creating space.
February 28, 2019 3:39 AM   Subscribe

I feel like my life has shrunk since I started working at my current job. How do I get myself energised into engaging in life beyond work again? I feel like I have no external hobbies or interests anymore.

I am lucky enough to (mostly) enjoy my work - it's busy and keeps me on my toes, but we are under-resourced and most of us are doing the jobs of 2 people. It's a fairly collegial place to work and takes up much of my social headspace as well. But this means that outside work I have no time or energy to spare for anything but the most basic of life admin.

I have a really long commute, during which I catch up on my sleep. Then I get to work, am 'on' pretty much all day, then go home. My boss isn't a fan of working from home, and doing that is actually more stressful than being at work, because I'm aware of all the 'deliverables' I have to have ready at the end of the day to justify having not been at the office all day. Also I'm extroverted and simply don't perform as well when I'm by myself.

During previous jobs I had enough headspace left at the end of the day to engage with the wider world, either through learning things or reading the news or creative practices. But nowadays I'll go home, cobble together some dinner, semi-watch some Netflix while thinking about things that happened at work and then go to bed. I don't even read the news.

I feel like I'm becoming boring! There are lots of things I want to do; I've been intending to learn Spanish for months now. How can I free up my mind after work, elevate my energy levels and start becoming an interesting, well-rounded individual again?
posted by unicorn chaser to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I struggle with this too, and the only thing that has worked is "appointments" - a scheduled meet-up with a friend for a specific activity, a subscription to a theatre season, enrollment in a course related to a hobby or interest. That way, I have somewhere I "have" to be and don't head straight going home those nights. I also let myself off the hook when I do veg out at home. It's more relaxing and restorative when I don't have to feel guilty for not doing something more engaging, because I've scheduled that engagement time for another night. I am allowed to just do nothing and enjoy it.

(Is there a Spanish course near your home or work you could take?)

Again, I struggle with this, and it works for a while and then I fall off again, so I'm grateful for your question so that I can learn from others.
posted by girlpublisher at 4:59 AM on February 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

I got all excited when I initially saw your question, because I had ideas - but then I saw that you had a long commute and that kind of brought me up a bit. Because that's probably the biggest issue. Generally, if there's anything you can do to shorten your commute at all, that would probably be the biggest help right there.

However, that would be a huge long-term change, so let's see about what we can do for you in the shorter term....

Idea one: Forgive yourself a little. It may just be that while you're coping with that long commute, that you have to adjust to the reality of your weeknight evenings just being kind of bleh. I had that same issue; I kicked against it for a while, but realized that well, if I didn't have the energy, I didn't have the energy and that was okay. I compensated by making my weekends pretty full.

Idea two: take the unchangeable things as opportunities to do something. For example - your commute. How about listening to Spanish lessons on Duolingo or reading something or listening to a podcast instead of sleeping? And as for the "cobbling together dinner" - that's a chance to play a little right there. Is there a cookbook you have that you've only ever made one recipe out of and then never used it for anything else? How about dipping into more of that book?

Idea three: start thinking monthly. Think of three or four things that you promise yourself you're going to do once a month; visit a new museum each month, read a new book each month, go for a hike each month....whatever. You have a month to work on each of those things, so you can carve out time as you can. That's what I resolved for myself this year when I was having the same kind of "I need to work on the outside-of-work life" thoughts; I decided to push myself with a few monthly challenges, and also made up a similar list of "here are some other things I"m going to finish by the end of the year". I've not had 100% perfect monthly success, but I'm still getting out of the house and doing things, and that's the whole point, yeah?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:11 AM on February 28, 2019 [11 favorites]

Maybe you can use your commute for things that help you feel engaged (e.g., listening to podcasts, reading, writing letters, sketching), then take a quick nap at home as a kind of evening ritual? Back in the pre-kid days when I could get away with it, I liked to change out of my work clothes and take a short, delicious nap (or at least zone out under a soft blanket for twenty minutes) as soon as I got home, then wake up and make a cup of tea. It was so nice to wake into a home headspace every evening instead of just pushing through the post-work fatigue. And it usually allowed me to stay up a little later and thus have a little more of a life after work, since I'm otherwise exhausted and useless by 9pm.
posted by xylothek at 8:00 AM on February 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

If it's still kind of a new job, cut yourself a break. The first year of a new job is a big learning curve and it's a lot more mentally draining than it will be after you've acclimated some more and made some of the improvements you will make to get through your days and weeks.

I am in pretty much the same boat as you. The truth is a long commute changes the balance of time in your life. That's the reason that commute is the single biggest reason for people to change jobs or to choose one over another. If your commute is passive, like train or bus time, I suggest reading a real book to get away from screens, or a newspaper. Or, you can do a meditation app like Headspace, listen to podcasts, or catch up on personal communications or journaling. If it's active, it becomes more about what you can listen to.

As for getting home - since you're still thinking about work hours after getting home tht's an indication that you need some kind of wedge between work and home where you can switch your focus and "put away" the work day. I started doing a home yoga video series that takes about half an hour. So I get home, drop my stuff, and change into some version of yoga-clothes that sometimes double as PJs. I do the video, and that creates the wedge. It's different enough that it detaches my brain from work and then when I re-enter the rest of the house I am present, instead of still stewing about work. Then it's dinner and TV...which I admit I do too. But I think it's really OK just not to ask much more of yourself on days you've made a big outlay of energy already. However! You can study language on your couch. Cehck out Duolingo, see what your library has in the form of language videos, or look for an online class.
posted by Miko at 10:56 AM on February 28, 2019

I struggle with this myself. What I’ve found to help a bit: anything that reduces the cognitive load, like reducing my stuff, tidying, lists, anything that reduces energy-sucking decision making (routines, uniforms, default meals, random methods for picking an option) and that uses momentum (it’s much harder to go out again from home than doing something before coming home, for me. And, paradoxically, taking little breaks doesn’t work well for me, any rest is far outweighed by the energy it takes to overcome inertia again and again.)
posted by meijusa at 6:34 AM on March 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's been a recent discovery of mine that I am much less stressed out after my commute if I wear noise cancelling headphones (e.g.).
posted by oceano at 10:28 AM on March 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

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