This week the Tranquility by Tuesday project is focusing on Rule #7: Take one night for you. Taking a few hours each week to do something that is not work, and is not caring for family, can make life feel more sustainable and joyful during the busy years.
What you do during your “night for you” is your choice, but many people find that committing to something that happens at the same time each week both reduces the mental scheduling burden and allows you to look forward to this time. Plus, if others are planning on you, you’ll go, even if you’re tired or busy, and you’ll reap the benefits of this active self-care.
For some folks this is straightforward enough, but many people’s lives are more complicated. They work late or unpredictably or travel a lot. They have young kids. Their partners work late or unpredictably or travel a lot.
But it still can be possible to commit to something.
For probably the most common situation among my readers — families with young kids — the most straightforward approach is for couples to trade off. Each party gets one night off, with this being a pretty explicit quid pro quo. Indeed, when people first learn about this rule, I suggest that offering their partner a night off might be the best way to get their other half on board.
But this doesn’t always work. When I was living in NYC and sang in a choir on Tuesday nights, and my husband was traveling a lot, and even when he was “local” (a client two states away) he’d be home closer to 7:30 p.m., I wound up hiring an every-Tuesday-night babysitter. It was always possible my husband would be home at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, but I didn’t want to be furious if he wasn’t. The babysitter removed that potential tension. These days out in PA my choir night is Thursday, and our nanny generally works later that night. My husband isn’t traveling as much, so he tends to take the time to go to the gym (so we take our “night for you” simultaneously), but if he isn’t there for some reason, it doesn’t mean I can’t go.
(Though these days I also have the back-up option of my older kids…something I’m still getting my head around!)
Over the years I have spent…a lot on choir night babysitting. That said, on average it has been 2-3 hours more than what our regular full-time coverage would be. So in that context, it’s not an order of magnitude more. And singing makes me very happy. If it came down to it, I’d rather pay for choir night sitting and drive my 12-year-old car in perpetuity than arrange things differently.
Of course, hiring your own sitter isn’t the only option. I distinctly remember that when my mother sang in her church choir lo these many years ago I would sometimes go hang out in the nursery during practice, which meant the church must have been providing childcare. I imagine rehearsals must have been earlier (7-9:30 p.m. would be a wee bit late for little ones), but if you are joining some sort of group with a lot of people who have young kids, you might be able to work out a joint solution. Your string quartet practices on Tuesdays after work, and you all bring your kids who play (and, I don’t know, eat mac and cheese for dinner) with a jointly-hired sitter for two hours. If you go to a regular exercise class, you could choose to join a gym with childcare (fun fact— I spent a summer in high school working in the child care room for an aerobics studio).
You can also do the night-off swap with anyone (not just a spouse). If you have a friend/sibling/cousin/neighbor in a similar situation, you can each commit to covering the other’s “night for you.”
Some people with flexible jobs — but regular childcare — have wound up taking time during the work day for their “for you” activity. I want to emphasize that you don’t *have* to do this (parents can take one night a week away from their families and everything will be fine!), but if the thing you want to do is during the day it is an option.
An unpredictable work schedule introduces different complications, though ones that might be surmountable too. One solution is to turn the “night for you” concept into “a few weekend hours for you.” Many times people who work long or unpredictably during the week do have more control over their weekend hours. If your spouse is getting his/her night during the week, then this might be doable. (Or you could use any of the above solutions to get coverage).
One person in the TBT project who worked different shifts got her shift assignment for about two months at a time. So she was able to look at which night she had off most frequently and plan something for that night. She couldn’t go every time, but she could most times, which I thought was a very wise way of not letting such a schedule discourage her from trying.
You could also look at unorthodox times. Sometimes people who don’t control what time work ends do control what time it starts. If that is the case, you might be able to do something early as a “for you” activity — an early morning exercise class or a bike ride or run with a group of friends.
Frequent travel can make this rule challenging too, though it depends on the kind of travel. If you are on the road Monday-Thursday, then you’ve got, say, Friday morning, or some weekend hours as a “for you” option. Or if you tend to go to the same place (e.g. a client site) you could potentially choose something there. This was the scenario for consultants profiled in the book Sleeping With Your Smartphone, who each got a “predictable night off” while traveling. That might seem like a less-than-optimal benefit from your company (if you’re not home, what good is the time off?) but people started going to regular exercise classes at a gym, or explored places like galleries, or did regular calls with friends.
I’m not saying everyone will be able to figure something out, or commit to a particular time. But even if you do work unpredictably, or have young kids, you might be able to do something. I wouldn’t write this rule off completely. Maybe think about it for a bit and see what it would take. The people who did start following this rule often found it improved their entire experience of time — an hour or two transforming an entire week. That’s a benefit worth getting a little creative for.