Emily was game to try. So she tracked another week and sent it in. And sure enough, she’d taken the mantra to heart. They’d tried a number of things on the weekend (like a “Touch a Truck” event for the 2-year-old, and a new ice cream parlor) but the biggest hit turned out to be a family hike at a place they really enjoyed (with a stop at a new coffee shop for breakfast prior!) .
As for little adventures, she was on this too! On Wednesday night she dreamed up a scavenger hunt to do in the space after dinner and before the bedtime routine. It was a big success. “I just took out a piece of printer paper and drew some (pretty pathetic) little pictures of leaves, pinecones, acorns, a stick, and a rock, and our son loved looking for things to put in his bag,” she says. “It was nice for all of us to get out in the fresh air and had the added bonus of reducing my guilt about not getting our dog out enough and having too much screen time for the kids. There’s pretty nice open space right across the street from our neighborhood, but we don’t go often because the street (though just two lanes with a relatively modest speed limit) is busy and hard to cross. However, it’s really not very hard to hop in the car and drive over there, so that’s what we did. It just inherently feels more ‘special’ than walking around the neighborhood.” The scavenger hunt went so well she actually repeated it the next weekend when the family had stretch of time.
As she reflected on this, she noted that she had really been craving more novelty in her life. She pondered why it hadn’t happened as much before, and had a few ideas.
First, in her previous job as an attorney in private practice, she’d always felt like she should be on call on weeknights in case anything urgent came up. Whether it did or not, this sense that she might not have time kept her from thinking through how to use the time. As a corporate employee, her hours were more regular and she rarely worked late, but “I think this is just a really well-ingrained habit that I need to work to break.”
Second, “I think I tell myself that there’s no time to do things on weeknights while still getting the kids to bed on time” — which was important because of how hard the kids were to get down when they got over tired. But again “I need to kick this narrative because (a) there’s actually plenty of time and (b) even a short excursion can be really fun and fulfilling.” As she noted, their scavenger hunt took just 30 minutes, but it made the day feel different and special.
So if you’re stuck in a rut, try thinking “One big adventure, one little adventure.” The little adventure in particular doesn’t have to be grand, but something outside the ordinary can change our perception of time.