What would you do with your night off?

When you’re in the busy years of raising a family and building a career, it can feel like you’re always doing things for other people. One way to combat that feeling of being overwhelmed? Tranquility by Tuesday Rule #7: Take one night for you. Taking one night each week to do something that is not work and is not caring for family can be life-changing.

I often suggest making a commitment to something — joining a choir, a softball team, or doing a regular volunteer gig — because the commitment aspect makes it happen. You can “take one night for you” by taking a bubble bath, but since that can happen whenever (your bath tub isn’t going anywhere), it will get bumped if life gets busy, or if someone would prefer you do something else. If you play in a string quartet, on the other hand, you have to be there for the rehearsals…or they are a string trio.

In any case, the usual question I get about this rule is “how.” People have multiple young kids and no childcare, or they work late or unpredictably, or so forth. The logistics are challenging.

But after I started sharing this rule broadly I started to hear a different question — “what?”

As in, I don’t even know what I’d want to commit to. How do I figure out what I’d want to do one night a week that would make me feel energized and excited about life?

For me this question has been relatively easy, as I’ve always loved to sing. I have sung in choirs for most of my adult life. More practically: I am a regular church attendee, and my church has a choir, so I’m either listening to the choir or singing with it most weeks one way or the other, and active participation sounds better than the alternative.

But many times people don’t know. You can be so busy for so long that you just haven’t thought about it. One Tranquility by Tuesday participant told me that “It’s hard to even comprehend having a night off that isn’t for work.” Another lamented that ‘I really don’t know, which is probably the crux of the problem. What to do, not when to do it.”

So if you, too, are stumbling over this question, try a few things.

1. Think back. What activities did you do as a kid, or as a young adult? People do lots of extra-curricular activities in high school and college. Did you particularly look forward to any of them? Try to list a handful of things you enjoyed.

2. Ask around. Different communities have different options, and often the only way to find out about more off-beat activities is to know someone who’s involved. This is a great use of weak ties. You know what your best friends do for fun. You don’t know what all the posters in your neighborhood parents Facebook page do. So ask them. You may not find a perfect overlap, but you could think broadly. You’d like to sing in an a cappella group, but if there isn’t one, you could sing in a choir. Your first choice sport is softball, but the local adult kickball league is more active, so you go with that.

3. Try something out. Since I want people to get started with “take one night for you” right away, stop gap measures are fine as you hunt around. Nothing needs to be locked in forever. You could take an adult ice skating class for six weeks and just see how it goes. You can also try things out as you wait for other opportunities — taking music lessons if your local community orchestra isn’t holding auditions until next fall.

4. Tune up as necessary. It’s quite possible that your first attempt won’t be perfect. But that’s OK. The point is to get in the habit of carving out time for your interests, and as you do, you will become more aware of what is available and what might be possible. Your music instructor will point you toward a small ensemble that needs a trumpet player, or a friend on your kickball team will suggest you both go play in a softball league that’s starting up one town over.

Over time, you’ll find yourself doing what you want to do. And then you won’t be able to imagine life without taking this night “off” from your other responsibilities. You will look forward to it all week— and that is the point of this Tranquility by Tuesday rule.

Do you take one night “off?” What do you do with it? How did you choose that?

In other news: For some upcoming articles I would love to talk to people who have seen results from trying a few other rules. Have you given yourself a bedtime and want to talk about it? Let me know! I’m also looking for some folks who have leaned in to the “effortful before effortless” rules and have shifted how they spend their leisure time. As always, you can reach me at laura at lauravanderkam.com.

Reviews! I’m loving some of the TBT reviews that people are posting. Yesterday, Elisabeth Frost posted a lovely write up over at her blog (which you should start reading regularly!).

13 thoughts on “What would you do with your night off?

  1. I’m 8 months pregnant with a toddler , so not much is particularly appealing to me in my current state. I also imagine there won’t be ton of time for the next 8 months or so. But when I get an hour right now, I’m going for a walk and listening to a celebrity podcast. It doesn’t fully follow your rules and one day I imagine I’ll get back to something bigger but for now it’s appealing!

  2. Sunday night hockey. I started playing nine months after my second was born. Almost 14 years later the day might shift for off-season training, but it’s a standing commitment that usually only gets bumped when my kids have a game of their own.

    On a side note, during the pandemic I also did random virtual scrapbook sessions with my sister. I got a lot more done having set times, and it was a lot less pressured than having a reoccurring time slot.

    1. @Maureen – hockey is not one I’ve heard regularly! But what a great idea. And a virtual scrapbooking session that happens at a set time with someone else sounds like a smart approach to making sure it happens.

    2. They had something like this at the library on a Saturday, no kids allowed. It’s the only photo album I’ve got is the one I made at the scrapbooking workshop!

  3. This is such brilliant advice and I started following it a few years back. Since then I’ve learnt how to make stained glass (a long term commitment which I loved) and also done some flower arranging classes just as one offs (fun but not something I’d want to do weekly). Thinking back to what you enjoyed as a child is such good advice. I had a friend who died in her early thirties and she said this in her last months – why do we stop doing the things we loved as a child? It was such a sad reminder that time is precious and you have to fill it with things you love, even if you have to search to find those things.

    1. @Jenny – stained glass sounds fascinating! And yes, your friend’s words are wise. If we loved something as a kid it’s quite possible we’d love it now if we made the time for it.

  4. My spouse and I do this, each take a night off. Mine really varies depending on my mood and what’s happening, but it’s usually one of the following:
    -go for a swim
    -go to a movie (alone or with a friend)
    -go out for dinner with a friend or with my sibling
    -go for a walk to the beach (sometimes while talking on the phone with a friend)

    In the future I’d like to try to add sewing to the mix.

  5. I’m away 3-4 nights a week during the uni term so that feels like my “off” time but this has inspired me to better use it, instead of working late every night and eating something very sad for dinner (toast from the freezer). I’ve been trying to get back to yoga and I’m going to find a class to book for Tuesdays when I’m in work city.

  6. Well I am a stickler about giving myself a bedtime but I have done that pretty much since having kids. I can not control when they wake me up, so I control when I go to bed and I almost never stay up past my ‘bedtime’. That’s how I function, though! I can’t wrap my mind around not having a bedtime or accidentally staying up late! I get teased about this when I am around my family. We played a lot cards when we were with my parents this summer and my dad didn’t like that we had to end the games around 9 because everyone was having so much fun. My mom said – ‘ok Paul, we’ll resume the game at 6am tomorrow when Lisa is up with Will.’ It gave him some perspective, though, because he is finally retired (that just happened in the last year and he’s 74!!) and can control when he wakes up, so he sleeps in nearly every day.

    I don’t have something I do every week, but I’m in book club which meets monthly so that can be a good stepping stone to doing something for yourself on a regular basis. And then this year my focus has been ‘connections’ so it usually works out that I have social plans about once/week. I’m also trying to get my husband to do more for himself so we both get time away. Otherwise it feels imbalanced is one partner gets to do fun stuff and the other is home more. But he and his group of friends are NOT planners!

    1. @Lisa – connections is a great focus for the year. I read online of someone who deemed Fridays “friendship Fridays” and just tried to include more people in her life on Fridays in particular. Having a focus like that seems to make it more manageable.

      And totally get it on the retired person not really getting that not everyone has that schedule…

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