Is having "it" together an unrealistic goal?
November 13, 2009 2:44 PM   Subscribe

As a 30-year old who is a part-time grad student and a full-time office worker, are my goals to get control over my life (weight loss, finances, home, work, etc) really unrealistic? Is there a way to just be NORMAL and balanced, or is it really just normal not to really have things together, even as an adult?

I am a 30-year old woman, and while working through a number of issues (depression, anxiety, ADHD) I have come to realize that I am deeply unhappy with how I manage my life. I thought medication, which does help, was going to be a magic bullet somehow, but of course that was kind of a stupid assumption for me and I still have a lot of the same issues.

So...the things I am most unhappy about are:

1) My weight. I need to lose at least 80 lbs, but probably more like 100. My general physical health (blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc) are fine, but I think I've got a genetic disposition towards diabetes and cancer, so I feel like my healthy days are numbered if I don't get things under control. Plus I'm endlessly depressed that I have to wear plus-sized clothing and get these awesome doses of extra low self esteem (to supplement my generally low self-esteem) every time I remember how fat I am because of pictures of me that suck or clothes that don't fit or things I can't do because of my weight. I know that I *can* lose weight, and I have (but regained most of it). Sometimes I get really into my weight, and when it's my top priority, I lose it. But then when I try to focus on something else important, I gain it back because I lose focus of whatever isn't my current pet project.

2) My house. Unless my obsession du jour is cleaning/organizing, I am a slob. When my house is clean, it's very very clean. And it makes me so happy to have it clean. I can't accept that I am a slob, because I feel so stressed when my house is messy, and I can't find things or have people over. I love being home when my house is clean, and I generally enjoy cleaning tasks, believe it or not.

3) My finances. I have also made good progress in paying off some of my credit card debt ... it was $17k, and now it's down to $11k. But I still feel like there are times when I'm really good about money and think before I purchase something and don't spend more than I have budgeted, and there are times when I am focused on other things and go crazy and spend what I want to (or feel that I need to) without regard for the big picture or the balance in my checking account. Some months I pay a large chunk of debt off, and some months I amass hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees because I was focused on something else (like losing weight ... in a weight-loss fueled time period, I'll spend a lot more on groceries and fitness gadgets and workout clothes and justify the spending because "I deserve whatever will help me lose this weight!"). I badly just want to pay off all this debt and be able to stick to my budget.

4) Work ... I get distracted at work, I am sure often because of my ADHD and some perfectionistic tendencies towards my larger projects (and resulting anxiety), but I also tend to get distracted by my current obsession (weight, organizing, cleaning, etc). I just want to be able to focus on WORK at work, all the time, or at least most of the time. And then when I leave work, I'd like to not think about it much anymore (within reason, at least). When I get into SUPER AWESOME WORKER ME mode, I tend to obsess, bringing work home, and just thinking about it all the time. And I might let other things slip because I'm so focused on making things as comfortable and easy as possible for me to do the best work I can.

5) Mood. Not sure if this belongs in this list, because I don't have a history of obsessing about this. But because of all the stress and frustration and all, I know I need to make taking care of my emotional health and mood a higher priority. My plans have been to set aside Sundays to do fun/relaxing things instead of errands / homework / chores, unless I absolutely have to. And making more time to just READ. And I know exercise and supplements will help, too, just like they will with weight.

In talking to both friends and a therapist, a common thread is that they think my expectations for myself are unrealistic and that I need to pick and choose priorities. My argument is that all of my expectations are vital and that I cannot drop any of them.

Also, it's not like I've never tried to focus on one or two goals at a time. I mean, I'm always trying to fix the things I am unhappy about, as I've mentioned above. At any given time, I feel obsessively focused on fixing one area of my life. And I do GREAT at it.

Like, last winter I was all about weight loss. I lost 40 lbs and 2 sizes in about 2-3 months by doing an hour of hard cardio a day, plus yoga twice a week, plus eating very regimented, pre-portioned Weight Watchers-pointed meals. I was a superstar, right until I simultaneously burned out on weight loss and panicked the hell out about something else I dropped the ball on, my finances.

I quickly got all psyched about fixing my budget, so I worked to correct the damage to my bank account caused during the weight loss bit (having spent a lot on assorted special diet foods and supplements, lots of workout clothes, etc), amassed and paid up any neglected bills, automated a lot of my bills, eliminating some expenses, and just doing a really good job there, and learning about finances a bit. It was great until it came time to maintain that. Then it was boring and I was off to the next thing.

It frustrates me so much, and the more I learn about ADHD the more it seems to make sense that I do this. I love the excitement of swooping in and making great plans and implementing them and getting stimulated over sparkling challenges and quick rewards.

But I can't live like this anymore. I just want to work on making some moderate changes to all of these parts of my life. Everyone keeps telling me to PICK something to focus on, and I'm scared of that. I think it's just going to land me right back where I always am ... obsessed with something until it's no fun anymore.

Can't I just be a NORMAL chick who is at a reasonable weight (I don't need to be really skinny, I just want to be in normal US Misses sizes!), who does work consistently, who keeps a reasonably neat house, and who can spend money and save money like a grown up? And who isn't a total basketcase all the time?

I just feel like what I want for myself isn't unrealistic, and that I just need to find a way to build moderate habits in all areas at once, building on them until I get close to my goals. But at the same time, it almost seems like having your shit together is an unreasonable expectation to everyone else.

So what do I do? Do I really have to drop some of my expectations? Or is there a way I can get closer to where I want to be?
posted by dumbledore69 to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
Go tiny. Really tiny. Walk maybe 30 minutes a day, or every second day. Do a finance round up once a week. Tidy once a week. Don't take it as a project, which is a thing to be set up and then ended (or failed). Instead it's a series of blocks and habits.

I've always despised physical activity. Always. Yet my baby adores being outside and walking around. So I spend half an hour a day outside and either walking or doing some sort of outside thing (hanging out the laundry, cleaning out the car). So that half hour is always something productive in some way. I do all my financial stuff on the computer so when I reach boredom point with whatever I'm doing, I can spend 5 minutes on that. I used to have a budget which was great, but went to the wayside with increased salaries and moving and a bunch of other things. I found it helpful when I didn't have much money though - it meant I knew how much I could spend on crap without screwing myself over with the bills.

I'd suggest getting yourself into some fat fashion sites too - fat doesn't mean unfashionable and crappy clothes. It's harder to find the good stuff, but the less angry you are at your body, the more likely you are to enjoy it and do stuff instead of treating it like a recalcitrant thing that needs to be fixed.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:04 PM on November 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you get focused on one thing for extended periods of time and ignore everything else. You may benefit from a strict schedule. You can get obsessed with setting up and keeping to a schedule. Then you can schedule in all of the other areas of your life you want to work on like cleaning, working out, finances, etc.

Also, get comfortable with the idea that nobody is entirely happy with themselves. We're all works in progress, and that's OK. Keep working at it and forgive yourself for lapses.
posted by willnot at 3:06 PM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Could you schedule a staff meeting with yourself every Saturday morning? Make a list of these areas where you tend to go out of balance, assess what needs attention, and plan how to address it over the coming week. If you have trouble following through with this, try getting even more specific about planning - i.e. Monday is laundry, Tuesday is the gym, Wednesday is bill paying, etc. And don't go overboard with the planning! Just plan in the minimum you need to accomplish in order to feel in control of your life, and if you find you're able to do more than that in one area or another, so much the better.
posted by lakeroon at 3:11 PM on November 13, 2009 [10 favorites]

Should have previewed first! What geek anachronism and willnot said.
posted by lakeroon at 3:12 PM on November 13, 2009

I don't think think it is unreasonable to want all of these aspects of your life to get better. But you're moving so fast that you burn yourself out and can't wait to move on to the next problem. So, these are your three big goals: diet & fitness, finances, household. Take small steps in each area. Then each day or week, set aside time to check in with yourself on how you are doing on each goal. Don't just think it, but write it down or type it into a file. Ideas for next week, pitfalls, feelings. Give yourself tangible mini goals under each major goal.

As for the thinking about work in your offhours and your offhours during work, try keeping a notebook or two. When you have a work idea away from your desk, write it the work notebook. At work, if you have a grand offhours idea, write it in the personal notebook.
posted by soelo at 3:13 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

You are perfect for the FLYLADY system. It is all about set up routines and taking things in baby steps. The main focus is managing the housework so your place stays presentable without requiring too much effort from you. Furthermore her support is warm and understanding - it is anti-perfectionism - you just start with where you are. She has also added elements for exercise and facing you finances. In all cases it is about having a time for doing certain things so you once you get caught up, it stays more or less presentable.
posted by metahawk at 3:17 PM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

It sounds like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy would really help you focus on what's reasonable and put together a plan attack on all fronts.

More practically speaking, I would seriously consider hiring a cleaning service and a financial planner. Many busy people do that. You kind of have to when you have big goals. It sounds like you need to get at least one or two of those projects delegated to somebody else.

If it makes you feel any better, I also have to worry about weight, finances, cleaning, my job, etc. I can do it all, I just can't do it all by myself.
posted by borges at 3:24 PM on November 13, 2009

I think you should drop the word "expectation" as much as possible and reframe these as goals. An expectation seems like something you should or could be doing right this very minute, and therefore falling short in any way implicitly becomes some sort of failure on your part -- a failure of will, or intellect, or commitment, or what-have-you. Thus "expectation" sets up a kind of negative or punitive framework from the start, which -- and I speak from experience here! -- is certainly not the best way to keep yourself motivated or to give yourself props for the steps you are taking.

Goals, on the other hand, are implicitly things to work toward. They are things that can be accomplished in steps; the idea of a process -- with its regular ups and downs, good days and bad days, etc. -- is built into the idea of reaching a goal. This is inherently less judgmental than an expectation. As long as you're setting out the right steps for yourself and making a good faith effort to simply work on that particular step each day, then you're not faced with the failure of "not having your shit together." For example, you don't have to lose 80 lbs. TODAY (or even THIS YEAR); you just have to get to the gym this afternoon (and congratulate yourself and enjoy the sense of accomplishment when you do). That's all!

I think the key is to set goals that make you reach, but that aren't inherently out of reach, you know? Each step in should challenge you a bit, but it shouldn't be so difficult or unrealistic so that if you miss one, you'll be permanently off-track. Each day, just take care of today, and the future will pretty much take care of itself.
posted by scody at 3:31 PM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You've got the idea of budgeting money, but as others said, you need to think about budgeting time. It's the only way to simultaneously make progress on all these things at once, if that's what you really want. You won't be losing 40lbs a month or paying off all your debt at once, but instead you will spread out that effort over more than one thing.

You need to make a very strict and realistic schedule of your week. That schedule should include something like 4-5 hours for exercise a week, 1 hour on Saturday or Sunday for sitting down and handling bills and budgets (get a Mint account to really find the holes where your money is going), 1 hour a day for healthy food preparation, and 30 minutes a day for cleaning. Schedule your free time as well and give yourself something specific to do then, like watch a certain movie or read a certain book. Honestly, this is how "normal" people do it, and it's nothing fancy, it's just consistency and discipline. It will involve small compromises and making yourself stick to the schedule even when you don't want to. Even if you think you need an extra 30 minutes at the gym, don't do it, because that's 30 minutes you'll have to take away from cleaning the kitchen or cooking a meal.

If you do have to skimp on something occasionally, don't skimp on the food preparation. I think having a good, healthy meal will help you lose weight, improve your mood, help you focus, and generally make you happier than the other things you could do with that time. It probably took me a year or more to really understand how to cook well, regularly, from scratch, using mostly vegetables from a farm share, but it's probably been the most worthwhile change I've made in the last few years. I really think it's worthwhile to learn to cook healthy and not just count calories or use another point system. It's hard to eat poorly when you cook from scratch for yourself.

AskMe is really fond of the time management book Getting Things Done. I've read it and I still use some of the hacks when I feel things getting crazy on multiple fronts.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:33 PM on November 13, 2009 [7 favorites]

Hey, just wanted to saty that I know of lots and lots of graduate students that are in the same place. You didn't say anything about how your program fits into these other issues, but in my experience school can really skew your whole outlook on having "it" together. It's a time of huge stress and change for most students that can often go overlooked in trying to manage a life/work balance.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 3:57 PM on November 13, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! All your answers so far are very refreshing and much appreciated. I have just been hearing lots of "No! You cannot accomplish what you want! Not even kinda!" and I appreciate some new takes on it.

I like what many of you are suggesting with working more on managing my time/schedule. That is certainly a big problem for me, and something that I often just shrug off. I am doing some serious thinking / reading about this whole ... issue ... right now.

(And if anyone else has thoughts or suggestions, I'd love to hear them!)

I've done Flylady before, and I like about 20% of her whole philosophy. I still get her emails, but I ignore them and mass-delete them because they're almost all just testimonial spam. I started reading GTD, but abandoned it ... maybe I will pick it up again and see if I can get through it this time.

I do someday plan to hire some cleaning help and also consult w/ a financial adviser, but for the meantime, hiring someone to clean my house will cost more than I can afford and a financial adviser can't really help me not spend hundreds of dollars I know I don't have on useless crap.

Sigh. Can you hire a mommy to walk around and nag you not to do shit you shouldn't do?
posted by dumbledore69 at 4:27 PM on November 13, 2009

Can you hire a mommy to walk around and nag you not to do shit you shouldn't do?

Aha! I know you're not being totally serious here, so I'm responding a bit in jest. That said, this is a excellent example of an opportunity to tweak the language that you use in your internal monologue away from negative, punitive thoughts so that you can start to set yourself up to view yourself positively and for success.

Mommy is someone outside of yourself, implying that you're too childish to do these things yourself. Nagging is an unpleasant thing, and won't help you. Do shit you shouldn't do is negative on 2 scores: "do shit" implies that the things you do are worthless, and "shouldn't" implies an obligation that you are failing to live up to. You've denigrated yourself four times in 18 words. I don't blame you for feeling frustrated.

Most likely, you are bombarding yourself with this kind of negative self-talk on a more-or-less endless loop -- a constant monologue of self-sabotage. (Again, I speak from experience on this score!) It's an insidious and destructive habit on all sorts of levels, and CBT (mentioned upthread) can be very useful in stopping it.

So what's a more positive way to frame the sentiment you're expressing here? How about something like, "can I put post-it notes around the house to remind myself to keep doing the things I want to do to stay on track?" It might sound a little hokey, but it really reinforces that you want good things in your life and that you, yourself, have the capability of making those good things happen.
posted by scody at 4:49 PM on November 13, 2009 [8 favorites]

Oh, and sorry not to mention this book earlier: All Your Worth was extremely helpful for me in figuring out how to get my expenses in balance without having to come up with an elaborate budget that was predicated on tracking every pack of mints I ever bought.
posted by scody at 4:55 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Definitely second the advice for tiny steps. Hire someone to come clean once/month. You'll lift your overall baseline of clean in the house, and it'll be easier for you to keep it clean in between. Find a small budget cut (daily Starbucks run?) to cover the bulk of that cost.

Also, many many people manage these things easier with a support team/cheerleading squad/etc. It's definitely easier to work out when you have an appointment with a personal trainer, or to eat more responsibly when you're being accountable to a nutritionist, or spend less when you know someone will be reviewing your finances. If you can't afford professionals, recruit friends for these roles (less for advice & more just for checking in, support & accountability) or try to find that online - keeping food/exercise/debt journals can be really helpful to chart the small changes you're making that will add up to the big changes down the line. It sounds like you're already on the way.
posted by judith at 5:22 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is all really hard to do when you are working full time and studying. And if you aren't feeling the best, the whole thing becomes overwhelming. I have made progress in some of these areas over the last year by working on it very slowly, step by step. I have slowly changed habits, as well as changing things that got in the way of me making the changes.

My finances were pretty good, but I wanted them to be better. So I just did one thing each week or each couple of weeks to get there. One week I rang the bank to change my account type so that I was paying less fees. Another week I looked at all the phone deals and compared them to my current plan to see if I was getting a good deal. Another week, I worked out how much I had paid in utilities bills over the past year, so I could set aside the same amount each month. Over time, this has decreased my expenses and evened them out so that I know once those things are paid, I can spend what I like for the rest of the month (I put a big chunk in savings at the start of the month too).

In terms of eating better and losing the weight I was gaining sitting at the desk, I decided to start eating two pieces of fruit a day (as I wasn't getting enough fruit and vegetables). After a few weeks, I decided that at least every weekend, I would take one long walk. Then I began making sure I went for two lunchtime walks a week. I started packing leftovers for lunch (also to save money!). Then, when I decided, Mark Bittman-style, to basically eat vegetarian until dinner, I started making one big vegetarian dish on a Sunday to eat for work lunches for the week. This has helped with both the money and health goals.

Same sorts of things about keeping the house tidier - both doing small things regularly (like making an effort to clean up straight after dinner) and changing structural things to make it easier (eg. bought a shredder, so I get rid of paperwork as it comes into the house, bought wire caddys for the bathroom so that I don't have to move 20 individual items to wipe down the sink - BUT not expensive things).

Anyway, you get the idea. This has been a much more sustainable way of making progress, rather than a big hit at once. Once I am managing one of these small tasks easily, it seems very easy to add another after a few weeks and over time, I can see progress. Someone else explained this to me as being like putting a bucket under a dripping tap. At first, it doesn't seem like the bucket will ever get full, but if you come back at the end of the day, you'll notice the difference.
posted by AnnaRat at 5:24 PM on November 13, 2009 [12 favorites]

Best answer: You sound overwhelmed. Scratch that. Overwhelmed, tired, hard working.

Take a deep breath. Still here? Good.

Expectations: Secret - None of us have their shit together. Quit thinking you 'expect' your life to be this or that. If you were in a 'poor' nation ( 3rd world), you'd be a rich powerful person (A house! And all that food!) Quit 'expecting things'. Plan more. Plan to fail sometimes too. You're human, not a robot. You're aware and cognizant of this. Not everyone is.

Motivate yourself You (me, everyone I know) have some resistance because you resent having to do stuff like clean - because of undefined goals. Find motivation. Remind yourself (frequently) What would life be like if your home was clean (you could have people over often, socialize, laugh more) What would it be like to be thinner (more than just more attractive. Health. Running up a flight of stairs without difficulty. Find the big whys for yourself.)

Plan more Stop treating areas of your life like you were cramming for exams. ALL OR NOTHING. Does it really work as a part time student (or a full time one?) You know that regular studying makes the experience easier. Could you imagine writing a 100 page paper all at once? Of course not. Slow and steady wins the race.

So you need a plan. You could read a book about these things (like Getting things done). You clearly do well with plans (weight watchers.) But you seem not to plan for those times/moments where the plans fall off the rails. A backup plan. What happens after 48 hours of falling off the weight watchers/cleaning/bills hamster wheel? A check and balance needs to help you in your life let yourself 'mess up' and correct itself fairly easily.

Maybe you even need a plan for when you're depressed. When I feel overwhelmed I look at a note a caring friend once wrote: Even an elephant can be eaten - just one bit at a time It's a positive message in the midst of 'feeling lost' - and it tells me what to do.

From what I know, CBT is a great solution for this. It works to help you plan/change the way you think about yourself and the language you choose. GTD is good in reducing resistance and help you pick the 'best thing' you could be doing right now. It also helps you realize what the difference is between actions (things you can actually do) vs projects (a list of projects. Losing weight? A project. Walking 10 min today? An action. Fix your finances? Project. Change your account to one with less fees? Action. Small consistent steps are 10x better than one step that you're not consistent with.
posted by filmgeek at 7:29 PM on November 13, 2009 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all.

Sometimes I feel like I really do put a lot of pressure on myself, because I do work hard at work (just in inconsistent cycles ... but when I work hard, I work very, very hard and my boss is very happy with my work) and I also am doing well and working hard with grad school.

At the same time, even before grad school I didn't have control over these other aspects of my life, and I know I *can* do it. I just really need to figure out what the bare minimum I need to do to move towards my goals is, and make time to do I don't keep moving away from my goals whenever I focus on something in particular. And I think scheduling is the answer ... I need to make time for these things, but also make time to let myself really relax.
posted by dumbledore69 at 7:30 AM on November 14, 2009

Do you go in cycles from making grand plans, to letting everything fall apart, and back? I am ****not*** a doctor. But if there is a pattern, maybe you should track it and talk to your doctor about it. And is it seasonal? Beyond that.. I have a few suggestions based on experience & hope some might be helpful, but they wouldn't work for everybody.

I lost 40 lbs and 2 sizes in about 2-3 months by doing an hour of hard cardio a day, plus yoga twice a week, plus eating very regimented, pre-portioned Weight Watchers-pointed meals.

Wow. This is impressive. But it must be hard to sustain. I guess I'm about 30 pounds less than I was about 4-5 years ago, and while the weight gain was due to medication and stress, and so maybe losing it was just going back to equilibrium for me.. the times I've gained a few due to stress and winter weather, I've dropped it just through small steps, not a full-out fitness plan like this. (Which I really admire you for doing & would love to do myself, but I don't.) Small steps would be taking more and longer walks, cutting back some on carbs and sweets, being OK with feeling a bit hungry and resisting the urge to have an extra snack in the evening. And I eat a lot of small meals and never a whole lot at once, so if I decide to just go for it and order pizza, it's not so bad since I'm not hungry for more than 3 slices. That has been a low stress way to manage things, since I bet if I took on such an ambitious regimen, I'd risk falling off it pretty hard. I find planning things causes me stress, so the less I have to plan, the better. I know plenty of computer guys who plan everything and enjoy it and are stressed if they don't, but their way doesn't work for me. Strict schedules just kill me, to be honest.

Also my experience of graduate school was, most everyone thought they didn't have it together, and thought everyone else did, so we all felt guilty and like we didn't measure up, and we were all just fronting really.

Far as your house goes, wow I am a slob, and the best way for me to manage it is to simply cut down on the possibilities of being messy. Perhaps while you're so busy with school this would help. I'm talking, go to IKEA and buy some nice inexpensive storage boxes, and pack up absolutely everything you don't need to have out, and put them aside. For instance, if you only have a few dishes available, you'll have to wash them before you use them again, instead of getting out more and possibly having a lot more out. This goes for out-of-season clothes and shoes, books and magazines you don't need to have at hand, electronics, knickknacks, paperwork (and don't feel you need to sort it now).

Bringing work home in my experience is a vicious cycle. One procrastinates during the day on the grounds that you'll just bring it home, and then you get home, and who feels like doing work, since you're sick of work from being at work all day? How about making a rule of simply not taking work home. And if that means you don't get something done and get in trouble, I bet if it happens once or twice, you'll really recognize that you can't procrastinate at work that day.
posted by citron at 12:54 PM on November 14, 2009

Best answer: I've tried FlyLady, GTD ... my problem was that my list of expectations was too long. My to-do list had 200 items on it. I was trying to reach perfection in all the areas you've mentioned, and always falling short somewhere.

Now I'm trying simplicity. My to-do list is down to 40 items. I've quit activities I can't fit in, I've dropped goals I can't get to this year. I've just stopped asking myself to do things I can't reasonably accomplish with my limitations (for me it's work and parenting, sounds like you've got a full plate already with work and school).

I also found the keystone activity in my life. When I do this one thing every day, all seems right with the world. I have energy, motivation, and discipline. When I stop, it all falls apart.

For me, that activity is writing fiction. I do it every morning, first thing, and it gives me a sense of meaning and accomplishment that carries through the rest of the day.

What gives your life meaning? Because just trying to get one's ducks in a row and manage your life, if it doesn't have a purpose, of course it's going to take a lot of energy and you can't sustain it forever.

The Power of Less forum is a great place to start with small habits that have a big impact. Think efficient, not comprehensive.

If you really want a nag, consider HassleMe or hiring a coach like ProNagger.
posted by alicat at 6:44 PM on November 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I'm also the type of person that switches interest in things constantly. But I can also be lazy. So the key has been to set up my life in a way that makes good habits easy to do and make bad habits difficult.

Cleaning: I also like a clean home but I'm not a fan of long cleaning days. The part that annoyed me about vacuuming was taking out the vacuum, unwrapping the cable, plugging it in, having to drag the cable everywhere, and replugging as I changed rooms. It made vacuuming feel like a big ordeal. So I bought this Electrolux cordless stick vacuum and it's allowed me to keep the floors and furniture clean all the time. On carpet, a charge lasts about 15 minutes which is enough to vacuum a room or two on full power. Every few days, I'll grab the vacuum off its base, vacuum for 10 minutes, and then put it back. Or if I see dust or hair, it just takes a second to grab the vacuum and clean it on the spot. I also bought one for my mom and she loves not having to bring out the heavy duty vacuum and lugging it up and down steps and stairs.

Finances: Get an account at and track all your accounts in one place. It will set up a budget based on your spending habits. Make a point of checking it every night at the same time you're reading email. For me, having that daily reinforcement of seeing progress with building savings and paying down debt is key. Set up billpay for monthly bills, including the credit card minimum payments.

Spending: To combat my spending urges, I don't buy anything in stores. Anything I want in the store isn't going anywhere and it's likely to be cheaper online. So I take a photo of it on my phone, look up the price at home, and put it in the website wishlist. That also gives you time to review your budget before pulling the trigger. With clothes and splurge items, the desire usually fades in a day and I realize I didn't need it.

Exercise: Do you have a workout partner? If you want to keep to a routine of exercising, you need a workout partner. That person will keep you accountable to your schedule, praise you when you have a good workout, let you know when you're having a bad workout, and keep it fun and motivating.

Snacking: Put the stuff you want to eat everywhere and make the stuff you don't want to eat difficult to get to. At home, I have water bottles scattered all over - in the living room, kitchen, bedroom, and computer desk. For the office, I bought a large water pitcher/carafe and use it to fill a mug. And I keep a bowl of apples and oranges (easy-to-eat fruit) at the work desk and at home. Snacks and sweets are wrapped up in bags and placed on the middle shelf at home.
posted by junesix at 4:58 AM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the additional comments!

alicat -- simplicity really, really appeals to me. Because I know I have a lot of goals, and also could easily have a to-do list over a hundred items long. I just bookmarked the Power of Less forum and will check that out today after I do some homework. I also like your idea of finding a keystone activity that helps me set a positive tone for the day. I just don't know what mine is yet...

junesix - I like your ideas of making good habits easy to follow. actually really think a vacuum like that could help my cleaning. I have a 2-story house and a Dyson vacuum, which I love, but I procrastinate on vacuum endlessly because the vacuum is so heavy to lug around, and such a bitch to use on the stairs (which are the most heavily trafficked and thus filthiest parts of the carpet). So, thanks for the product recommendation! Maybe I'll get it and use it for the daily tidying, and save the Dyson for deep-cleaning.
posted by dumbledore69 at 10:53 AM on November 15, 2009

I read this post and one thing strikes me: you have a lot of simultaneous goals. This isn't necessarily bad, but it's also a sign of someone who overcommits themselves. Grad school and a full time job are diametric opposites. Doing both is nuts and your life is expected to fall apart; the "having it together" person you imagine can handle all this is a myth. So to some extent, this is expected. The best solution to handling an advanced degree while working full time is to come with a map and plan before you jump into this minefield. I've seen countless people try to go without such a plan crash and burn, it's just too much lecture and homework on top of a 40 hour work week and family. It was a hell of a lot of work for me as a grad student and part time Graduate Teaching Assistant, and must be nightmarish for FTEs.

But you're there now and there's no time like the present to improve. Fundamentally, you need to prioritize and deal. My suggestion is to use money as the prioritizing principle. For example, how much do you value a clean house, and how much is your time worth? I'm guessing a) lots and b) lots more. In that case outsourcing the work may make your day more relaxing than a battery powered stick broom. You're not dropping a clean house as a priority, but deciding how to spend money to discover a clean home when you come back from work. I don't know your situation, but many people take unpaid time off from work for school. Or make changes to your diet if you value weight loss.

However, you mention another aspect, that you've been working on depression and "ADHD". Armchair psychology is never fun and rarely accurate, but the whole post reminds me of my father. He has been diagnosed manic-depressive. Before he was diagnosed and treated, he'd go on some very ambitious ideas that crash and burn. It's unfortunate; he'd start an MBA program in manic mode and would be doing fine until he crashed into depressive mode and fell behind in work and school. Or he'd start a consulting business. And so on. I can't really say I have any advice or encouraging experiences for manic-depressives aside from refraining to make big commitments without taking lithium.

That said, I do find it encouraging that you want to establish moderate habits rather than outlandish goals. For example, I keep enough in checking to cover a month's worth of expenses, and review my bank statement every month as I enter it into GNUcash, and then plan some related big ticket item like car insurance or student loan refinancing or cell phone plans. If I want to spend something I'll have a general idea of how I'm doing and double check the accounts before making a big purchase. I haven't had overdraft fees in over a year as a result, and it came in really handy when financing a new car to have money available to put down.
posted by pwnguin at 7:45 PM on November 19, 2009

Whoops, that part about making diet changes was supposed to mention that "diet" food is more expensive, which you probably already know but is kinda important to the context.
posted by pwnguin at 7:46 PM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster: Just to update & follow up ....

pwnguin - I've been doing the part-time grad program and full-time job for a year now, and I am doing pretty well (work reviews are good and I have a 4.0 in school). It is not a realistic option for me to commit to school full-time as my company pays for my tuition. However, I am balancing my schedule by working on the degree less than half-time. I take one class at a time, whereas most of the part-time students take 2 at a time.

Also, I currently work with a psychiatrist on my mental health issues. She nor I think I am manic depressive because my moods are not really cyclical -- I am always depressed and always driven by anxiety. My high expectations and standards are constant. I can focus on one thing at a time very, very well and switch immediately to something's not like I am up and then totally down for awhile.

I did decide to try imagining that I was forced at gunpoint to pick my major life priorities right now, so that in any day that I feel overwhelmed, I know which I need to put first. This was the list I came up with:

1) Sleep
2) Exercise
3) Meal planning & preparation
4) Work & School
5) Financial (taking time to review my accounts & budget)
6) Relaxing
7) Routine Cleaning (daily/weekly stuff like dishes, vacuuming, sorting mail)
8) Socializing
9) Beauty stuff (making time to do my nails, hair, makeup, etc regularly)
10) Organizing (major organizing projects like cleaning out the garage, my files, etc)
11) Crafts (I love doing crafts but often treat them as a "have to" rather than a fun activity)

I am working on a daily & weekly checklist, and using this priority list, I will know what to drop if I have to drop something.

Thanks everyone for your thoughts & suggestions so far!
posted by dumbledore69 at 10:07 AM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You need to make a very strict and realistic schedule of your week. That schedule should include something like 4-5 hours for exercise a week, 1 hour on Saturday or Sunday for sitting down and handling bills and budgets (get a Mint account to really find the holes where your money is going), 1 hour a day for healthy food preparation, and 30 minutes a day for cleaning. Schedule your free time as well and give yourself something specific to do then, like watch a certain movie or read a certain book. Honestly, this is how "normal" people do it, and it's nothing fancy, it's just consistency and discipline. - Slow Graffiti

Is this true?! Is this how 'normal' people live? By strictly scheduling every moment of their lives, including exactly what they're going to do during the 'free time' they've scheduled themselves?

I mean, I obviously would help immensely as far as staying organized and running at your highest efficiency... but god, it sounds awfully rigid and tedious. There are days when I'm not in the mood to eat what I planned, or wear what I picked out the night before... I can't imagine not giving myself the benefit of saying, I feel like doing X right now, not Y. "Sorry I can't go to the movies with you tonight, I already have my laundry time scheduled, followed by chapters 1 & 2 of my free time reading" is not how normal people do it.

No disrespect to Slow Graffiti, but the idea that normal people maintain efficiency by being this "strict and realistic" may not only overwhelm and shame the OP further (I mean, shoot, it does me!), but its not true. Maybe in those times when you're life is at its UTMOST busy, but not for any consistent length of time. I can't think of a less fun and spontaneous way to go through life. You CAN have a schedule and stay on top of things and still accommodate your moods and opportunities and spontaneity. Its sticking to the schedule of those things that are "must dos" this week/day/month, and allowing the rest to be flexible.

(And by the way, my original question is not meant to be rhetorical... if this really is how normal people do it, please correct me!)
posted by veronicacorningstone at 2:22 PM on December 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Well, I consider myself reasonably normal, and I certainly do not schedule my time so strictly like that. I do, however, have a pretty clear sense about the things that really matter to me or that I really enjoy (e.g., cooking, reading, yoga, etc.), and then I regularly make choices that allow me to make time for them.

So strict schedule or not, I think the point is simply to make these things a habit. There's a lot of talk in yoga and meditation of the concept of practice -- you make a practice of meditating, or a practice of going to the grocery store regularly to buy healthy foods, or a practice of throwing out the trash every day, or a practice of reading for pleasure 30 minutes before bedtime every night. You just make the choice, over and over and over, to do the thing you know you want to do. And if you don't make the choice today, that's fine; you'll make it tomorrow.
posted by scody at 3:56 PM on December 2, 2009

Well, perhaps I shouldn't have used the word normal at all, even in scare quotes. The word I was looking for was graduate students, and yes, many of the graduate students I know are pretty close to being that disciplined, but for many of them it's fairly natural and they don't necessarily schedule every minute of the day. They do, however, have priorities in mind at most times that allow them to get everything done efficiently, and they've learned to say "no" to alot of things.

Scody is right - habit and consistency is the important part of scheduling time. OP seems to like plans, schemes, and all that, so I thought the idea of mapping out a whole weekly schedule might appeal to her and help her see the big picture, learn to moderate and distribute the effort she puts into things, and not go overboard with one project. I don't mean to suggest that her world is going to come crashing down and she will never achieve her goals if she skips the gym once. It is clear from her post, however, that she does tend to let other things slide when she starts a project, and so a flexible system may not work for her, at least at first.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:48 PM on December 5, 2009

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