When people tell me they want to spend their time better, my first suggestion is always to figure out where the time is going now. If you don’t know where the time is going now, how do you know if you’re changing the right thing? It’s the same as any business decision; you want to work from good data.
For many people this process is revelatory. Giant blocks of time pass mindlessly (real quote: “Was I abducted?”)
But there are some folks whose lives are already meticulously planned. Almost every hour is going to something they need or want to do: advancing in a full-time job, spending time with a young family, getting enough sleep, exercising, reading, often being involved in some community or faith-based activities. There’s no magical pot of hours to be redistributed from low-value activities to high-value activities. Pretty much everything is a high-value activity, and so everything has a high opportunity cost.
This can be frustrating. When women lament this situation, they are often told that “no one can have it all!” But it’s not just a female concern. I received a note this week from a male reader in the same bind: growing business, multiple little kids, community involvement, and a general desire to read more books, exercise, and try other hobbies. He wasn’t watching TV. He wasn’t on social media. His time logs proved that.
If any of this sounds like your life, there are a few things to think about for finding time when there is no time. One is to make sure to look at time over the whole of the week. Yes, evenings are for family, but nothing has to happen every single night. Instead of thinking “I can either read to my kids or read for myself” maybe try reading to the kids five nights a week and taking the other two nights as an opportunity to add a few more minutes to your own weekly tallies. As for community involvement and friends, if you are co-parenting with someone, you could trade off, so each of you gets one night “off.” The kids are still with a parent at night, but each grown-up has a few extra hours to pursue their own interests.
I’d also aim small when trying to add things into a very busy life. I maintain that anything that happens three times a week is a habit. Highly productive people often assume that they need to make something a daily habit, which is just not going to happen in a life where every minute is spoken for. But if you want to practice the piano, maybe you could find 3 20-minute slots during the week when that might be an option. That’s only an hour, total. Maybe one of the bigger pots of hours can yield just a little more space. If you’re working 44.8 hours per week you try working 43.8 hours per week and find the time there. Or (gasp!) it can come from those sometimes low-value weekend family hours. Trade off with your partner, practice the piano 20 minutes on Saturday and Sunday and then just do one weekday, maybe when you decided you didn’t need to do that last conference call. These things don’t have to be either/or.
The good news is that life might open up at some point. It won’t be less busy next week or maybe even next year, but businesses often do become more self-sustaining. Kids do become more independent (even if they need to be driven everywhere under the sun.…) And then you’ll be able to exercise for longer, say on Saturday mornings while your pre-teen and teenage kids are all asleep until 10 a.m…
In other news: Just a brief (sort of) TBT scorecard for the past week… I was mostly in bed by 11 p.m., though the toddler’s wake-ups meant that often wasn’t enough. A few nights I wound up spending some hours on the twin bed in his room that will eventually be his.
I planned on Friday…actually on Thursday because I was feeling anxious about getting everything done before vacation.
I got some exercise by 3 p.m. 5 out of 7 days. I did not on Tuesday because I elected to nap after the toddler was up from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. and then again in the morning around 5:30… I did not on Wednesday because I was driving to an event and didn’t manage to do anything before getting in the car (though I did walk around the town between parking and going to my event, so now that I think about it that might count).
I have been focusing on a few activities to do three times a week. I ran four times, so I cleared that bar. I played the piano three times. Family dinner, on the other hand, happened zero times, if you mean all of us being there. It was that kind of week, but it’s not like I tried and failed, it’s more that we had so much evening stuff.
I try to leave Fridays open, which was wise this week as a kid wound up home sick, and then I was able to get a camp form filled out by the pediatrician in one day since I had the space to drive there twice.
As for adventures, I guess my big one was driving to my speech in upstate NY…or maybe the Friday event at my husband’s office where we did wine pairings with various small plates? As a little adventure….I watched the livestream instead of going into NYC for the concert on Saturday night, but listening to seven premieres is still exciting and out-of-the-ordinary. Or going to a farmer’s market on Saturday! My daughter and I went and had fun — we will likely do this more often since it’s close. (Plus that crosses something off the summer fun list!)
Now that choir practice is done the “one night for me” is more nebulous, though watching the livestream could be that – I took my dinner on Saturday into my office and no one disturbed me.
I batched the little things on Friday as always and did reasonably with “effortful before effortless.” I’m reading Under the Whispering Door, and am about three-quarters of the way through. That was mostly because of reading in little chunks of time. I don’t always open the Kindle app before the Instagram app, but when I do, I make progress…
Photo: Watching the livestream….plus surf & turf dinner from the grill!