On rest, productivity, spontaneity, and balance; how to schedule time?
April 15, 2021 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Hello. I am curious to know how fellow humans balance their time. Do you purposefully plan rest days? Do you work your butt off and only rest when you burn out? Do you set aside a chunk of time each day to relax, or every week? Month? How do you turn off the “productive” / hustle mindset when there’s always something to be done?

Some background. I work part time as a nanny, and the rest of the time I run a small (but rapidly growing) art business. My partner runs his own store, is in the middle of taking over a second business, and has other obligations that go along with that. I was going to write out our entire schedules, but the long and short of it is, we are pretty much constantly working. I wrote this question on a Sunday (Easter), and I was packing orders from a big online shop update. Which is fine! I love what I do. But... I tend to see every day as a list of tasks. Even when the day includes an hourlong video chat or a tv watching session with a friend, I still see that as a TASK, even though it’s meant to be enjoyable. I stopped to see my dad for lunch the other day, and had a hard time just enjoying our time together. Instead, my mind was thinking ahead to my to-do list for the evening. Even sex is now often scheduled. Which again is fine and normal, but the scheduling aspect makes fun things feel like impending to-dos.

Maybe this is just an opportunity to work on mindfulness. But I’m wondering, how do other people experience this? Do you see your week as a list of tasks?

I’m trying to zoom out and see the larger picture, but it’s hard for me. It’s also hard for my to stray from my plan and be spontaneous when something fun comes up. I schedule my time so strictly that it often feels like I cannot change plans without screwing up my self imposed workflow. One thing that HAS helped has been to schedule maybe one day a week that’s “open” (during the week, this would be an open chunk after my day job, so from about 3pm on). On this open day, I can catch up on anything, or rest, and there’s no less guilt because hey, I scheduled an open day! But I also struggle with guilty about not getting enough done on work days, which I know is a common feeling (especially for one-person run small businesses).

Another issue is separating self worth from productivity, but perhaps that’s another question altogether. So tell me, how do you schedule time?
posted by sucre to Work & Money (7 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Personally I can't wait until I burn out because I'm not good at telling how much I need a break. My approach is to make sure I leave as close to a full day (schedule permitting) every couple weeks that's totally unstructured. That way no matter what I do, from watching movies to doing chores, it's unplanned and the result of whatever I'm feeling at that moment — but doesn't feel like I'm "wasting" time. I still have unplanned time here and there, it's not like i never take a break, but it's nice to really have a full day with absolutely nothing planned.

I do think there is the modern American syndrome of work being your life, and your life being work, but this helps for me. This has all been exacerbated by the pandemic with the impossibility of spontaneity for social stuff and the increasing online-ness of it all. I'm hoping the pendulum swings the other way this summer when (hopefully) it's much safer to just wing it.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:29 PM on April 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you're at a point where you cannot have a moment's spontaneity or even like, impromptu sex with your partner, you don't have a scheduling problem, you have a workload problem. You're already burned out, you just haven't crashed yet.

As someone who used to work for herself and no longer does, one thing I wish I had known back then was that actually you can just have "hours." You totally can. The internet tells you you cannot, you must hustle 24/7, anything less is failure but that's because the internet is a trash liar full of garbage and nazis.

Now that I have a job I have hours. I work from X to Y. On days Q through Z. Now, X to Y are longer than my stated official 9-5, because my job sucks and is badly run and I have to work myself half to death to keep up. But at hour Y I stop working. I just do. Sometimes this means a thing isn't crossed off the list. Guess what? NOBODY DIES. Nobody even gets fired or even yelled at. I am not a surgeon leaving in the middle of an operation. I'm just a dipshit doing some dipshit stuff for money. This is not to disparage your work which you say you enjoy. But even so: it's an art business. It is not life and death.

So you have customers, you say, and you cannot fail in your obligations to them. Well, maybe you need to look at whether you have too many for just you. Maybe if you lose a couple, it isn't the end of the world at all. Or maybe you cannot bear to lose any customers even in theory and maybe you need to start hiring people.

But you can't schedule your way out of your current situation, you can only acknowledge your limits and capabilities and adjust your work around them.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:30 PM on April 15, 2021 [25 favorites]

I'm probably at the other end of the scale from you, albeit currently massively exacerbated by lockdown. I feel like my default (other than work) is 'doing nothing' and I have to make a positive effort to plan stuff in or I'd never do anything.

I live alone, which obviously adds to the time I have for myself, though it also means I have to make the effort to leave the house if I want company, so swings and roundabouts. I work full time, five days a week. Once I leave work at the end of the day, I rarely think much about it again until I'm there again in the morning. Evenings and weekends are my own time. In normal times I maybe have regular activities scheduled one or two evenings a week (eg. volunteering; an evening class), maybe one ad hoc bit of socialising another evening.

Weekends I'll try and do at least one sociable in person thing, plus speak to my family by phone/zoom, plus whatever useful-but-not-necessarily sociable things need doing eg. food shopping, gardening, housework. I usually have a 'to do' list for the weekends of about half a dozen things which I do as and when I feel like it. I don't always do them all.

Time that's not booked in for stuff I'm probably on the sofa (now, at least: long covid) watching TV or catching up with friends online, maybe doing some hobbies. In normal times, when I'm well, I exercise two or three times a week, some combination of a gym class on a Saturday morning, running after work/on the weekend.
posted by penguin pie at 12:30 PM on April 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've definitely had periods of time where my life felt that way, so you are not alone. :)

My guiding principle when I can manage it is "put first things first."

So (right now anyway!) the first hour and a half of my day my spouse and I workout/walk/swim together, are home (my MIL is here and my kids are older) by 7:15, and then we have family breakfast. So by 8:15 when we're all heading out/to virtual learning, I've connected to the people I love most already.

What helps me also is blocking my time out, so that although I have to manage tasks inside the blocks, the general structure is kind of managed. Like right now I finished my block of work until 4 unusually quickly so I'm taking a break.

Here's an example of more fluid time: After kids are in bed, Monday is schoolwork night. Tuesday is chores night. Wednesday is schoolwork night. Thursday is either friends or Netflix night. Friday is basically *always* friends night. Saturday is family movie/games evening and then spouse date night. Sunday afternoon is friends/festival/family time. Sunday night is fun with spouse night.

So when a friend asks me when we can Zoom (grr pandemic) or meet up, I pick Thurs, Fri, or Sun afternoon. Obviously if I have a friend in from out of town on Monday I'll switch things up, but generally speaking I herd my social commitments into my social time, and my school commitments into my school time, etc.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:31 PM on April 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

You might like to check out the book Laziness Does Not Exist.
posted by spindrifter at 3:15 PM on April 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have found the pomodoro technique helpful. 25 minutes of TASK, 5 minutes of decompress. By scattering breaks through the day, I am able to enjoy them more.

Longer breaks, like real days off and a change of scenery, matters too. I just scheduled a camping vacation mainly so I can be out-of-contact for a few days. It's not even a whole week!

I think the pandemic, or life stage, has just killed any sense of spontaneous free time; everything has to be scheduled on zoom and has a transactional feel.
posted by basalganglia at 2:35 AM on April 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

When I start noticing what you're noticing - fun things feel like scheduled in tasks - I do force myself to space things out more and take time to "do nothing". Often I start noticing I'm really tiiiired and I just want to lay on the sofa all day - so I do, and after a bit of that I get bored again.

But I also go through really intensely semi-manic phases where I have lots of energy and want to Do All The Things and then... I do that. It's cool. And at some point I stop being productive and start spinning my wheels and need to force myself to step away and get perspective -

Sorry, that's a lie. At some point I stop being productive and start perseverating / spinning my wheels / bashing my head into a problem, and coincidentally my partner starts getting really annoyed at me being unavailable, and my friends start saying "hey, you're talking about working late a lot, this is not healthy" and making me feel bad. And then they make me take a break and I notice I was perseverating and come up with more efficient ways to do my work.
posted by Lady Li at 3:23 PM on April 16, 2021

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