Help me find work-life balance as a recent college graduate.
April 25, 2014 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I graduated college a year ago, and I'm having trouble acclimating to my new life. Plenty of special snowflake info inside, but I would love any tools or anecdotes about how your life changed after college.

My basic problem is that I don't have enough time to relax at home, or maybe I have the wrong prospective/priorities for this balance. I would really love tips. Read as much detail/as little detail as you'd like.

What I'd like to do that I'm not:

Yoga at least once a week
Make friends at a bar once a week/recreational meetups
Go for at least one hike/bike ride once a week
Cook 4-5 meals a week
Go grocery shopping at least once a month if not every week
Keep a clean apartment and car and meet minimum maintenance requirements.
Pack lunches
Get Healthy sleep
Have time to play 2-3 hours of video games with my brother each week
Practice piano every other day.
Haircut once a month.
Meet with guy friends that aren't my girlfriend and hang out.

My problem seems to be that days are half as long as they need to be for me to do everything. Here are the details of my schedule so you can learn more (if you want) but if you have any ideas AT ALL I would love them :)

I graduated last spring (2013) and landed an outstanding job at my dream company. My dream company is appx. 45 minutes away from where I live. I work around 8 1/2 hours a day including lunch.

I would like to sleep a minimum of 6 hours and 30 minutes a night.

My morning routine every morning is exactly an hour.

That means (starting at midnight) I have from 5:30pm to midnight to take care of all of my at-home needs. And, all weekend! And yet, somehow, I do 0 of those things. I get home, use the bathroom for 30 minutes to refresh after work, feel tired, play on my phone for a half hour, go to my girlfriends place, eat a frozen dinner, play video games, watch a movie, take a nap, get home around 1AM, and that ruins my chances at everything else. Or, I pick her up, we go out to dinner, get home around 7:30, watch a movie, and I'm home at 11 but too tired to do anything else on my list.

I guess, does anyone have any insights into how I can manage this conundrum? I've tried "just doing the things I want to do" and well, usually I want to lie down somewhere comfy. I have tried putting off enjoyable activities until I finished my "chores" but I am usually so tired after work and the commute that I just fall asleep, still not finishing anything. I guess I am just ready for some new perspectives on how I can accomplish my goals!

Thanks so much! I will babysit this thread today so feel free to ask any questions :)
posted by bbqturtle to Work & Money (46 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, to cook an easy meal:

Come home, take a chicken out of the fridge and put it on top of a bunch of chopped root vegetables (you can even buy the veggies chopped). Go do your 1/2 hour bathroom refreshing thing. Vacuum and dust and put things away for a half hour. By then, your chicken will most likely be done (small chicken, of course). Save the playing on the phone for while you're eating your delicious, stress-free dinner.

You can do this with a roast beef, roast pork, or lasagna (note: don't set the lasagna on top of root vegetables).
posted by xingcat at 8:17 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Buddy, you need to do you. Either spend less time with your girlfriend, or commit to doing productive things while you're with her (e.g. cook dinner together! go for a bike ride/hike! do yoga!).

Does your dream job provide enough disposable income to throw some money at things you don't have time for? Wash and fold for laundry and a cleaning person every few weeks are a great way to take some extra money and turn it into time you can spend doing the things you enjoy.

Your commute is also a bit longish. Is that passive time e.g. on the train, when you could get your video game fix, or active time spent focused on driving? You could find 7.5 additional waking hours -- practically an entire half day -- if you could move closer to work.
posted by telegraph at 8:19 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yep, moving closer to work is great. Cooking with your girlfriend is great. Moving in with your girlfriend (if that makes sense) means you're not driving back and forth to her place, and you've got someone to split your chores with.

Otherwise, it sounds like you're just exhausted by the day-to-day grind. Welcome to the human race. I'm married and have a kid now, so I usually have some earl grey tea after dinner, and then stay up an hour or two after everyone else goes to bed so I can game.
posted by Oktober at 8:26 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you need to get shit done on the weekends.


Go for Hike/Run
Do Laundry
Go hang out with friends for dinner/ drinks


Clean house/car
Play games with your brother
Go grocery shopping

During the week try to do one thing you want to do on at least three nights. So maybe, Monday/Wednesday/Friday you go do yoga or practice piano before you hang out with your girlfriend. To save time with cooking, make simple meals or make a big batch of something that you can eat as leftovers.
posted by ghharr at 8:28 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you have a long-term schedule? Like a calendar of events? If not, start keeping one. And then just put shit on there: Yoga, tuesdays. Grocery shopping: third Friday of every month. Haircut: first of the month. And so on.

You'll never have time to do everything you want, but you can be a little less slapdash about the triage and make trade-offs that make sense. You went to Yoga? Cut yourself a break and order lunch instead of packing it. You went hiking this week? Go to the meetup next week, and so on.

Also, combine activities. Hang out with your friends while hiking. Take your brother to a LAN party meetup (or an arcade or whatever.) Play piano for your girlfriend. Get creative; not everything has to be a distinct activity and you can decide what it is you do with your time when you spend it with people.

Also, if you can afford it, definitely pay someone to do your laundry.
posted by griphus at 8:29 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm 4 years out of college and have had to figure out some of these same things. A couple observations:

1. Get into a routine of spending fewer nights at your girlfriend's place (even if it's just one less night a week), and make those nights more quality time rather than a routine. That'll (obviously) free up a bunch of time to do your own thing and make time together more special.

2. Get enough sleep every night. It took me a long time to learn this lesson. It always felt boring to me to go to sleep at a normal time "like an old person" but you'll learn that waking life is just better once you're getting enough sleep. You'll be more productive, feel more motivated to get your chores done, etc.

3. Find those few "hacks" that make your routines easier. I hate grocery shopping all the time which makes it hard for me to cook. I found a meal-plan service that helped make cooking for myself easier ( Find your hacks - maybe it's a cleaning service, maybe it's a 5 minute tabata workout, maybe it's planning your grocery list for the week while pooping after work.

4. Schedule activities. Pay for 5 yoga classes, sign up with a friend, say you're going to go. This makes it a priority and makes you work faster, reschedule other things, and go do it. IF it's truly important for you to do certain things, you need to put them on the calendar so you can't just say "I'll get to it someday."
posted by tripledrop at 8:33 AM on April 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Have you prioritized each item on your list? Without inhuman discipline, it's likely that at least some of these are going to slip. Which slips would make you really unhappy? Neglecting your girlfriend or your brother is probably going to have a real negative impact. Buying lunch at work and taking bike rides every other week instead of every week probably won't.

Then, make your schedule and try to stick to it. But don't beat yourself up if you don't - treat it as a guideline. And make sure you actively block out time for lazy, lie-on-the-couch, do-nothing relaxation. Most people need at least a little time like that to avoid going insane.
posted by UncleBoomee at 8:35 AM on April 25, 2014

Why not double up on stuff--take a yoga class or cook with your girlfriend or your brother. Get a group of buddies and hike on the weekends. Games and scrolling around on your phone are a time suck. Do you really need to pack lunch and cook every day?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:41 AM on April 25, 2014

So you spend every evening with your girlfriend and you want to know why you have no time for anything else? In the immortal words of every mechanic I have ever dealt with, .. "Well, there's your problem!"

Seriously, and I say this as a woman who likes to spend as much time as possible with my husband,... you're allowed to not spend every available moment with her. You definitely need to take some you time during the week. Also, consider that you can spend time with your girlfriend WHILE doing some of the things you want to do.
Items that can be done concurrently with girlfriend hangouts:
- laundry (yes, seriously.)
- cooking meals
- packing lunches
- cleaning your apartment
- grocery shopping

Seriously. The requirements of daily life don't go away because you're dating. And if you're serious about your girlfriend then these everyday things are going to have to come in to your relationship at some point anyway. When my husband and I started dating we often did very mundane things like going grocery shopping and running errands together, and damned if we didn't have fun. And the second time I came over to his house I brought my laundry over to do while I was there because it was either 1) stay home and do laundry or 2) hang out with boyfriend but bring laundry.

You're also allowed to join a yoga class and just, well, go! Just tell your girlfriend you'll be over after your class. That is absolutely reasonable.

Don't be afraid to schedule things. I kid you not, I think schedules are the only way a lot of households manage. We schedule both chores and errands as well as relax and fun times. When we're in a really busy stretch we even will schedule sex.

In my house we have :
Thursday evening - "Clean the house!" time. We try to keep up with it as best we can during the week, but thursday after work is when we get everything sorted out
Saturday morning - Meal planning for the week followed by a grocery run
Sunday is generally our chill out/relax day at home. We try to avoid doing chores.
Sunday night is my husband's laundry night.

But you also need to be a little flexible in your schedule. Sometimes we mealplan and grocery shop friday after work. Sometimes we opt to do the cleaning wednesday so that we can chill out thursday. The point is that you need to form a plan in order to find that balance you're looking for. Time with your girlfriend is valuable and important, but it isn't the only thing that matters. If I were you the first thing I would do is for one decide on one evening a week, maybe every tuesday, where you stay at home, on your own, and do what needs to be done like cleaning and laundry and grocery shopping. Maybe alternating weeks for laundry and groceries, just so that you aren't trying to pack too much in to that one evening. I think you also should talk with your male friends and decide upon a hangout plan. Maybe the third saturday of every month is MAN FRIEND TIME where you hang out with your male friends, go to the bar, go for a hike, whatever. She can do what she wants in that time - spend it alone, hang out with friends, do chores, whatever. That is her choice. But the third saturday of every month is non-relationship time.

Good luck. You can do this. Going from school to working/career can be a weirdly difficult transition, but you can do it.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:42 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

My one comment is that you spend a lot of time in the bathroom for someone trying to get stuff done. An hour every morning plus half an hour after work is as much time as you spend commuting. It might just be that you need more down time than other people, but I'd also look carefully at where your time is really going (as compared to where you think it's going), and see how that fits with your goals.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:44 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I really really appreciate suggestions like the laundry, hacks, hiring laundry/cleaning people, etc.

Simply rearranging my schedule (do more things on the weekend, take a few nights off from the girlfriend) don't really work because it's the same amount of things, (it feels like) but just rearranged. I'm tired on weekends too!

Re: disposable income. Yes, I have plenty to spend on a cleaning person/laundry person. I just don't know how to go about these things. Would I still have to bring my laundry to a place? And pick it up? I do dry cleaning through work when I remember to pack it.

Re: Cooking. I appreciate simple meals, but I'm good at those myself too. It's just hard to motivate myself to cook when I'm tired, and the hardest part of everything is that I never have fresh groceries because I'm too busy to make the (ends up being) $150 3 hour grocery trip.

I don't want to move closer to my job because then I'd be farther from my girlfriend and the city that my job is in is the worst.

Oh, I also forgot going to the gym, running, etc. 3x a week ideally :)

On preview I see a ton more, I'll read and answer!
posted by bbqturtle at 8:45 AM on April 25, 2014

Also, buy a bunch of tupperware. When you cook, go for easily freezeable recipes. Make double and triple batches, and immediately pack up meals that you can microwave and eat on your lazy nights.
posted by UncleBoomee at 8:46 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stop watching movies. You watch a movie every day you're with your girlfriend? That's 10 hours a week right there, enough to do most of what's on your list. One movie a week at most. Take your laundry to her place and do it together, or go grocery shopping together, or do yoga together, cook dinners together, whatever. Just stop passively sitting in front of the TV every night.
posted by jabes at 8:48 AM on April 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

Also, if you have the disposable income, you can buy your way out of a lot of these tasks. You can live closer to work for a shorter commute; you can pay to have someone come to your house and clean (including, if you want, laundry); you can even pay to have meals delivered or cooked at your place. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where it is available, you can have groceries delivered rather than go shopping.

If you don't have the disposable income, your only option is to get more efficient with your task scheduling.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:49 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Simply rearranging my schedule (do more things on the weekend, take a few nights off from the girlfriend) don't really work because it's the same amount of things, (it feels like) but just rearranged.

Well, yes. You only have a couple of choices here. Rearrange to optimize time, drop some items off your list, or cut into the time you're using for other things. I mean, you say you need an hour in the morning and 30 minutes at night to get ready for work/freshen up after work. I don't know what your routine is, but if you can take a quick shower and get dressed faster, there's some extra time. If your girlfriend comes to visit you a couple of days a week, you can run some loads of laundry while you're visiting.

Extra time in the day isn't going to magically appear. It's all a shuffling and priorities game.
posted by xingcat at 8:50 AM on April 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

- You can get this done while you're doing other things (cooking, watching movies)
Yoga at least once a week
- Is there a place close to your work or your home? Try to head there after work to minimize commute time.
Make friends at a bar once a week/recreational meetups
- schedule a weeknight for this, can be flexible
Go for at least one hike/bike ride once a week
- schedule a sat or sun for hike.
- can you bike to grocery, run other errands?
Go grocery shopping at least once a month if not every week
- Go before you head home.
Pack lunches
- Some people suggest leftover. I like to make 5 days worth of lunch on Sunday, but keep dinner simple
Get Healthy sleep
- Sleep on time! Finish that movie the next day
Practice piano every other day.
- Do this instead of playing on your phone
posted by lucia_engel at 8:50 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So, the problem with spending less time with my girlfriend is that after work, I have so little energy to do the stuff for ME that relaxing seems like my only option. That's why I end up wanting to do that, is because, well, I'm tired.

I spend a lot of time in the bathroom because I need to eat more fiber. Also, that routine includes getting dressed, shaving, drying off, making my bed, and sometimes (rarely) pressing snooze. My after work bathroom is more of a decompress.

Please keep them coming! I appreciate it!

PuppetMcSoccerSon, I really like your advice. Can you maybe walk me through a few baby steps of creating a schedule like that that I don't hate, and that has some kind of alternative for when I'm too tired/exhausted to want to move?
posted by bbqturtle at 8:51 AM on April 25, 2014

I faced this problem a couple of years ago, when I went directly from college to law school to a job at a big firm that occupied 60+ hours/week.

I would suggest:

(1) Spending 1.5 hours/day commuting is a ton of wasted time. Can you move closer (albeit not to the city in which you work)?

(2) Pay for a pick up/drop off laundry service. (e.g.); hire a maid; etc.

(3) Batch cook. You can make a big pot of soup or pasta on Sunday night that's 3 or 4 meals over the course of the week.

(4) Schedule stuff in advance. If you've committed a week in advance to going somewhere on a Tuesday night at 7:00, you'll go and you'll have fun. If you wait until 5:00 pm on Tuesday night, you'll lie on the couch and watch Netflix.

(5) Exercise at least 3x/week. Paradoxically, you'll have more energy for the other stuff in your life.
posted by ewiar at 8:52 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I spend a lot of time in the bathroom because I need to eat more fiber.

Go to Target. They sell Up & Up (store brand) fiber supplements, they are capsules. A bottle of 160 of them costs $4.44. My boyfriend takes 4-5 every morning as soon as he gets up. They have changed his life.
posted by jabes at 8:54 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

You'll also have more energy after work once you've been there a while. The first few months of a new job present a steep learning curve that is, understandably, exhausting. Hang in there. It. Gets. Better.
posted by ewiar at 8:54 AM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Can anyone help with the logistics of hiring a cleaning/laundry person? I don't know where to start and google searching in my area are mostly yellow pages adds for dry cleaners.

No, I can't move closer. I already commute with my brother which is nice.
posted by bbqturtle at 8:54 AM on April 25, 2014

Where do you live?

Maids in most major cities.
posted by ewiar at 8:55 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, I also forgot going to the gym, running, etc. 3x a week ideally :)

The only way I have found to be able to get that in consistently was to get up earlier and go to the gym before work and then go to work from there.

Also, and maybe I'm being unfair, but your follow up felt very excuse-y, and just listed why all these suggestions wouldn't work. The fact is that for you to find a balance in this then you are going to have to put effort in to making it work. I mean, geeze, just call around to a couple cleaning services and ask how it works. PROBLEM SOLVED. You spend so much time in the bathroom because you need to eat more fiber? Get a fiber suppliment! PROBLEM SOLVED! And you can't have your cake and eat it too. If you want fresh home made meals then you are going to have to find a way to get the fresh groceries. Maybe their is a grocery delivery service you can use, but I really think you need to just tough it out and go to the grocery store every 2 weeks minimum. If you make a meal plan (yes, more work, I know) you will know exactly what you need to buy so your grocery run will be faster, more efficient, and you'll not have to think about what you're making for supper every night.

Every grown up in the world has had to deal with this and found a way to make it work. You can too, but I think it is going to require more effort and planning than I think you were expecting.

Also, if you are as constantly tired as you say you are then maybe you should investigate why. You have repeated how tired and exhausted you are and how you have no energy so much. Maybe get checked out by a doctor or something.

I'd be more than happy to help you come up with a schedule. Memail me.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:55 AM on April 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

Sometimes it is important just to move things around so that you are doing them at a time when you have more energy. After work I am dead. I get up a couple of hours early to get things done before work begins.

Also, I know when I get home from work if I rest I am done for the night. The second I get in the door I get to cooking dinner and doing chores. I know that doesn't directly translate to your situation, but look at your post work routine to see if settling down is zapping your energy.

Scheduling things during lunch helps too. Lunch is usually when I get my haircuts, or run other errands.
posted by ohjonboy at 8:55 AM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: RE: pupptermcsockerson, you are totally right. I'll try not to give any more excuses. Thanks for the wake up call :)
posted by bbqturtle at 8:57 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Re: Where I live: Southwest Michigan. I don't think that service applies here, though it does look absolutely fantastic :)
posted by bbqturtle at 9:00 AM on April 25, 2014

One more thing (which I will discuss with you more when we work on your schedule) but get a slow cooker and go buy Slow Cooker Revolution. Slowcookers are so so so valuable. Multiple days worth of meals that basically cook themselves while you're at work. You have to do a little prep the night before or in the morning but you just turn it on in the morning and when you come home your supper is ready, and you have left overs for either lunch or supper for days to come. Slow cookers are the working person's time saving magic wand.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:03 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not sure what "Southwest Michigan" means, but these guys offer pickup/delivery of laundry and have locations in and around Grand Rapids.
posted by ewiar at 9:06 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

One weekend day can be a "work day" - I do ALL THE THINGS on Saturdays. I get up around 7, go for a bike ride, stop at the grocery store on the way home, do laundry and dishes, clean stuff and take care of any administrivia, bake some bread, cook some things. If you're thinking "a bike ride is an all-day thing where I do sixty miles, come home, eat and fall into a coma", yes, this won't work, but I can fit in anything up to about 25 miles by getting up and getting started early.

I mean seriously, my Saturdays are busy. And I usually don't stay up past 1pm on Fridays, either - if I'm out, I'm headed home by 1pm almost every time.

Honestly, your list does not look impossible to me, except I think it will be hard to fit in gym AND piano unless you can do both gym AND piano at least one night a week. What's killing you is that you're getting home, feeling tired and letting that run your evenings and weekends - which strikes me as weird in your early twenties. Have you thought of getting some bloodwork just to rule things out? (I bet you're not scheduling your hang-outs and hikes real well, either - an all-day hang-out or all-day hike has to be fitted into your schedule well in advance, unlike "let's get dinner after work on Tuesday" or "I'm going to ride my bike for a couple of hours on Sunday morning".)

If you want to see your girlfriend every single evening, I would suggest moving in with her. Actually, I wouldn't suggest that, though - that way lies monotony unless you have a Forever Relationship, and even then there's some taking-for-granted. (Friends I used to make time for? Once they become housemates, I say hello in the morning and that's about it, and we actually talk less than we did when we hung out once every two or three weeks.)

When I'm really tired, I streamline my dinners - dinner is a fistful of cherry tomatoes, a huge handful of baby carrots, apple slices, cheese and some oat biscuits, and I can eat within ten minutes of getting home.

Also, I find that if I plan my evening during the day - "this evening I'm going to bake bread", "this evening I'm going to dust and mop my room" - it's a lot easier to get back up again after I've taken a break.

I also find that IF I can get up again after dinner/rest and move around for fifteen minutes, I wake up again and can do a lot more. When you need to do something in the evening, concentrate on getting out of your chair and doing those first fifteen minutes - play some music, do whatever it takes. Also, could you take bike rides in the evenings? I know that a five ten mile rides don't really substitute for one fifty mile ride, but it's definitely a way to schedule some exercise.
posted by Frowner at 9:07 AM on April 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

 Schedule stuff in advance. If you've committed a week in advance to going somewhere on a Tuesday night at 7:00, you'll go and you'll have fun. If you wait until 5:00 pm on Tuesday night, you'll lie on the couch and watch Netflix.

This. I had(have?) a similar problem and I've found that I have to force myself to do the stuff I should go, NOT what I want to do in the moment. It sucks initially, but once I'm into whatever it is, whether it be chores or something fun, I feel good because I'm doing things that are priorities to me.

Scheduling things helps because it's a commitment device, but otherwise there's no magic trick here. You just have to force yourself to start.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 9:08 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Alright, it sounds like you're not spending your time in meaningful ways. You're spending it, but you have nothing to show at the end of the day. Sometimes I go through stretches like that, and I get lethargic - inertia will feed on itself.

If you have a health condition (mental or physical) that's making you tired, that needs to be fixed first.

Otherwise: you have a few assignments for this weekend! This is exciting for you; you're going to feel so much better come Monday. It's amazing what taking concrete steps will do for your mood and energy level. Here's the list:

1. Cancel as much as you can. Tell your friends, girlfriend, and siblings you need a weekend to yourself, or something came up. It's just a weekend; you'll see them next week.
2. Go to sleep at ten or eleven each night. This means you'll wake up at maybe seven or eight? Set an alarm for 8:30. Holy crap, you have so much time!
3. Go grocery shopping. You need a list for staples + the ingredients for three or four meals, which will be your lunches and dinners this week. Memail me and I'll shoot you my shopping list and the recipes I'm using this week. They're delicious. Full of fiber, too. So - do the shopping on Saturday morning.
4. Go for a walk, or a run, or to yoga, both Saturday and Sunday. Doesn't need to be a huge thing. Just get there.
5. Spend Sunday cooking. TADA YOU HAVE FOOD. Now you have something to reheat or put together each night when you get home, and you have lunches.

BONUS POINTS: ask some 30-something friends where they have their laundry sent and who their cleaning lady is. Apparently all my friends have those things done; I'm a rarity in that I'm not. If you live in an apartment building, someone there probably gets a cleaning lady. Keep your eye out. Look on yelp for both services.

Alright, so what we've done:
- kickstarted your sleep schedule
- gotten you some exercise
- provided you with enough food for the next week
- started down the road of simplifying some of the chores.

Until you get the basics of adult living down - food, sleep, exercise, maintenance - it's hard to add other things in. I feel shitty if I watch a bunch of TV and eat out a lot, so I don't do those things. If I did, I wouldn't have energy for the extravaganza of excitement that is my life. I do most of the things you want to do, and more, and have limitations similar to yours. You can have the life you want. It's not out of reach, I promise.
posted by punchtothehead at 9:09 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Work out before work and/or after work. The people I know who work and exercise regularly mostly do that to make it easier.
Run errands with your girlfriend and learn to cook together, save movie night for once or twice a week. Try going on real dates together too so that you're not just sitting around at home! I'm sure she'd prefer to see you when you're not wiped out too.
Even though you're young you should be striving for 7-9 hours of sleep a night, a shorter night here and there is okay for special occasions but not daily or even weekly. You may be chronically sleep deprived and that's why your day is wiping you out so hard. Learn about "sleep hygiene" and take it seriously if you want healthy sleep.

If you can afford a weekly or biweekly cleaner do it.

Packing lunch daily is imo a pain but possible if you do a big prep at the end of the weekend. There have been a ton of threads on healthy, quick meal/lunch ideas. Eating well through the day will also help your energy levels into the evening, when I cut down sugar, up my protein and veggies, and cut caffeine I feel so much better and don't crash.

You can divide your weekends up into Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, etc. to get the most out of them. Knock off 1-3 things in each time block, like laundry and clean living room then yoga, or laundry and clean bathroom, grocery shop, meal prep. These things may seem to take a lot of your time/effort right now but some of it gets easier with time if you can make it a habit.
posted by lafemma at 9:20 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

That first post-college job is really exhausting, so I understand about the whole too-tired-to-do-things after work phenomenon. But the important thing to understand, and which it took me a while to learn, is: you won't actually die of tired.

Not this kind of tired, anyway, which is mostly the tired you get from being bored under a fluorescent light for 8.5 hours and eating terrible food.

So the thing is, you just have to do the stuff. "Tired" isn't a reason not to. It's just a thing you're going to experience while you do. After a month or two of tiredly exercising, tiredly cooking good meals, and tiredly hiking, you will start to experience a kind of ACTUAL tired, and be sleeping well, and then you will know the difference and never want to go back.

But for right now you just really have to tell "tired" to fuck off and do the stuff you gotta do anyway.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:21 AM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I love the idea of doing more dates with my girlfriend that are planned, high energy, not just sitting around. It seems impossible right now.

I will try to rev up my sleep. It does sound like that might help me a ton.
posted by bbqturtle at 9:22 AM on April 25, 2014

Best answer: Dude, you are tired all the time because you don't get enough sleep. Period.

I bet you probably have to be at work at 9, your commute is 45 minutes, you say you have a hour morning routine, so you're probably waking up around seven-ish. On the nights that you go to bed at 1 am, that's only six hours of sleep. No wonder you're drained in the evenings! That may have been sustainable in college, but--I hate to break it to you--you're getting older. This isn't going to get better. Even your target of six and a half hours is really not that much.

So you need to prioritize sleep over some of the other things that are vacuuming up your time. Many people have offered you options. I personally don't like outsourcing my messes to other people, but if it floats your particular boat, that can be a couple chores off your list.

Here's another idea: consider moving in with your girlfriend, if your relationship is at that point. You eliminate the travel time to see her, you share in household chores and shopping, you can make preparing food together a pleasurable activity. Bam.

Finally, make sure that you are having an appropriate breakfast and appropriate snacks in the afternoon. Protein, not sugar. That will help you over the afternoon/early evening slump in a way that you will not even believe.
posted by Liesl at 9:26 AM on April 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

There is a maid service near you. I promise. Ask your coworkers who they use. Ask your neighbors for recommendations. If nobody can give you advice, check out yelp. If that also fails, check out craigslist for your area and just be home the first few times the cleaning lady comes (so, on a Saturday). While your cleaning lady is in your home, notice the things that are a pain in the ass to clean around. Do you really need those things? Do you love them? Are they beautiful? If you can't answer yes to at least one of those questions, get rid of the thing.

The following advice is usually given to women, but it might be helpful for you. Take a look at your wardrobe. Does everything fit well? Are you throwing things in the laundry pile because they aren't in good repair/don't quite fit right? IF yes, get those things fixed or out of your home.

As for food, if you want to get something cooked every night, the first thing you have to do when you get in the house is either turn on the oven, or put a pot of water on to boil. The oven works for chicken and roasting veggies. The water for boiling pasta or potatoes. If you go into the bathroom while you're waiting for the oven to preheat, then it's done. If you wait until after the bathroom, then it feels like it will take forever. Better still, batch boil your pasta once a week, store in ziplock baggies or containers. Add whatever you like to it throughout the week (sauce one night, olives and sundried tomatoes and feta another night). Use frozen veggies. Frozen meals aren't terrible for you in general, but to eat one every night, you're probably not just having fiber problems but also too much sodium. Are you eating any fruits? That will balance the potassium and sodium.

Take walks. Eat your lunch while you stroll away from your office building and back. Bring a sandwich for this, they're portable. The walking will help your health and potentially increase your energy. You might even be able to get others from your office to go with you. Even if you can't, it will be good for you. If you are going to insist that you cannot walk from work (and some people really can't, but most people just won't), then you have to just get on your bike after work. Set a timer for 15 minutes. When it rings, turn around and go home. Congratulations, you just spent thirty minutes on your bike. Now, when you get home, pooping might be easier. Because you moved more. You can bump that time up to an hour. You'll feel better. If you don't want to take an evening shower, you can do the same bike trick in the morning. Before your shower. Set the timer. Go.

You say that your brother is your commuting partner. I'm guessing you take turns driving? Substitute your evening movie time for entertainment with books, or books on tape/cd/ipod. You and your girlfriend can either read or listen to the same materials and discuss while you do laundry/grocery shop/cook together. You can discuss these books while you stroll around the neighborhood, or while you are on your way to a weekly trivia night where you meet up with friends.

And finally, think about how your girlfriend is solving these problems in her own life. Is she very good at getting her laundry and cooking done? Or does she struggle just as much as you do? Why is she not visiting you at your place more? How are you expecting to resolve these issues of balance if/when you decide to live together? Or live with a future romantic partner? Because let me tell you, there might be a road filled with resentment for you if you aren't in the habit of keeping things clean and yourself fed. It doesn't sound like you consciously expect someone else to eventually pick up the slack, but there is a huge sociology literature that this is what happens. Women pick up the slack, and even when they can't articulate the problem, it's there under the surface. The habits you take into a relationship are even harder to break once you're living together. With that in mind, watch this video sliding vs deciding. Yes, I know it's an hour. And I promise you that it's worth it. Because I'm getting the feeling that you and she are reinforcing these "lay around and watch a movie even though there's more important things to be doing" tendencies in each other. And if that's the kind of partner you want, then that's ok. But if you want a partner who encourages you to be your best, most happy and productive self, this might not be the best relationship for you. I'm not saying dump her, but I am saying be thoughtful about your decisions going forward. Don't slide.
posted by bilabial at 9:27 AM on April 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

You have unrealistic goals, which makes it easier to not even try. Making new friends at a bar once per week is kinda silly. Your other goals are forced.

Your daily life needs to be about healthy realistic schedules. Right now you are spending 4 hours a night on media/video games/movies. Profoundly easy to get home from work and chill out playing some vidya for 4 hours, trust me, I know.

I'm studying math after work (need to learn Diff Qs for work -- not taking a class). At first I said "zero vidya/TV -- all math" and it doesn't work. We need chill out time. Now I get back, eat some food, play vidya for 1.5 hours. Then do 2 full hours of math, then read/watch TV and go to sleep.

On Sunday I cook myself all my meat/main course for the week (then I make a serving of vegetables every night, are you eating vegetables? You need to eat vegetables bro. As we leave college our bodies aren't what they used to be. Vegetables and sleep bro). This way I can have cheap healthy meals but not cook every single night.

Do you work out? Do you want to? I work out 3-4 days a week, often at work.

Here is the thing, you and I are very similar. I just have a couple years on you. You are acting as though you can just 'do' all that shit. But as you are finding, it's hard. Similar to practicing piano, you must practice the ability to be a productive efficient balanced human. You just wrote down the end goal. Be realistic. It might take you 1-3 years of hard work to reach a point where you are efficient enough to nail everything on that list.

Start simple: Cook your meals on Sunday. Do 30 minutes of piano every day. Sleep an extra 30-45 minutes a night. Go on a bike ride on Sunday.

When you can handle that, step it up another notch. Slow steady measured progress is the key.
posted by jjmoney at 9:51 AM on April 25, 2014

mom and i both have low-thyroid, which makes us lethargic. You should get that checked out, too.

I also agree with jjmoney - you have a 3 hour grocery trip right now, and it takes you X hours to do this thing and X hours to do that thing. But you've only been doing it for a year. I've got my grocery trip down to 45 minutes, I'm in and out, because I know where everything in the store is, what to spend time looking at and what to ignore, where to park, which cashiers are the fastest, etc. That's because of practice. Pick a few things to focus on; maybe this year your #1 thing is cooking, and next year it's laundry, and the year after that it's piano practice.
posted by rebent at 10:05 AM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know someone who cooked only one night a week, and just tripled the recipe. She ate on serving and froze the rest in single servings. After a few weeks, she had a decent variety of different meals frozen in the freezer so that every morning she could pull one out and put it in the fridge for dinner.

Lunches, get a container like the Easy Lunchbox system, it comes with more than one so you can prep ahead for the week. It is also segmented so that you can pack more than one food and only have one thing to wash. Pack a fruit, a veggie and an entree---I like sandwiches and wraps, bagels with cream cheese, leftover rice or pasta and other easy stuff.

Cleaning, I seldom do a big clean. I have one cleaning chore per day. So one day I vacuum, one day I swiffer, one day I wipe down the bathroom etc.
posted by JoannaC at 10:14 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

My first post-college employed year I found myself a lot more tired than I am this 2nd year. I didn't really change anything. I just got used to a different energy level.

Optimizing your time really helps. I only do laundry once a week, and I do it inbetween tv shows. Instead of using an open hamper I have one that zips shut so any offending smells stay contained.

I do the dishes in 10 minutes in the morning, while waiting for my ride. I take my dog for a walk as soon as I get home so I know I'm at least getting something done.

I save most of my tv watching for the weekends so I'm not losing hours a day to the tv. I don't watch more than one movie a week.

You like yoga? Sign up for a class. You are much more likely to do it if you are paying for it.

Do it. Yes, even when you're tired. You'll be glad you did. You have to adjust to a change in lifestyle.
posted by Aranquis at 12:17 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had problems getting stuff done when I first graduated from college, and I didn't have a girlfriend at the time! You're spending every night with her. If you're not married you're allowed to have a few nights off from her.

I hate to cook and I still have trouble with meal planning. Eating out a lot is helpful to your time, but a HUGE drain on your wallet. I used to eat a lot of Bachelor Chow type frozen meals, but that's really unhealthy. Honestly, I still haven't figured this one out.

My first employer had a scheduling option they called 9/80 -- I worked 9 hour days and got every other Friday off. This was incredibly helpful. I'd like that schedule back, but my current employer doesn't offer it.

Laundry is a great thing to do while you're doing other things -- put a load of laundry in the wash, start the washer, spend some time with your girlfriend (why can't she visit you some nights instead of you visiting her all the time?), or clean or cook or something, then put your stuff in the dryer when it's time and go do something else. If you've got a dishwasher, it's similarly easy to do dishes while you do other things also.

Heck, when I lived alone, I'd stick a load of laundry in the wash, get ready for work, put the clothes in the dryer, and go to work, and I'd have dry clothes when I got home at night. Ditto dishes. Although I've done it, I wouldn't recommend leaving right before doing a wash load -- you can end up with moldy clothes if they sit wet in the washer for too long after the cycle's done.

Grocery shopping -- see if Peapod or a similar grocery delivery service is available in your area. I did this for a while, and it was a great time saver, however, in the end, I decided that $7 to $9 delivery fee every time was a bit much.

Schedule, schedule, schedule. You made it through college, so you have some pretty good time management skills already. Set a night to go out and be social with friends. It doesn't have to be the same night every week, but if you know you're going out on Tuesday night you can do other things around it. Schedule hiking or biking. Schedule cleaning. Schedule yoga. Yes, you won't always stick to your schedule, and don't beat yourself up over that.
posted by tckma at 12:42 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Laundry and chore time is your new excercise time. lifts with the laundry basket. 5 squats after each dish washed. vaccuum the room, then do 10 push ups in it, etc.

this saves commute time to and from the gym and also makes cleaning more fun / varied so you don't get bored. It you are a TV head, try to also train yourself to do one chore during each commercial break. Take out the trash, toilet wand the toilet, dust tables in one room, etc can be done in the time of a commercial break.

Sleep more. Hike / bike ride / cook / make music with your girlfriend.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:44 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I suspect your problem is lack of rest, not lack of time. You're skimping on the one thing that would give you energy to do all the stuff you're not doing. If you're missing an hour to an hour and a half of sleep each night, no wonder all you want to do is lie down somewhere comfy at the end of the day!

I don't think you need time-saving hacks; I think you need to get more sleep. Go to bed an hour earlier every night for two weeks, and see if it helps. Many, many people in the world think they're one of the few people who can get by on less sleep than average. Most people are NOT one of those few people.
posted by kythuen at 2:15 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing more sleep.

Meal planning requires some extra time to set up initially, but once you have it in place, it makes weekly menus, shopping, and cooking about as painless as they get.

How I do it:

Initial Setup

We have a 3-week rotation to keep things from getting too old, though some meals repeat each week (e.g. taco Tuesdays, fish Sundays). Each meal in the rotation list is pretty general, so if we have more energy, we can change it up or throw in a little something something (e.g., taco Tuesdays might be fish tacos with awesomesauce). Otherwise, we keep to something basic, easy, and mindless (e.g., our standard, quick tacos). I made sure that each of these meals is something that, at its simplest, can be cooked with minimal time and energy.

I also made a shopping list with the foods we either like to keep stocked in the pantry or frequently buy, plus some blank lines for add-ins. It's sectioned in categories such as Produce, Refrigerated, Dry/Bulk, etc., and takes up a whole side of paper. When we run out of something during the week, we just put a check next to the item on the list for the next shopping trip.

Bonus for even more painless planning: I built a recipes document that has a section for variations on fish night, salad night, etc. I throw in pre-made options for really tough weeks (e.g. frozen meals or pasta), and always keep one or two on hand for nights we just really, really don't want to cook at all.


On Saturday, I get the shopping list from the fridge (it may have a couple of things checked already), flip it over, and write DINNER: Mon, Tues, Weds..., then put down that week's meals. Crap/tired/busy week? I just scribble pretty much what it says in the rotation. Insane amounts of energy? I make it special. I might even try a new recipe variation. Same thing goes for lunches. I also write down a few snack options (there's a section for that in my recipes document, too).

Now I put a check next to all the foods we need on the grocery list side. I make sure we have one or two pre-made backup foods around.

Grocery shopping is quick because the list is organized to make it a clean sweep, and because we usually know where to get the items we need.

Through the week, no more thinking or planning is needed! We just refer to the list, pull out our ingredients, and throw the meal together.

That's a bit of a novel, but this really is such a time- and energy-saver. Meals have been tough for me, and this has helped a ton. I've got it so that meal planning (including filling out the grocery list) takes about 15 minutes per week; more if I want to try something new.
posted by moira at 5:24 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would recommend starting with the small but critical changes that will help everything else fall in place. The one thing that comes across really strongly in your post and follow-ups is that you feel tired. ALL THE TIME. So, you say your goal is to get 6.5 hours of sleep a night? That makes it sound like you're not even getting that much most nights. When I only get 6.5 hours of sleep a night, I'm still tired. When I get less than that, I'm a fucking zombie. No wonder you're tired!

So your #1 goal is to get 7.5 hours of sleep. Not this 6.5 bullshit. Extrapolating from your numbers, it sounds like you've got an 8-4:30 job, are probably getting up at 6 or 6:15? Your bedtime is 10:30 on weeknights. Does that sound like you've turned into your parents? Well, sorry, but you have turned into your parents--insofar as you have a demanding, 5-day-a-week job, a commute, a residence, a car, an SO, and all those other adult responsibilities. Adjust your evenings as necessary so that you're at home and in bed every weekday night at 10:30.

Do that for a couple of weeks, then add in #2 goal: exercise 3x a week. As others have noted, in an ironic sort of way, most people who start exercising regularly improve their energy and mood levels and therefore wind up with more energy and motivation to do the other things they want to get done. If your girlfriend exercises or is interested in exercising that's a good opportunity for a twofer: weekend bike rides or hikes are great exercise dates. That leaves you with just two days a week where, instead of indulging in a half hour of phone games, you make yourself go out for a walk, run, bike ride, simple bodyweight or at-home aerobics routine, whatever trips your trigger. Even if you're tired. Trust me, if you come home and are tired and spend 30 minutes playing games on your phone, you're still going to be tired when you're done. If you come home and are tired and go for a 30 minute walk, you may still be physically tired when you get back but at least you will feel better about yourself and you'll probably feel mentally sharper because you've let your brain slow down and take a break from thinking and reacting all the time.

Just do these two things for a month and I bet at the end you will be feeling a whole lot better. Then you can start tackling your other goals, like cooking/eating heathier, expanding your social world beyond your girlfriend, etc. Those are good goals, too, but you're not going to make progress on them if you're physically and mentally exhausted all the time.
posted by drlith at 6:15 AM on April 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh: one brief tip about the 3-hour grocery trips: start shopping at Aldi if you've got one in your area. Seriously. Even if you're making good money and don't need the money savings. Their stores are small, you don't have to chose between different brands and sizes and what's on sale this week and so on. After your first few trips when you figure out what they've got, where stuff is, and what you typically like to buy, shopping at Aldi is so. damn. fast. compared to a regular grocery store. You will be in and out in a half hour if you go every week.
posted by drlith at 6:26 AM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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