How do I make better use of my personal time? (work 40 hr weeks)
June 14, 2014 3:10 PM   Subscribe

[A fairly mundane issue, so apologies if something similar has been answered, but I didn't see anything.] I function normally at work, and get things done just fine, but on my down time I fail completely to meet even marginally acceptable levels of time management.

To wit, on weekdays I hardly ever do anything productive other than do laundry, do minimal amounts of groceries, and chat with my (long-distance) bf and sometimes family/friends. Still, I fall asleep by 11 most nights because I'm so tired. On weekends, therefore, I scramble to get everything vaguely ambitious done, and always fail because I'm so tired out from a (normal) workweek. I can't figure out anymore if it's piss-poor time management, lack of energy of a combination thereof. But it's starting to get embarrassing for me. Embarrassing to myself, I mean. I have so much I want to get done in the next couple of years.

I don't think it's so much that I'm distractable as that there's so much, at both micro- and macro-levels, that needs done that a simple to do list just won't cut it. I need to figure out how to prioritize and how not to panic at difficult tasks, and that doesn't lend itself to sticky notes.

And it's not lack of motivation, it's more perfectionism I think.

FWIW, my doctor has checked me out and I'm healthy albeit nearly always tired.
posted by Tess to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
You don't mention your field or commute. If you have an active career (manual labor, child care, nursing) and a 45+ minute commute your weekday activity level is fine.

If anything I suggest going to bed earlier during the week to have more energy for the weekend. Try some exercise. I bike commute so I don't have to lengthen my day to get fresh air and exercise. I also walk to a nearby grocery and do exercises in front of the TV in the evenings.

Another thing. Are you depressed? Depression will do a number on your energy levels, and appropriate treatment makes a difference.
posted by crazycanuck at 3:18 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I prefer not to add too many details to this, but no my commute isn't long at all.

Also, if this helps people understand the kind of issue I'm talking about, I'd like to make more time for things like pleasure-reading and exercise, among many others.

And if I can't get much done on weekdays, how can I at LEAST get more done on weekends?
posted by Tess at 3:21 PM on June 14, 2014

I don't know, but I have a similar issue. I get things done at work, but as I write this post I'm trying to decide if I can legitimately go another week without changing my sheets. And the pile of dishes ... meh.

BUT work is rough. It's a new job and I have not felt settled or secure in almost a year. All of that tension holding me together throughout the day wears me the heck out.

One thing that does help is declaring an intention. I literally post on facebook (to a small group of close friends: "I shall now clean the bathtub and not return to facebook until it is done.") I also find it easier to do minor chores when I'm on the phone, so sometimes calling my mom is the thing that gets me going on the dishes or laundry.

I also find that having more going on socially during the weekend usually doesn't detract from my chores, in fact in kind of helps in a weird way.

Good luck. If you are in my town maybe we can form a support group.
posted by bunderful at 3:33 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

How early do you get up during the week/how much sleep do you get?

What kinds of things do you do on the weekends, and how much time do you spend doing them?
posted by J. Wilson at 3:37 PM on June 14, 2014

The fact that I favorited this is an indicator that this is something I face too....but bunderful's comment has a lot of resonance with me as well, in that I've also not really been 100% settled or secure in....about 5 years now. Dealable, yeah, but a lot has gone down and I think a lot of the mental energy devoted to just....dealing with the fact that my job is at present not a full-time job, but rather a temp one, is just taking up a lot of the energy I could use elsewhere.

So I wonder if that's not part of it? is there another part of your life that is just unsettled, and you're just trying to cope with that?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:38 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, Bunderful and EmpressC make excellent points. If your work is especially stressful, or your life is stressful in general, in other words if there is something going on that takes up a lot of your mental and emotional energy and attention, daily life might fall by the wayside.

Do you get enough sleep? I find I'm fine with eight hours, sometimes I need a bit more, and seven and a half is doable - but anything less than seven and a half hours and I'm tail-dragging and foggy-headed. I have a CPAP for my sleep apnea and my energy/focus is a million times better. Make sure that the quality of the sleep you are getting is good. (Young, thin, women can have apnea - it's not just a condition of fat old guys.)

How is your diet? I do so much better on a "primal" type diet. Other people thrive as vegans. YMMV here, but I would say that the fewer processed carbs and empty calories you eat, the better. Eat almonds for a snack instead of chips, for instance. Think of sugary desserts as treats rather than something to have after every meal.

Unfuck Your Habitat is something that really helps me keep on top of things as is pomodoro.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:58 PM on June 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm always tired when I get home from work at the end of the day, whether I go straight home at 6pm or go out and do something productive and get home at 9pm. I suggest not going home until you've done the thing you want to do (e.g. exercise, read for pleasure). Exercise is obvious, but pleasure reading can be done at a cafe, nice park bench, etc.
posted by telegraph at 4:33 PM on June 14, 2014 [12 favorites]

Can you try a strict schedule? That helped me. For example; Monday night is always clean, Tues is always gym? I found a routine meant I always knew what I was doing and didn't have to think or worry about what needed to be done. But yeah, work + life= hard.
posted by cestmoi15 at 4:37 PM on June 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

Is getting up early an option? I am useless in the evenings for all the usual reasons, drained willpower and headaches from putting out fires all day and so on, so I do the important stuff before work.

For example, working out and giving my dogs a good long walk are priorities to me - real priorities - so I do them at 5am and 6am or so respectively. I make the time to have a good cooked breakfast too. Before I had the dogs I used to read before I left for work.

The bad news is you have to get up early to do this, but I find it improves my day and my mood, in that I've done stuff I enjoy, feel productive and that I'm not on that horrible wake-shower-and-fall-into-the office schedule that makes it seem like work is taking over my life.

In general, the work advice of do the involved/important tasks early and do the busywork later applies to weekend time too, I find.
posted by jamesonandwater at 4:40 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I second doing stuff on the way home from work - gym, groceries, errands. This frees up more weekend time.

I tend to get home and just collapse, but luckily I collapse and read so I at least get reading done.

Simplify your weeknight meals - many nights, I have baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, home made or seed-heavy crackers, a chunk of protein (either something vegan or sometimes cheese or an egg; you could have meat/tuna/etc) and an apple. These things don't make a mess and are really quick to set up and eat; they also take some time to eat due to the many carrots and tomatoes, so they're more satisfying.

I have one weekend "work" day and I get up early - no later than eight, usually seven. I do all my housework and any errands that didn't get done earlier. Housework doesn't take that long if you keep your standards low/realistic and you don't have a yard/house repairs. It's better, for instance, to accept that the bathroom will be cleaned every other week, the kitchen floor will get mopped once a month and other spaces will be seriously cleaned monthly than to tell yourself that you're going to clean the bathroom, mop the floors and vacuum/dust/etc every single week and fail. Unless you have a very furry pet or some unusually messy habits, the difference between "I mop monthly" and "I mop weekly" isn't really that great.

I try not to plan much other than work for the weekend work day - maybe a late lunch/dinner/movie/etc, but nothing that will take up a big chunk of the day.

I also take on responsibility in terms of things I'm doing - I facilitate a class regularly, I volunteer at a project. That way I have to show up.

Sometimes I plan to do a chore in the evening on a weekday, and I start reminding myself of it in the morning - "tonight I'm going to [paint the radiator/etc]". That usually keeps me motivated and expecting to do it.

I still don't get nearly all the things done that I'd like. I don't do nearly enough serious reading. I have not done house-repair stuff nearly enough. (Don't buy a house if you don't like an eternal list of non-standard chores.) I don't see my friends often enough.

Mostly, I've just had to accept that I am not one of those people who is super extroverted and can work all day, go to the gym and then do something else before bed.
posted by Frowner at 4:57 PM on June 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

Check out Flylady. Her principles, such as routines and doing things for 15 minutes at a stretch, might be useful to you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:39 PM on June 14, 2014

A few ideas:
Sign up for a class or group that meets after work one day a week, or on the weekend.
Buy tickets to something.
Agree to do something with a friend.
Write down a bunch of things you want to do on slips of paper. (Could be frivolous, serious, recreational, household needs, whatever.) Put them in a jar. Force yourself to pull one out of the jar every day and do it, or at least make some progress.

If you make plans, you're more likely to push through even though you feel tired. Try it for a week or two. If you're happy with what you've accomplished, great, keep doing it. If you feel even more depleted, then figure out a better balance for you of downtime versus active time.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:30 PM on June 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

You may be mentally tired in the evening, too tired to use your executive functions to organize, plan, assimilate and learn. Jobs that involve social interactions, or problems solving, or focusing and staying on task can really deplete your mental resources.

First I would make sure you are getting at least nine hours of sleep a night, more during the winter.

Second I would suggest that you sit down during some quiet time during the weekend when your brain is in gear and make an easy starter plan for you to follow during the week. For example you could make a list of the projects you want to get into: reading history, learning to identify birds, doing drawn thread work, canning, whatever. Then pick three that don't require much organization to be possible. Exercise is usually a good choice because you can do it when your brain is not processing well.

Then do the necessary organization work so that doing them will be extremely easy. Get your exercise mat out, or your exercise clothes, find the right video and bookmark it, find the book your are going to read and put it on your night stand, make a shopping list of canning materials, stuff like that so that when the evening rolls around you can just put your hand out and your materials will be ready.

Start small. Going to bed at twenty to ten and reading until ten every night should get you most of the way through a good sized book if not all the way over the course of a week. Doing twenty minutes of exercise three evenings a week shouldn't feel like an insurmountable hurdle. Do your third project, whatever it is on the remaining four days of the week.

If you find you love doing exercise enough to want to do it for forty-five minutes every evening, or an hour and a half, fine. But right now you are trying to get motivated so just setting up a routine of three times a week, twenty minutes is plenty. There will be time enough to increase the amount of exercise when you have gotten the habit established.

The trick with doing stuff is to make them into an easy routine rather than looking for results. It's that old slow and steady rule. If you read twenty minutes to half an hour a night you'll read one book a week. If you read one book a week you'll ready fifty-two books a year.

Sort your projects according to what is most readily accomplished in small chunks of time. You probably can't build a deck on the back of your house in fifteen minutes three evenings a week, so that kind of project that requires much bigger time chunks has to be done on the weekend.

Learning things is usually a good project for the after work time in the evening because it works best with lots or repetition so better that you work on your HTML or your German several times over the course of the week, rather than spending one full Sunday a month cramming.

If you feel anxious about a task it needs to be broken up into smaller pieces. The more anxious you feel the smaller the pieces. Let's say you are practically panicking when it comes to thinking about building the deck. That means you need to spend more time planning the job. So one evening is just assigned the job of going into the back yard and looking at the back of the house and trying to visualize the project. Another evening can be spent watching You Tube videos about deck construction. Another evening for drawing up the materials list, the evening after that for taking a tape measure and measuring the back of the house again to verify that your materials list makes sense and so on. If you are panicking it often means you know that there are problems but you don't know what the problems are. so the question becomes what can I do, not what should I do.

You may be using social contact with the bf and net surfing to reduce you anxiety levels. Do you find yourself running away to do those things? In that case you have something you can use to motivate yourself to do some small things. Use the net-surfing and the conversations as your rewards. You get to check your web comics if you clean up the kitchen after supper, you get to talk to your bf if you fold the laundry while you talk to him, you get to log into mefi after you look at the video on building a deck, or after you make one edit in your HTML project.

You really can't do it all, at least not in one evening. But you can do massive amounts over the course of a year, if you are patient and work steadily. It also works well to have seasonal projects. So for example do your canning in the summer, your drawn-thread work in the winter. Work on the deck when you have friends over to help with the construction; When the friends are not available schedule the same block of time for getting exercise. If you rotate your projects over the course of a year you won't get burned out and you can do lots of different things.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:42 PM on June 14, 2014 [17 favorites]

I'm still figuring this out, but I'm still in school and this my schedule changes every 4 months. You have the structure of a job, so use that to your advantage.

I'm lazy, I've done all sorts of things like wear thing multiple time before I wash them, only get clothes that don't stain easily, buy a months worth of underwear, cook for a month and freeze everything in portions so all have to do it take it out of the freezer and hit with a meat mallet so it gets crushed up and then put it in the microwave. I got rid of a lot of things and thus have less upkeep, relaxed my standards. I've started putting a chore chart on my fridge with monthly and weekly chores so I can mark them off when I'm finished. I hate shopping, so I'm going to set up amazon autoship for some of my staples like brown rice and anything that would cause me to have to drop everything and go to the store. I am in the process of trying to make it so that I only need to go to the grocery store once a month. Also, I am going to buy a deep freezer for all of those frozen meals and buying meat and food in bulk. Also, the tip about doing productive stuff before you get home is huge, I even eat dinner in parking lots that I keep in my lunchbox because I know if I get home and eat I'm not going to want to get up and do stuff after that.
posted by eq21 at 7:18 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you drink alcohol? I do, but I stop periodically for weight control reasons and my evenings and weekends get magically more productive.
posted by marguerite at 4:10 AM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you watch a lot of TV? I haven't had a TV in years, and it's amazing that now, whenever I'm on vacation or at my parents' or somewhere where I have access to TV, the hours just ~disappear~.
posted by jabes at 1:54 PM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your post indicates exercise is not part of your lifestyle and it's counter intuitive, but exercise gives will give you more energy to get the mundane things done in life. I start getting quite lethargic if I stop my daily exercising (I run). I'm talking within a few days.

I don't think the biological makeup of present day humans lends itself to sitting 16 hours a day.
posted by qsysopr at 4:14 PM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree on the exercise. For a while it might make you more tired, getting used to it, but eventually you will sleep better and have more energy. I don't go home and just collapse any more - I get up and head back out the door to go running or some other activity.

Also, uh, do you need to be super time managed and productive in your down time? It's down time! Chill out and do what you want. If there's some interest you really want to pursue, why not focus on that one thing & decide to not worry about the rest as much.

Exercise, though, seriously helps - including with the anxiety that leads to perfectionism. I wish I'd figured this out ten years ago.
posted by citron at 8:28 PM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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