Too Many Passions and Butt in Chair Problems
July 29, 2019 6:57 AM   Subscribe

I have too many passions and too little time. Help me fit things into my erratic weekly schedule so that I make progress on everything.

My schedule changes from week to week but on average I have about 30 minutes to one hour of free time on weekdays. This free time can be scheduled either early in the morning or before bed. As for weekends, I have about 2-3 hours on one weekend day and about 1 hour on the other (I have to catch up on laundry and other chores).

Here are my goals:
Write my novel (I'm thinking 20 minute sessions)
Practice main musical instrument seriously for 20 minutes at a time. I also have a secondary musical instrument on which I have no desire to be a virtuoso of but would like to play a certain pop song on (I just need to be good enough that the song is recognizable to listeners).
Practice one page of calligraphy per session
20 minute painting sessions

The novel can be picked up and put down easily. Same for the secondary musical instrument which can be left out. However, the main musical instrument is bulky, cannot be left out due to space constraints and has to be taken out of its case which decreases the odds of my practicing. The worst is the painting which requires both setup and brush/palette cleaning etc. so a session that has 20 minutes of painting actually takes more time than that.

I also have other occasional craft projects but they are irregular.

Other problems: I have trouble concentrating unless I am alone at home which is rare. I hate being watched when I'm working. I work in my bedroom but interruptions happen (family members have no respect for non-income generating work). I also feel guilty when I take time out to work on art/music because I have an endless list of life responsibilities to do but when I don't work on my passions, it gnaws away at me and make me depressed.

I'm not getting any younger and I don't want to fritter away my precious free time on the internet and get nothing done. Advice? Should I ditch my secondary instrument to concentrate on my main one for example?
posted by whitelotus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
My suggestion is that if you have a free hour, spend it all on one of your projects rather than splitting it into three 20 minute sessions for each of your projects.

Split up your week so that (for example) Monday and Wednesday are for writing, Tuesday and Thursday are for calligraphy, Saturday is your main instrument and Sunday is your secondary instrument, and Friday is the wild card where you work on whatever you prefer (or fritter your time away on the Internet).

(Forgot the painting but you get the idea)
posted by ejs at 7:25 AM on July 29, 2019 [18 favorites]

I'd say that painting and the main instrument are hereby weekend activities. If it's not a weekend, don't even think about them unless you have a strong genuine hankering, and a generous time-slot. That leaves instrument #2, calligraphy, and the novel for weekdays. I'd be inclined to say that the novel should get at least two weekly spots, plus a slot on your more open weekend day unless you really get into things with the main instrument or painting and it consumes the whole 2-3 hour block. So now we have three remaining weekdays for calligraphy and instrument #2, which seems fine. Give the extra slot to your main instrument if you're feeling it, or whatever else you're most passionate about in the moment, or just take the day off for Internetting in peace, knowing that your other six days have contributed to your goals.
posted by teremala at 7:28 AM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

And yes, I too say that one thing a day is plenty, or two at most. These are supposed to be enjoyable hobbies, not required coursework to be wedged in as tightly as possible.
posted by teremala at 7:31 AM on July 29, 2019 [6 favorites]

I also have a secondary musical instrument on which I have no desire to be a virtuoso of but would like to play a certain pop song on (I just need to be good enough that the song is recognizable to listeners).
Should I ditch my secondary instrument to concentrate on my main one for example?

I feel like you should either ditch the secondary instrument now or get this specific-pop-song goal taken care of as quickly as possible so you can move on. Four goals is easier than five to think about without panicking.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:39 AM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, I wonder if some reframing might be helpful. I promise I'm not going to tell you to drop anything or do less.

But right now I worry you're not just trying to say "I devote time to five things," you're maybe kind of trying to say "All five things are my passion, my dream, my absolute artistic priority." That's definitely a thing I've tried to say in the past. And I've found it worked really badly, because you can't actually have five absolute priorities. It led to me feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, and I ended up spending too much time dicking around online because everything else seemed like too much.

But so OK, you can't have five absolute priorities. What you can have is one absolute priority — and then four other things you enjoy putting time into because you're a well-rounded person with rich interests.

And you can look at the situation that way even if you don't actually change how much work you put into anything. It's not about time. It's about attention. Your number one top interest is going to be the thing your attention stays on by default. Instead of five things buzzing around your head all the time, you're going to have one. And then when it's time to spend time on another interest, you'll pick it up for a bit, but you'll put it down when you're done and let your attention return to the number one thing.

If you're anything like me, this will help the whole thing feel saner and healthier and less exhausting even if you're doing the same amount of work and practice.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:53 AM on July 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

You might get something out of reading Refuse to Choose, which talks about how to manage lots of interests without feeling like they are chores or that you have to pick just one thing (although, on preview Nebulawindphone has covered a lot of it).
posted by crocomancer at 8:12 AM on July 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have a few things like you do (I do puppetry and theater and also like to write plays) and I absolutely can't do my best on any of them if I'm trying to do all of them in a day. So I'd say definitely focus certain days on certain things. That also lets you plan for those days...Tuesdays are usually rehearsal days if I'm directing a play, for instance, so I can go over notes and script stuff on Monday to prepare for Tuesday.
posted by xingcat at 8:25 AM on July 29, 2019

Agree recommending refuse to choose. Just read it myself, it's fantastic
posted by rebent at 9:15 AM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I vary between hobbies, but the thing is that I can't do them all in the same week. I'll have a couple weeks where I do a lot of knitting, then I finish a project and move on to so baking ambition. I get bored of baking and go pick up that huge knitting project I took a long break from, and maybe get a couple piano sessions in. Max 2/week.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:15 AM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you can throw money at this, renting a practice room or studio one day a week can solve the alone time problem and simplify the scheduling.

Can you write your novel as calligraphy practice?
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:20 AM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I tried to find the exact interview with Carrie Brownstein where she went into detail about her preference for serial unitasking rather than multitasking and how it was a key component in her being so awesome at so many different things, but I only found this one which sort of glances on that idea.

My point being, while I really like the idea of designating certain days of the week to devote to regular practice for some of your hobbies (like calligraphy and your primary musical instrument), I wonder if it might better serve some of your goals if you were to do a longer-term month or months-long deep dive on just one of your more project-based ideas at a time (writing a novel, learning a certain song, etc.) and rotate to a new one after you finish or reach a certain milestone. This might also help mitigate any decision paralysis when it comes to juggling multiple hobbies.
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:11 PM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm surprised more people aren't telling you to set priorities. You could either pick the most important or pick the ones you could achieve most quickly. Secondary instrument song -- could you learn that in a week if you put your mind to it? Okay great! Then could you get decent at calligraphy in 3 weeks of devoting all your spare time to it? Then you're left with three pretty massive goals and if you want to be really successful at any, I think you might have to pick one to be the central one and the other to be the stress reliever / change of pace. Write your novel or paint a significant painting or series of paintings, and when you get stuck, play the instrument or something like that.

Keep in mind that the most likely outcome here is that you'll end up ten years from now having done other good stuff but almost none of this, so get really serious about doing this if you care about actually doing it. If you don't? There's a lot to be said for downtime and self care.
posted by salvia at 1:30 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I can see there being a spectrum of people who enjoy mastering one thing and those who enjoy dabbling. I don't know which you are, but I dunno, figure that out I guess. BUT I have my foolproof method for deciding stuff and I think doing it will inform you of what you're most passionate about...

Decide you will do one of those activities today. But not which one yet. If you feel anxious about having to do just one, well, that answers an important question. Then say "I can do two." etc. until you're comfortable with how many you get to do.

Okay, you get to do X activities. I flip a coin because I'm usually deciding between two things, but you can go ahead and roll a die. Assign an activity to each number(s). Hurl the die across the room (important!) and on your way to go find it, what do you really hope that you find?

That's what you want to do. What is actually on the die doesn't matter. Don't even bother to go find it! You are master of your own destiny!

I always know what I want to do when the coin is in the air.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:38 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I got really tired of feeling like I was just treading water on all of my many interests so I implemented something really dramatic: JUST doing one thing for 3 MONTHS at a time.

So if my one thing was tennis for those 3 months, I would do everything else minimally. No trying to write, no foreign language review, even reading very little.

You do backslide on everything else, but it was worth it to me to see sustained progress [and output!] in that one particular area.

It doesn't have to be forever. I mono-hobbied for 1 year [4 things] and am now back to my normal, happy, omnivorous self. I'll probably have to do this again next year or so when the feeling of overwhelm creeps back up. It's just really empowering to know there's another way, a way to reset yourself.
posted by estlin at 2:46 PM on July 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I work in my bedroom but interruptions happen (family members have no respect for non-income generating work). I also feel guilty when I take time out to work on art/music because I have an endless list of life responsibilities to do but when I don't work on my passions, it gnaws away at me and make me depressed.

This is the part that hit me the hardest. So first I'm going to address the "easy" one.

Is not one of your responsibilities taking the best care of yourself, so you can take care of others? Family, friends, co-workers, MeFites, whoever? Are there people who depend on you? Don't they deserve the best you that you can give them? These familyi members, surely they don't want you to be depressed. That should be sufficient "LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE WHEN I'M DOING *THING*" for them.

Now the harder part.... the guilt. OMG do I understand the guilt. It's only been recently that I've been able to work less than 12 hours a day. Seriously. 12 hours of butt in seat working. And that was a light day - 15, 18 hour days weren't out of the question. I'm disabled, and live with my caregivers and their family. Until recently, I was paying the electric bill, the water bill, pitching in on whatever other bills were needed, and for my own groceries above whatever groceries my primary caregiver was getting.

Problem is, I was killing my hands, I was causing myself more pain, I was making myself utterly miserable.

Now I'm taking time for reading. Now I'm taking time for writing - both for pay and for myself. Now I'm taking time for arts and crafts. Now I'm taking time for music. Now I'm taking time for exercise. Now I'm taking time for regular sleep.

Now I'm happier. And everyone who loves me is happier because I am. So unless there's fire, flood, or blood, people leave me alone when I'm doing shit. (Or unless I message them that I'm on the floor. It happens.)

I'd be having a conversation with the family members. "Family, my recreational time may not be paid work. But it's essential for me to avoid depression. When you interrupt, and when you disrespect this time I have to take for myself, I not only feel guilty, but I also feel like you don't care about my happiness. Surely that's not the case... right?"

You're worth taking the time. I promise.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 6:11 PM on July 30, 2019

Sorry for the late reply, I'm having a hectic week and guess what, some new craft supplies unrelated to the goals listed here just arrived.

I am afraid I cannot afford to rent a studio or practice room.

Many good answers here. I think I can finish learning the pop song on instrument No 2 in a few weeks but the calligraphy definitely is a lifelong commitment.

I'm considering ditching music entirely, leaving the calligraphy, painting and the novel. Due to the setup issues, the painting will have to be confined to the weekends. So that leaves calligraphy and the novel for weekdays? Hmmm. Am thinking how time should be distributed between the two.

I started writing the novel today. While I am pleased with what I wrote, I can't say writing it was an enjoyable process since there are so many issues to address plot-wise. Am not sure I can power through the inevitable tough parts.
posted by whitelotus at 6:53 AM on August 1, 2019

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