Help me manage my multiple interests and hobbies, aside of my personal and professional life
February 7, 2011 4:17 AM   Subscribe

How can I manage multiple personal interests without going crazy?

I´m a 38 year-old male that has always been interested in many, many things. When I was younger, I had plenty of time to dedicate myself to all the stuff that crossed my path: sports, science, Go, language learning, reading, kites, music composition (I have a big collection of flutes and string instruments, as well as keyboards and DAWs).

Two years ago, I got married, last year started my own business and right now I find myself unable to do many of the things that I´ve been doing in the past. It´s not lack of time, since I´m self-employed and I work in the coaching business, so this means almost no traveling (like in my former jobs as an IT consultant), I don´t have kids nor debt to pay.

My main interests are learning Go, Music Composition, Learning Languages, writing, technology, keep my Coaching business going, and of course, being with my wife and cat. But somehow, I can´t fit all of these activities in my current lifestyle, unless I don´t sleep or something similar. I want to learn / practice a lot of things, but it seems that I don´t have enough time, and this is driving me crazy.

I tried putting small blocks of time everyday for certain activities: composing music for an hour, reading about foreign countries for 30 minutes, hearing music in japanese for 35 minutes, and so on, but I feel that I´m not accomplishing anything this way. I´m a GTDer, early riser, biker and meditator, by the way.

Any advice on this will be greatly appreciated.
posted by Matrod to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
There are a couple books out there for people like us:

Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher

The Renaissance Soul: Life Design For People With Too Many Passions To Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstine

What I got from them is that you have to accept that there is not enough time in one day to pursue everything you're interested in, and you just have to find some way to work around that. For some people, that may be putting off one interest for a year or five years. For me, that usually means that I concentrate on one thing in particular for a month or three months. It's not that I make a schedule; I just naturally move out of it as something else captures my interest.

The other thing is to be really conscious about what you're trying to get from each of your hobbies. What is it about them that interests you? Is there a level where you would be satisfied not taking them any further? It may seem like accepting mediocrity to say, "Well, I don't need to be fluent in Slavonic, it would be okay if I could just do the basic tourist stuff," but when you have so many things you really want to do, it's worth being ruthless about what you don't really want to do. Every so often I get unhappy that I haven't gone that far in Japanese, but I also accept that I'm basically pretty happy being able to read contemporary novels, and to go further would require an investment of time that would take too much from me.
posted by Jeanne at 4:37 AM on February 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

My solution is to pick one "frivolous" thing at a time. I establish some kind of goal, and work on that one thing until I achieve the goal. At that point I put the activity on one side for a while and work on another thing.

I figure I have a good few decades to go yet, so I can easily afford to spend a year or two on X and then get round to Y at a later date.

Plus, that lets me really focus on one thing rather than do a large number of things in a haphazard and scattershot fashion.
posted by emilyw at 4:38 AM on February 7, 2011

Hm, since you say you have no lack of time now, I wonder if the "plenty of time" and the additional success you recall having when you were younger result from a reminiscence bump or rosy retrospection effect. And there are many reasons why time may seem to pass more quickly for you now, which in combination with the foregoing could result in the sense that you're really not getting the same bang for your buck, time-wise.

One thing I can recommend is keeping some kind of log that helps you look back and see how much you've achieved.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:43 AM on February 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

If it's "not lack of time," then what changed? It's hard to answer your question (how to do these things you used to do) when you're not telling us why you aren't doing them now (and have rejected the most obvious reason: lack of time).
posted by J. Wilson at 5:12 AM on February 7, 2011

On second read: even though you said it's not lack of time, you're also saying you don't have time to do everything you want to do. Not clear on this, but possibly because you have to spend time with your wife and cat, which means less time to yourself to pursue hobbies.

Since no one has said this yet, let me be the first to suggest therapy. Seriously, the world is a big place, grown-up life is busy and carries with it numerous constraints, and it's not possible to dedicate yourself to everything in the world that crosses your path. There might be ways to use your time more efficiently, but ultimately what you need is to come to grips with the fact that you can't do everything.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:19 AM on February 7, 2011

To tell you the truth, you're just going to have to drop some things. I too wish I could do many more things than I actually have time for. Ultimately I had to accept that if I wanted to learn Arabic over the next few years, I could not also learn Russian and Attic Greek. That if I wanted to learn to play an instrument proficiently I would not also be able to take up painting seriously. That I couldn't fence and study Aikido. What helped me is to put those things on a list for later consideration (Your GTD 'some day' list).
All the usual suggestions for time management and focus you're already doing. Ultimately you can't time-manage your way around the finite nature of time.

Since no one has said this yet, let me be the first to suggest therapy.

Absurd. Perhaps if the OP spent his days and night consumed by self hatred for not doing everything in the world then this might be appropriate. Given the circumstances as stated in the post therapy would just be another thing for the OP to waste his time on.
posted by atrazine at 5:40 AM on February 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

Can some things be combined - like spending time with the wifey while flying kites and doing whatever else on that list is of interest to both of you? Or maybe you and your cat can compose music together and learn French, I don't know. :)

All I know is that people take time for things and people that matter. The end.
posted by jojo chandran at 5:48 AM on February 7, 2011

I'm feeling much the same way about my interests - new website idea!, get that novel moving again!, clean out the attic! - and how I have to look at it is to stretch the time line out into the future. You've got plenty of time to do everything that's on your current to-do list, but it's spread out over the next 40 years. Don't let those 'bucket list' /'you can die at any time so don't waste your life away' /'carpe diem' people make you feel like you're taking too long.

Also, the illusion of 'I used to get everything done' versus 'I can't get anything done now' may come from the fact that you're adding things to the list faster than you're taking them off. Get things done and cross them off the list, then do the next thing: the 20-minutes-on-one thing changing over and over throughout the day is more frustrating than working on one thing for an entire saturday and getting to a feel-good stopping point.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:46 AM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I second Azrael. You've got your whole life to do those things and you don't need to do them all now. Personally I find this approach to be very comforting--there are lots of things that I will enjoy learning, lots of ways that I can continue to grow, from here on out.
posted by Sublimity at 7:29 AM on February 7, 2011

Response by poster: Hi again,

Lots of wisdom and creativity on all your answers. It never occurred to me to "spread" things along time. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I had a very strict father that was looking for the outcome instead of the "joy" of doing things.

Another thing I was thinking about is to limit my "information intake" or at least, to consume all the info that gets into my hands, avoiding the "accumulation" and "read it later" syndrome. I´ve discovered this stress me a lot: more to do, endless lists, no time...

Just reading the answers was a huge relief for me. I think the best way to go from now on is to take one of my interests and just do it for a while, until I feel satisfied or have achieved a particular goal (play xxx song with my guitar flawlessly, for example), and then continue with the next one. Sounds like a good idea to me. I´ll give it a try.

I´ll take a look at the book suggestions Jeanne suggested. They sound interesting (by the way, another thing on my "To Do List" is to learn how to read faster... Perhaps this could be the first goal to achieve!!! (So many books to read, so little time...)

Perhaps my main hurdle was the idea of having to leave things behind, since I love almost all of the hobbies / tasks / learning I´m doing, and I was unable to find a way to combine them in a sane way. For me it´s terrible to give up the things I love doing. I´ve cleared identified some things that I can go on without, and already started to get rid of them: no regrets here. In this way, I´m able to focus on the ones that really produce joy to me.

I´ll report back with my progress.

Thanks again and I hope this helps more people as well.
posted by Matrod at 8:44 AM on February 7, 2011

I know you've responded but as the wife of a guy with myriad interests, I'd like to second the suggestion that you try to include her in some of these pursuits. Learning a language together could benefit you both and help the learning go faster. But trying to squeeze her into a jam-packed schedule of cool things you do solo isn't helpful for building a marriage.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:50 AM on February 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

I find it painful to think about giving up on something for a long time, so it helps me to think about things seasonally, or in terms of semesters. Learn Go during the winter, kites in the summer, languages in autumn, compose music in the spring. During the rest of the year, keep these things around to a casual degree: suppose you study Japanese in the fall, you can watch dramas with your wife throughout the rest of the year to keep your ear tuned, and listen to Japanese music in the car or on Sunday mornings. I also think of it in terms of input/output... sometimes it helps to take turns (inspiration in --> ideas out). If you set up to try to write and compose at the same time, you may not have enough creative energy to fuel both.
posted by xo at 10:21 AM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have found that the longer I dedicate myself to an interest/hobby, the higher the stakes are with respect to how productive I feel with my time and energy. I assume that this has something to do with the fact that I feel tremendous growth when I first approach a new interest, but things start to plateau after a few weeks/months/years and progress is much more difficult to observe and acknowledge. Makes it feel a lot like I have a 'lack of time', similar to what you express.

Concrete deadlines and goals help tremendously in my case. I am paralyzed without them. Also, I find it helpful to somehow record my progress (journal or otherwise) so that I'm actually able to observe my own development over time- progress that is too subtle to notice otherwise.
posted by palacewalls at 10:31 AM on February 7, 2011

To some extent, previously.
posted by goateebird at 4:48 PM on February 8, 2011

You need to choose what's important to you, as you have an external social relationship that you're responsible to that will (pleasantly!) require more time than your hobbies did previously.

Or, you added an enormous commitment with that relationship, and like it or not, the time has to come from somewhere.

Which isn't to say you can't spend hobby-time more efficiently, but maybe focus on "what makes you happiest with that time" instead of "how many things can I accomplish before the buzzer?"
posted by talldean at 3:06 PM on February 10, 2011

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