Am I trying to do too much?
March 8, 2014 6:50 PM   Subscribe

When I was younger I wanted to LOTS of things, but never ended up doing anything properly. Over the years (I'm 27 now) some things have settled down and found their places and some I no longer want to do, but I still find I'm not doing everything I want to do as much as I'd like to. Am I expecting too much of myself? Or are there ways I could make it all happen?

I work as a freelance communication designer. I spend enough time on work but I tend to work in intense bursts, which burns me out a bit, so I'm trying to get into a steadier rhythm. If I did manage this, I'd need to work 6-7 hours a day five days a week most of the time.

About routines: I find it difficult to fall into routines, though over the years some things have become easier. I've spent years making elaborate schedules and totally failing to follow them. I now have just a few things fixed on my schedule (waking and sleeping time, meal times, cooking and a few essential chores) and make lots of lists and think a lot about the other things I need/would like to do rather than rigidly schedule them. If they're on my mind, some things find their place in my day. This feels nice and fluid and unregimented, but obviously it either isn't working well enough, or I'm just trying to do too much.

I dance about twice a week. I do the occasional bit of yoga, and I have spurts of regular swimming, but once I stop, I go a long time without sufficient exercise. I've been ill many years and have been well only the last two years after a move to better climate so I'm rather weak and low in energy and would really like to do a variety of exercise to get stronger (long hikes, swimming, short runs, dance, yoga). I'd like to exercise nearly every day.

I'd also like to meditate/spend some quiet time outdoors every day, even just 15-20 minutes. This does NOT happen.

My husband and I cook together, and chores get done (we have help for house cleaning). This isn't really a problem because I usually feel like cooking, and when I don't, the husband does it. We don't socialise a great deal but have friends over a couple of times a month.

The things I'd like to do are practice more piano (I started learning recently and I love every bit of practice); practice singing, maybe join a choir; sew a piece of clothing for myself two or three times a month; find the time maybe once a month to paint; write (poetry/fiction), again maybe once a month at least, grow a few greens on my balcony. I really enjoy these things when I do them, but they don't seem to happen enough to actually grow and learn more.

Most of these are creative things, and I wonder if I'm expecting to spend too much of my time doing active creative things. I end up spending most of my spare time on more passive things like reading (blogs/books) or doing random useless reading on the internet or idling on Facebook or watching movies. But perhaps some of this sort of down-time is needed so as not to burn out? (the answer I want to hear is NO, you can do all you want to do, and this is how... :D)
posted by miaow to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to mention the other thing I've been doing a bit of (and would like to sustain)—some serious reading and learning, at the moment in Math and Architecture.
posted by miaow at 6:55 PM on March 8, 2014

Do you have ADD?

I suggest picking one thing, literally one. Only one. And do it every day for a month. Other than that, just work and whatever else you feel like doing, with no pressure.

Complex schedules are hard to follow because you're trying to change literally dozens of things at once. Change one thing at a time and see how it goes for you.

If you feel like you'll be abandoning all these other won't! You're not doing them now anyway, and if you write a list of them, you'll always know you can go back to them when you feel like a change.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:03 PM on March 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I should note that I have ADD and have had the same problems, and focusing on one thing at a time and letting other things go really helped me get into the swing of things in terms of changing habits, and importantly, in becoming confident that I can make progress.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:05 PM on March 8, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks tyr-r. No ADD. To clarify: the question isn't so much about feeling like nothing is happening (I've solved that now, having managed to work freelance successfully, and to regularly dance and cook and several other things) but about wondering if it's possible to do everything I want to do together or whether that is an unrealistic expectation.
posted by miaow at 7:39 PM on March 8, 2014

Yes, it is possible to do a number of things, and even do them all relatively well. When I was at MIT my colleagues were all at the top of the world's heap in electrical engineering, were scary good at either piano or violin, and had some other secret skill, like expert poker player, or archer, or ping pong, etc. I do think you have to be relatively type-A about scheduling everything in, or have gone through an extended period where someone else was type-A about your scheduling (many went to competitive private high schools, and/or had tiger moms).

Chores, errands, watching TV and movies, using the internet all take up huge amounts of time and will severely impact your ability to do all the other stuff you've mentioned. You may also simply not care enough about some of the things on your list, or maybe like the idea of doing them more than actually doing them. For example, I do art stuff for 3-5 hours per day. If I don't, I feel panicked and can't sleep. If you can't find time to paint once per month... maybe you don't really care about painting that much.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 7:52 PM on March 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

The main thing I'd suggest to improve your ability to reach your goals is to make them shared goals. Don't try to achieve them alone. Commit to them in a public way.

Instead of saying that you'd like to spend some time outside every day, tell your husband that you'd like to agree to go for a walk with him outside for 15-20 minutes before you start cooking dinner.

For the other things that you really want to do, make a commitment to them. Join a group that meets weekly to work on knitting and sewing projects, sign up for a creative writing seminar at the local community college. Piano you're already committed to through practice, but plan to play a piece at an open mic night each week - if you can, book yourself on the schedule ahead of time so that you can't just decide not to show up so easily. There are a number of websites designed to link people to others who are trying to achieve certain goals, like, that you might want to check out.

You mention liking the fact that you don't have to keep to any particular schedule most days, but you're trying to have your cake and eat it too. Most people, regardless of ADD diagnosis or not, do not have the discipline to do that many practice-requiring or commitment-requiring things daily that are all just purely for self betterment (and thus don't have any particular consequences, other than lack of self betterment, if you decide to slack off). Most people have enough trouble trying to achieve a single one of these things, like exercising regularly. I really think that if you want to ensure that you are motivated and dedicated to these hobbies, you will find it worthwhile to set inflexible times for them.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:50 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

That seems like a huge number of things to fit in, especially when you don't have a schedule to know where they'd fit well, or deadlines for any of them. I think it's also hard sometimes to tell the difference between things you'd like to do and things you'd like to have done. I'd like to being able to speak French; I don't actually enjoy practicing and don't put in very much time and effort. I can tell the difference most because my husband honestly enjoys a lot of his language practice. He practices French the way I play games on my phone.

I'd pick one thing to add to more days and see if you actually like doing that most days, for instance painting. If you do, great, keep painting most days, and when that feels normal and easy, pick another one to add as well. If you don't want to let the rest of your hobbies go, maybe give the rest of them each one day of the month until you've figured out where it can go more often in your life. And maybe you'll find something that's so exciting to do that you don't struggle to find the time; it's just what you want to do most.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:32 PM on March 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Jack of all trades, master of none.

Pick something that you're naturally drawn to - not something that you have to force yourself to do because you should, because that's what interesting people do, blah blah blah - and do it.

But perhaps some of this sort of down-time is needed so as not to burn out?

posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:00 PM on March 8, 2014

So in a larger sense, I think the problem is you, like a lot of people, just want the end result: You want to be The One Who Paints rather than someone who's grinding out the practice time necessary to get to the point where you could casually paint for an hour and come out with something workable. Like do you see yourself painstakingly practicing shading over and over again or do you see yourself casually whipping out a masterpiece? Likewise, I think you want the benefits of exercise without doing the boring part where you have to go to the gym every 3 days even when you don't want to. I know approximately a billion people who want to write A Novel and a relative handful that have actually sat down day after day after day and put 75,000 words together, you know?

The problem with not having any kind of schedule or commitment is you naturally drift towards The Fun Stuff but if you want to get good at something, many times you have to go do The Stuff That Sucks first. Like last year I ran a 5K and that was fun, but to get to that point I had to spend a lot of time on the track running a little further, a little further, a little further while exhausting myself.

The thing I'm lacking in your post overall are solid, achievable goals. There are some, but things like "I want to paint" and "I want to make clothes" are so vague you'll never get around to the boring bits of figuring out what you'll make, much less the boring work of actually doing the hard bits. So the real question is what are you actually interested in achieving? What actually GRABS your interest rather than being something you THINK you should do?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:06 PM on March 8, 2014 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far! I promise I won't threadsit in general, but because I see a lot of responses going this way, I'll add this point. I know the feeling, but this time it's not a case of wanting to have done something rather than wanting to actually do it, or feeling I "should" do these things.

I've already eliminated the things I like the idea of rather than the actual doing. The things I mentioned are all things I've done a lot of at different times in the last few years, where I really enjoy the dirty work, and once I get into the flow I find it difficult to stop. Some of them I'm decently good at.

But they take some energy to START doing, and I don't seem to have the energy to do them all regularly together, so they end up happening very sporadically. Then each time I do an activity I feel rusty and need some time to get into it and don't feel a sense of moving and learning (which I do with my dance, for example).

At this point I'm wondering whether I should just throw some out to create space for others to happen more frequently, or keep trying to work out a rhythm where they happen together.
posted by miaow at 11:21 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You seem to have my problem - your eyes are too big for your brain. If you are, in fact, like me, you're probably overhobbying and should probably consider dropping back a bit. I've spent years trying to figure out how to fit the ten billion things I would truly love to do into the limited 24 hours that are provided in a day, and I've determined that for me, at least, it's just not something I can sustain. I can't actually work on art projects and exercise at the gym and edit the next draft of my novel and attend local board meetings and go to interesting shows and cook at home and practice piano and take classes while also working a 40hr job with 1-1.5 hour daily commute and sleeping 7-8 hours a night. There are really just not enough hours in the day - although I like to map this out, aspirationally, and think that if I rush straight from work to downtown, I can get to this cool lecture, and I'll bring some cool nonfiction book I'm reading so I can learn something while I'm waiting for the show to start, and I'll cook when I get home so I have lunch the next day, and I'll get up super-early and go to the gym tomorrow morning. This NEVER works out, because I am human, not superhuman.

I've also accepted that I appear to really need that obnoxious down time - for me, mostly wasting time on the internet - although I'm trying to curb this a bit by using LeechBlock because I think it's getting a little excessive. I suspect most people need downtime, including you.

I assume the real crazy overachievers are doing it by not sleeping. I don't understand how people can get by on 4-5 hours a night, but I know people who claim to, and I'm pretty jealous. See also: Beggars in Spain.

However, some practical suggestions, maybe -

* Schedule classes or other commitments for activities at the very top of your list. For instance, if swimming is really important, then spend money for a weekly swimming class that meets at a set day and time every week. The money helps with commitment, and the regular day & time ensures that you've set aside a specific place in your schedule for that activity. I've found that if things are scheduled, I'm much more likely to do them.

If it's join a choir, then join a choir. Choir implies weekly singing practice, which means you're setting aside a specific place in your schedule to sing, which should help make sure that singing gets done.

You can, in theory, schedule every single night of the week with a weekly activity. I've done that before. I don't recommend it, because it's exhausting and it means that there's no flexibility if, for instance, you realize that your favorite author is in town for a cool lecture tomorrow night but it conflicts with Swedish class. But at least you'll have a spot for everything you're trying to do.

* Consider targeting specific weekends for less regular activities. For instance: long hike for first weekend in March, sew pants for second weekend, work on painting project for third weekend, work on writing project for fourth weekend. If you can enter a weekend with the thought, "My ONE goal for this weekend is to take a long hike," then that can help keep you focused and give you a relatively low bar to claim a successful weekend. It might also help to know that you don't have to sew THIS weekend because you're going to sew NEXT weekend, rather than getting to Saturday afternoon and playing games on the computer because you've got too many choices and can't decide what to do, and next thing you know it's Sunday night and you're not sure why you didn't get anything done.

* Remember that it takes a non-trivial amount of time to get good at something (ex: Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hour rule), so if your goal is to grow/learn, you're going to be growing/learning at a slower pace (but for more activities) than if you focused all your time on just 1-2 activities. You'll probably get better at writing faster if you spend all your free time writing, rather than once a month writing, but it means that you can't spend that time getting better at sewing or singing. On the other hand, you'll stop feeling like you're so rusty every time you sit down to write, because you're continuously doing it.

Good luck. If you figure it out, let me know.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 12:32 AM on March 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

There are only ever going to be 24hrs in the day. I think you think you can somehow cheat that - but you can't.

To me, this constant striving to do other things suggests an unhappiness with the way you fill your life now. When I read your account of your own life it looks full and satisfying; I don't understand why you would necessarily want to do more.

You complain about being rusty at things you can't do very often, but have you stopped to wonder why this is a bad thing? I feel like your dislike of being 'substandard' (whatever that might mean) at activities you enjoy is actually what is motivating you to do them rather than the intrinsic pleasure of just doing. So what if you're a crappy painter, as long as nobody is paying you to paint then your relative standard is a non-issue.

Not being able to pursue a hobby on a regular basis is not necessarily a failing; in fact, it's more often a reflection of how busy and full our lives are. You're privileged to be able to take pleasure from such a range of activities, even if it is only sporadically and not to the best of your abilities.

I suggest taking a step back and attempting to be a little more accepting of yourself.
posted by I_read_somewhere_that_. . . at 3:02 AM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This might be or seem unrealistic, depending on various factors, but if you haven't experienced it in a while, I highly recommend simply not using the Internet at home. The personal logistics of Internet use seems like one of the big areas of contemporary confusion, and it is eminently worth experimenting with. Rationality seems to suggest that a home connection is simply efficient and useful, but it is also, as I think nearly everyone can confirm, a rather powerful incentive to dick off instead of engaging.

Life is short and hobbies are infinite, yes, but the hours add up when you cut loose from the digital teat. Sorry to seem proselytizing; I just want to convey that this is in fact possible. People from all walks of life, when word comes out that I lack broadband, are genuinely shocked: "wow, that seems excessive! How do you survive? I could never do that." We are all computer geeks now, and this takes a lot of time.

Since I made the switch, I read tons more, play the guitar every day, write essays just 'cause I'm bored, go to a different museum every weekend, meditate, enjoy the Wi-Fi at local cafés, go to a jazz jam on Sundays, date, listen to podcasts -- in short I've had to invent a whole life of non-reddit activities. Not to say I'm finally happy or satisfied or am doing everything I want, in fact I'm still secretly a lazy bum, but the outer world just seems to manifest itself more accessibly when my home is not a cozy nest of infinite online jest.
posted by mbrock at 3:51 AM on March 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

Yeah, like mbrock i think the issue here is just that your tiny internet addiction is getting in the way. (maybe i'm also talking to myself here.)

So you want to do all these cool things, but you think "oh, i'll just quickly check my email/facebook/metafilter/buzzfeed/etc." suddenly a whole hour or more has passed and you're just going around and around the wheel, not doing the stuff you love and also feeling sad because that skirt isn't getting any more completed.

a friend of mine put a passcode on their computer. when they want to use it, they have to type in "whatamicomingheretodo" or words to that effect. just another way for them not to spend their whole day on the computer. that xkcd guy apparently reboots his computer every time he wants to check something, so he obsessively checks a whole lot less. (i read this somewhere, maybe i made a mistake on who does that, but my point is the same.) you could also download those internet blocker programs.

i would also recommend writing out a list of things you would rather do than be on the internet (or watching tv or movies). a big long list of cool stuff that makes you an interesting person and you like to do, that gets you away from the screens. you could post it somewhere visible, or you could just tape it to your laptop screen so you have to move it away physically before you get to that thing on facebook you don't really care about.

good luck!
posted by andreapandrea at 6:12 AM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is a lot for one person to try to fit into a 24-hour day. I think the only way to really make this happen is to have a strict schedule, which you said you've already tried and didn't really work for you. To me, some of these things sound easier than others- for example, spend 15-20 minutes a day outside. Just do it. Just get up and go outside. Practicing piano- get a teacher, because that will force you to work on specific exercises for the next time you meet, because you definitely don't want to be the ******* who clearly didn't practice. (That has ben me.) Set a work out time and then drop everything to work out. If you go to yoga (or spinning or aerobics or swimming) classes, then you have to go at the time that they are offered.

What seems harder to me is scheduling things like gardening or sewing, because you can just keep telling yourself that you'll do it in 20 minutes while binge-watching House of Cards, unless like suggested upthread, you do them as part of a group. Your best bet is to find a way to make sure that you have to do them, as external pressure is much more likely to make you do things than relying on yourself to do them.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 6:18 AM on March 9, 2014

Best answer: Like you, I'm interested in a lot of things. I also work 50+ hours per week, try to keep my house vaguely clean, cook at least some of my own meals, and then have other obligations.

For a while I was trying to do several things every day. I had an hour or so of free time and I made up a schedule something like this:

6.30-6.40: play guitar scales
6.40-6.50: play kazoo scales
6:50-7.00: quick sketch
7:00-7:10: vocalize
7:10-7:30: piano*

*switch out activities day by day so every activity always gets at least 10 minutes and once every several days gets more focused time of 20 minutes.

I never got this to work for me. I never found it enjoyable - it was never relaxing fun, it was always a chore.

At this point I accept that I can focus on one hobby at a time. To learn and grow I need long patches of time where I dicker around with things, not a tightly scheduled 10 minutes.

However, some of these things you can build habits around. And for some things you can set up your space so that the things you need are handy at the time when you most want to use them. Growing plants is just a matter of scheduling time to get your plants set up and then remembering to water them. Sewing you can do in the evenings while watching TV with your hubs - have a sewing basket near your chair with everything you need to sew.

I'd suggest adding one things at a time to your routine. Check out tinyhabits.
posted by bunderful at 12:07 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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