What were you doing while I was wasting my time?
July 22, 2011 6:55 PM   Subscribe

What are some "sneaky" ways people spend their private time?

Some examples:
-"They" say to brush and floss 3 times a day... presumably after meals, but you never see anyone at work or at restaurants brushing their teeth (and certainly not flossing!) Yet no one laughs when dentists suggest that shit so they must be doing it some time or at least just keeping their chuckles internal.

-A recent question indicated that a bunch of people put on sunscreen in their morning ritual, but you never really hear about that during the day (just afterward when you are 40 and you look to your friend like "oh yeah, I have been doing this for 15 years and that is why you look more old and withered")

-People sneak in workouts too... Folks that wake up at the asscrack of dawn, running 10 miles before most of us are out of bed and never mention it. I knew this guy who seemed to drink constantly (taking breaks only to eat mounds of terrible-for-him food) but for some reason was in really good shape. Thinking "how the hell does he do this", I asked. It turned out that when he was not at the bar, he was at the gym, all the damn time. And when he was not eating all of that greasy food publicly, he had a super tight diet privately.

-I knew a girl who read for an hour before she went to bed EVERY night. She never mentioned that technique or the book she was currently reading, just all of the books she had read in the past. It turns out that the pattern makes you pretty well read.

-Freelancers are the same way. Somehow they find a handful of hours each night to do something productive and make some extra cash. They are all Clark Kent at work, then they break out the cape and silly boots on the way home and do magic while everyone else does not.

-Hosts on FoodTV shows are always like "hey prep this in advance or plan your menu and shop for the week"! Do people actually do that when I am not looking?

So my question is:
-What other sneaky (mostly healthy, productive) things do you, or the people you know, do when others are not looking while the rest of us are sitting on our respective asses?
posted by milqman to Society & Culture (43 answers total) 92 users marked this as a favorite
What do you mean by "others are not looking"?
posted by sweetkid at 6:58 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Changing from boots to dress shoes in winter and somehow disposing of the boots, each and every day. I'd love to know how that trick is done!
posted by Yowser at 7:00 PM on July 22, 2011

I sometimes study Jeopardy trivia on the subway.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:04 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

All those examples sound more like people either not bragging or just not sharing every part of their life; I wouldn't characterize it as being sneaky. If you're just looking for ways to improve your life, that's a huge question but I think you've gone pretty far in answering it yourself: take care of your teeth, exercise and eat right, put on sunscreen when you'll be outside, read more, and pay attention to how you spend your time and your money; do all that and you're pretty ahead of the game.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 7:04 PM on July 22, 2011 [12 favorites]

Another "sneaky way" people get in reading/studying is commuter time - on the bus/train/ferry whatever. They take that hour or so they could be napping and learn a new language or read a book. When I lived in Washington and commuted to Seattle, I had a friend who was learning French this way.
posted by patheral at 7:08 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a freelancer and my schedule is pretty flexible. I intentionally go out to the stable to ride my horse during the middle of the day (about a 2 hour time commitment) when my family isn't around. If I were going out to the stable for a couple hours in the evening, several evenings a week, I'm sure I would get complaints from my kids about how I'm neglecting them. But if I'm at my desk catching up on work and can field the odd homework question or squeeze in some work when I take them to classes and lessons, then I'm being even more Supermom!
posted by SomeTrickPony at 7:11 PM on July 22, 2011

None of these people (except for maybe your friend who eats heavy food in public but diets in private) are keeping any secrets. If you grew up in an environment where people don't put energy into that sort of activity, though, I totally understand being perplexed by all the things that other people apparently just learned by osmosis.

The boots trick most of the people I know manage by putting their shoes in a plastic bag and keeping them in a drawer (like in those little mini-filing-cabinets you get in cubicles). I also know people who do a similar thing with tennis shoes or gym clothes and go work out or walk or bike on their lunch break.

When I have enough energy, I definitely prep things in advance for dinner; it's just me and my partner so I don't usually cook anything fancy, but when I'm going to cook something with a lot of chopping it HAS to be prepped in advance. That's how I manage to have people over and not need to spend 5 hours cooking; I chopped the bell peppers and celery and onion a few days before, cleaned the meat the day before, etc.

I find that if there's something you want to do, it's best to put it in your schedule first - don't do all the stuff that comes up and THEN wish you had time to do what you're doing. 10 PM is your bedtime so you can read for an hour. Every Monday you're busy because that's the night your Spanish language study is set for. Thursdays are rock climbing night. Whatever it is that you wish you did more of or were better at, set aside the time for it and do it.
posted by Lady Li at 7:16 PM on July 22, 2011 [11 favorites]

I subscribe to e-mealz.com, which does the meal planning and shopping list for me. I dont stick to it 100%, but it certainly cuts down on the amount of time I spend on those tasks.
posted by LyndsayMW at 7:34 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think there is anything sneaky about anything I do but here goes; I'm not one for formal exercise and my work schedule was so busy I never had time to fit it in, however I'll walk anywhere, so when it came time to buy a house we bought one 15/2O min walk awy from the town centre. Driving in and parking is too inconvenient so now I (deliberately) find myself walking in and back pretty much every day to grocery shop/whatever. I'm forced to walk and am much healthier.

My work commute was an hour each way on a bus. That time was used to read a book, catch up on work, research Internet purchases, return phone calls, podcasts, pretty much anything.

I'd get home from work ridiculously late many nights and still need to eat. I have no interest in takeaway or convenience foods and still want to make my meals from scratch so whenever I did cook, I'd make double the amount for the next night or lunch the next day. A pot of soup or large batch of salad would last all week.

Skincare - wear foundation with a SPF built in and that takes care of that.

A lot of these things are just about acknowledging what you need to change, then incorporating it into your life as a habit every day. Some things are easier than others (like me never going to a gym but trying to find a workaround anyway) but none of them are magic, just what works for you.
posted by Jubey at 7:42 PM on July 22, 2011

I cook big batches of things, (stews, roasts, cheesy pasta bakes, etc) and portion the food out into small containers for freezing. Thus, I can bring a yummy home made lunch to work/errands/the park and not worry about spending a fortune on sodium laden crap.

I paint my own nails and get lots of compliments on the quality of my work, and the health of my nails. This is more because I've practiced really hard to not pick at the cuticles. It takes a while to get good results with nail polish, but once you're good at it, there's no way you'll pay for a manicure unless you really want the hand massage. Pedicure I can understand, but again, with some maintenance you can keep things looking and feeling good. Diabetic Mileage May Vary.

Whenever I'm reading and come across an unfamiliar word, I look it up. This is much easier with a smartphone, no need to find a sticky note and put it on the page in question. I get word a day emails as well. Though I know about half the words, it's fun to see new ones. You'll notice from my user name that I'm kind of into language.

I sometimes pick up random ingredients in the grocery store and make it a point to plan a meal around them. This expands my cooking comfort zone.

Even when I'm eating alone at home, I'm still sitting at the table with a full place setting, and a napkin. As soon as I'm done, I wash up. Now, if only I could figure out the stealth mopping that some people manage.

I'm a daily sunscreen wearer - face and décolletage, but I don't wear makeup, so my face washing time is reduced in the evening. I also don't dye my hair, so that takes hours off my beauty routine each month.

Before I take off my shoes, I always untie them. This helps them last longer, and has the added benefit of making them easier to put on the next time I want to wear them. . Drives me crazy when I see people taking their shoes off without untying. Crazy.

Before I go on vacation I buy (or check my stash of) postcard stamps, and make sure there are some in the purse I'll be carrying. So if I find a postcard I like for someone, I don't have to make a special trip to the post office in order to get the card to them.
posted by bilabial at 7:48 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Every time I see or hear about a book I want to read, I add it to my goodreads to-read list or Amazon wish list. Every. Time. Now I never need to worry about what to read next - I've got 500 ideas ready to go!

I keep a google document called I'M BORED. Any time I think of something I would like to do or need to do, I add it to that list. Then, when I'm bored, I click on the list and voila! There are all those things I wanted to do and now I have the time to do one of them!

I track all my spending every day. At the end of the month or year, I can tell you to the dollar what I spent in any given category. It takes only two minutes per day but gives me so much information.

(I brush my teeth at work, and I've seen other people do it too. It's awkward, but it happens.)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:57 PM on July 22, 2011 [27 favorites]

"They" say to brush and floss 3 times a day... presumably after meals, but you never see anyone at work or at restaurants brushing their teeth (and certainly not flossing!)

Actually, I always carry around floss so I can floss after any meal. I do it at my workplace (which is a normal office) and at restaurants. I don't know why you think this is so implausible — just use the restroom.
posted by John Cohen at 7:57 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a DVR connected to cable that I use exclusively to record documentaries off PBS*. The DVR has a DVD burner in it, and I burn those docs to DVDs with it. It takes an hour per month to make the DVDs but it's kind of fun. Then I watch those documentaries on a little portable DVD player (with a buffer for skip protection) while in the gym on the elliptical machine or treadmill.

This way I get some exercise and watch a LOT of documentaries. I used to really hate exercising in general (not physical activity, just "exercise") because it seemed like such a pure waste of time for me and my hyperactive brain, but I love documentaries, so I use the latter to encourage the former. I see it as the ultimate multitasking, the only true multitasking really, because I'm using my brain for one thing while my body does a mindless task.

And so I've seen documentaries about seemingly everything, and high quality ones too, not that History Channel sh*t. Last week: Bhutto. This week: My Perestroika. Both provided incredible insights into fascinating topics!

* On PBS, documentaries are carried mostly via the P.O.V. and Independent Lens programs, which pick up the docs you hear about on the film festival circuit. Also Frontline, which is PBS's flagship investigation program. Look at the schedule for any of these and tell me they don't sound amazing ...
posted by intermod at 8:04 PM on July 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

My husband goes into work an hour early every day to study for whatever professional exam is next.
posted by that's how you get ants at 8:05 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Unless I'm in a huge rush (and I make every effort to schedule things so that I'm not) I walk to anywhere I'm going that is less than three miles away. Sometimes, if I have the time, I'll walk to places that are a lot farther than that. Doesn't much matter what the weather is like (unless it's a monsoon, and even then, sometimes I walk) or what time of day it is or what I'm carrying (if it fits in my giant backpack, I walk) or how I'm feeling (unless I'm throwing up or badly injured, I walk) or what else is going on in my life. I also rarely ever mention to anyone that I didn't take the subway or a car somewhere, because people tend to react weirdly if you tell them that you walked two miles to have a drink with them and plan on walking two miles home afterwards. But I like the walking and I listen to a lot of podcasts and it's basically gotten rid of my lower back pain, so I walk everywhere.

I also put on sunscreen every day and read before bed, and it would never have occurred to me to think that either of those things were the slightest bit unusual. I like to read, and I have fair skin and don't want to get sunburned. I don't consider them sneaky or even particularly healthy or productive, they're just things I do because it would never really occur to me not to.
posted by decathecting at 8:09 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Stealth mopping or vacuuming! Exactly!

To be specific, I am not asking about "changing my life"; this is about curiosity. I am curious about the actual activities, the times you do them, and the other little things that never get talked about. I realize that some of this is not intentionally sneaky and certainly not malicious, that verbage was thrown in for a (failed) comic effect. (like how "stealth mopping" sounds more entertaining than "consistent mopping").

I realized after asking this question that I have a couple of these too (like drinking a ridiculous amount of water to cure fidgeting or parallelizing my time in an almost OCD way).

@JohnCohen: not implausible, just incredibly uncommon... I have never had to wait to use the sink because everyone in front of me was flossing :)

@peanut: "bored" google doc seems like a pretty legit lifehack

Cooking in mega batches is another that only sometimes gets discussed but seems to yield mucho benefits...

Another example of this kind of thing was in a movie, American Psycho where Bateman has a totally intense regiment (facewashes, and masks, and peels, and crunches, and all the rest of it) but from the outside, you would never know just "man, he has good skin and seems to be in shape". I guess you could put things like spray tans in this category too, you never really hear it talked about it but somehow people show up with mid-winter tans...
posted by milqman at 8:13 PM on July 22, 2011

I may or may not do the following:

Watch a TED talk and do a chore in the morning
Listen to audio books on my commute
Read on the toilet
Cook a big meal once a week and pack it in little bowls
Track the habits I'm working on in a spreadsheet (or more recently on HealthMonth)
Idly sit wasting my time.
posted by jander03 at 8:19 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

I spend a lot of time reading about things online. Anything and everything that occurs to me. Most people I know have NO IDEA how much time I spend online, nor would they understand why. I'm not very social on social networks, or im, but I like to look up things and read. Offline, I'm extroverted and chatty, so people don't imagine me ... in front of my computer. They assume I'm someplace else, being extroverted and chatty.
posted by Locochona at 8:21 PM on July 22, 2011 [11 favorites]

I got a great program called Textaloud that will turn anything I highlight into an mp3. I used to spend hours reading articles on the internet now I just put them on my mp3 player and listen to them during a bike ride at the end of the day. It takes a little while getting used to the Stephen Hawking voice but the time it has freed up for me is invaluable.
posted by any major dude at 8:27 PM on July 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

When I was traveling in a French-speaking country, I had French quiz apps on my iPhone that I would use for practice on the Metro and anytime I wasn't busy -- also on the plane over. They helped me a lot, especially with irregular verbs and usage patterns.
posted by amtho at 8:30 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I spend a lot of time at thrift stores and consignment shops (and online in the vintage section of Etsy) so I can have a great wardrobe that I would never, ever be able to afford otherwise. It can be time consuming to browse through endless racks of old clothes, but I see it as a fun treasure hunt and I love to head downtown whenever I have an hour or two free and make a quick round of my favorite shops. It has to be done regularly to pay off because the inventory's always changing and on any given trip I might only find one or two things I want. I don't have a super kitschy/thrifted style so I'm guessing people wouldn't necessarily realize how little I spend on it.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:46 PM on July 22, 2011 [12 favorites]

The "sneaky" things I do usually are as a result of actively trying to avoid something else. That "stealth mopping" you were wondering about? Well, I have a baby, and when I need a little break, I hand the baby to my husband, put the baby gate up, and say "sorry I have to get this floor cleaned!"

Brushing teeth? Sorry husband, I have to take care of some personal matters in the bathroom, take the baby.

It works both ways, my husband has become a master chef since the baby's come, since he has a legitimate excuse to gate off the kitchen and go to town.

I'm sure you can substitute "baby" for "something I'm actively trying to avoid for a second."

Also, I do things while doing other things. For example, in the mornings while my coffee is brewing, I do random cleaning chores. I'm too tired to really care what I'm doing, and by the time my coffee is done I get to relax with it knowing that I've already been productive!

I also pick up the house all the time without even thinking about it, it's second nature. People don't talk about things that are second nature, so even though they're being sneaky about things, it's just that something has become so ingrained in them that they cease to think and therefore talk about it.
posted by katypickle at 8:51 PM on July 22, 2011

I'm a stealth mopper! Because of this - it changed my life and I never thought I'd say that about a mop.
posted by superfish at 9:04 PM on July 22, 2011

Best answer: Most people don't actually brush their teeth after lunch. I've seen about 1-2 people do it in the bathroom at work. (And in all honesty, the few that do creep me out.)

I have been known to put on sunscreen in the morning, but usually I just carry around a bottle of spray-on sunscreen and hose myself down when I go outside.

I stealth read a lot. I read e-books on my iPod touch while waiting in line in places or if I am standing/sitting around in the dark. I read books while walking (yes, it's doable).

I make my lunches for the week on Sunday night.

I resize the browsers on my laptop so I can watch Hulu popup in one corner and surf the web in a smaller window on the other side. Ditto Skyping.

I also used to be able to change my wardrobe while in my cube at work. How this worked was that (a) I used to sit in the way back and (b) was partially blocked off by a partition, and (c) unless it's hot summer weather, I could have my gym pants and tank top on underneath my clothes, so I'd just throw off the clothes and change shoes and put my hair in a ponytail so I could be dressed before I left. Hell, even in summer I'd just have the tank top on and discreetly slip on gym shorts under the skirt I had on. Alas, they made me move offices and now my cube is right in the front and very well lit and very very open wide so everyone sees me, so...grrr.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:49 PM on July 22, 2011

Instead of just watching TV, I try to knit when I'm watching. I end up with some nice hand knits and do something productive rather than stare at the idiot box.
posted by Addlepated at 10:43 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

The American Dental Association recommendation is to brush your teeth twice a day. My dentist says he advises most people to brush no more than twice a day, because the wear and tear on the gums is not worth it. His advice is different for people who are prone to cavities and not prone to gum disease.
posted by grouse at 12:24 AM on July 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, I forgot about the knitting, because it's so engrained in my life. It's what I do while on hold, waiting in line, or in a movie theater. I promise I don't use metal needles in the movies. I'm a quiet knitter and most people would never know I was cranking out a lace shawl in the dark.
posted by bilabial at 5:46 AM on July 23, 2011

Pressed post too soon.

Those tiny sunscreen sticks are priceless to me. I keep one in my bag, so I can reapply midday without having to scrub my hands.
posted by bilabial at 5:48 AM on July 23, 2011

There are tons of things you can get RSS feeds for. For example, new books in my library system. I'm usually at the top of the reserve queue with no real effort on my part.
posted by anaelith at 5:59 AM on July 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you are just seeing people who are good at scheduling, and following that schedule.
posted by gjc at 6:32 AM on July 23, 2011

In order to avoid doing chores on the weekend, I keep a rotating 2-week chores/errand schedule. Everything is broken down into manageable chunks Mon-Thurs, then Fri-Sun off, then Mon-Thurs again. And repeat.

Everything is in there - laundry, groceries, mopping, bathrooms, etc., except dishes which get done *most* days. Generally I get home from work, take a breather, exercise, do chores, make dinner, then putter about from there.

It has been a revelation to have the weekends open for personal projects instead of the dreaded laundry pile.
posted by jenmakes at 7:56 AM on July 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Kegels are the ultimate do-anytime-and-anywhere we-don't-talk-about-this sneaky improvement thing.
posted by flex at 8:54 AM on July 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

I do almost all of my reading while on an exercise bike I have at home. This isn't really "sneaky," I just never think to mention to my book club, "Hey, I read this entire book while simultaneously exercising!"

I also do at least 50 crunches every day after work for no particular reason. Lately I've been adding push ups to that regimen. It takes maybe 10 minutes a day.

I usually take the stairs instead of the elevator.

I always keep a huge bottle of Tylenol at my desk at work. It comes in handy often, for my coworkers just as much as myself.
posted by Lobster Garden at 9:19 AM on July 23, 2011

I'm prone to laziness, so I write a to-do list on my desk calendar every morning and check things off as I do them. It makes me feel really good to see the checks, and I'm actually getting things done.
posted by canadia at 1:00 PM on July 23, 2011

The only way I have been able to exercise faithfully is to do it every day after work just like a routine: I fix supper then exercise whether it is pilates or exercise bike for 30 minutes. Then I get caught up on other small chores and read the news on the internet to keep up with what is going on in our world.
posted by sandyp at 4:03 PM on July 23, 2011

Best answer: I knew what you meant by sneaky!
I tend to do several things at the same time which may make me look more productive (although really I am just trying to create longer periods of time when I can otherwise sit on my butt reading/doing homework):

-While my tea brews in the morning/evening I do the dishes. If the dishes have already been done I might do a quick fridge clean or other 10 minute kitchen job.
-While I brush my teeth at home I wipe the bathroom down with biodegradable cleaning wipes.
-I put my bluetooth on and return calls while I clean the litter boxes/dog run.
-When walking the dog I listen to audiobooks on my ipod.
-My audio french language program plays while I commute to work.
-I take the stairs whenever I can. Last summer I was staying in a building and it was 26 flights of stairs to my room. I lost 3 pant sizes and probably improved my cardio too.
-I have running dates with my mother so we both exercise and get to have a visit while we're at it.
-I bring my kindle with me everywhere so when having earphones in isn't an option but I have some free time I can read a few pages/chapters quickly.
-I keep a stash of pre-addressed/stamped cards and when I'm in the mood I write a few lines to friends and just shove it in the envelope and toss in the mail box (usually while I'm out on a run with my Mom).

In essence I just love to multi-task. I'm not a particularly energetic person and I easily get bored and side tracked (except for reading which is usually my way of avoiding doing household chores, the most boring of tasks), so I find having a few things going at once means I don't get bored (as quickly!).
posted by blubutterfly at 12:14 AM on July 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

Dentists seem to advise *adults* brush their teeth before and after bed, and floss once a day.
posted by talldean at 10:30 AM on July 24, 2011

This is going to sound a bit weird, but I quite like origami. I am not obsessive about it at all, but I realised that I could use time when I was completely bored but couldn't overtly distract myself (mostly in meetings, to be honest), to mentally fold origami. If I've learnt something new I practice it in my head, and I mentallly rehearse things I already know.

There is plenty of neuroscientific evidence that mentally rehearsing a practical skill aids the learning of that skill and indeed this has done wonders for my origami skills, but also for my general cognitive visuospatial awareness. It has also staved off mind-numbing meeting-induced boredom and frustration on a number of occasions.
posted by inbetweener at 10:55 AM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also do most of my mindless housework whilst I am on the phone (or if nobody is about, listening to new music).
posted by inbetweener at 10:59 AM on July 24, 2011

I floss at work all the time. In fact, I'd bet I floss more at work than at home.
posted by togdon at 9:29 PM on July 24, 2011

I do the reading before bed thing - usually for at least an hour because that is how long it takes for me to get sleepy. You've probably heard advice to turn off the computer and electronics before bed in order to sleep better?
That's why I do it because otherwise I will stay on the computer and then I never get tired!

I also make sure to always have a book with me because if I don't, it is inevitable that I will end up in a situation where I am stuck sitting with nothing to do for some period of time.
posted by fromageball at 10:32 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the urinals in the washroom at work is outfitted with sturdy supports for people with disabilities. I use them to do dips every other day.
posted by brappi at 6:26 AM on July 30, 2011

Sometimes my colleagues comment on how nice I look (wow I like that shirt; pants; etc...). Even if they are unaware of it, I have narrowed it down to the fact that everything is pressed well and crisp. Dry cleaners, baby.
posted by boots77 at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

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