What resources help explain types of time / mental effort?
March 22, 2022 3:15 AM   Subscribe

I have historically just divided my life into "work" and "leisure" and really struggled with figuring out the value of "in-between" things that I'm not getting paid for, find difficult or stressful, but choose to do anyway. A conversation with a friend recently opened me up to the idea that there are more... time categories. Any good reading in this space?

I feel silly writing this, but at almost-50 I'm realizing I've been super binary about how I view my time and mental energy. And the other day I'm talking to a friend about how I'm spending a lot of my not-9-5-job time doing things I find challenging and draining but rewarding, like taking classes, and she just says "oh, that's self-improvement time, it's not 'work' or 'leisure'".

And apparently there's a whole different way to think about how time and mental energy is spent that has more categories than "it's work" or "it's leisure," and might help resolve my perpetual ambient stress around how a lot of things I think of as "leisure time" don't leave me feeling energized or recharged (even if they are ultimately rewarding).

I'm seeking good (but concise) resources for ideas on categorizing ways that one expends time and mental energy. I'm sure this is not remotely a new idea, but it's new to me, and I'd like to better understand how I'm divvying up my hours and energy in a way that might give me more insight into how to balance things.

I'm not looking for life advice on how to divide up my time. Totally fine figuring that out on my own. I am looking for resources that can help guide a process of categorizing activity toward self-directing better balance.
posted by Shepherd to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I came across the concept of domains of life through a friend who was studying for a counselling qualification. She had read research suggesting that it was helpful to consider how one's time is spent across nine domains - I recall her talking about work, exercise, learning, relationship and family time, cleaning and house maintenance, time out of doors, time with friends, relaxing, spirituality (that is nine, but may not have been the exact nine she was working with). There's a lot of stuff online about "domains of life", some of it trying to sell one something. I can't immediately find something along the lines I remember, partly because it appears to overlap with ways of measuring life satisfaction (this journal article for instance - some of the categories would fit with "how one spends time" but some, like self-esteem, don't). Anyway, domains of life may be a useful search term.
posted by paduasoy at 4:01 AM on March 22, 2022

The hierarchy of needs concept might help, as a start ? The wikipedia page on motivation is also pretty good as a broad overview, with plenty of avenues into areas with a lot more detail / long-running academic debate.
posted by protorp at 4:08 AM on March 22, 2022

Not the same but highly related: you may enjoy reading about third places.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:31 AM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

There was an article on NPR that called a certain subsect of activities “Life Admin”. It referred to all the boring tasks you need to do like dealing with bills, repairs, and I’m just going to link the article.

posted by lepus at 7:22 AM on March 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

I’ve read some advice about "sharpening the saw". If you want to saw through a lot of wood, the approach with minimum time or effort involves some time sharpening rather than sawing.

A different idea is "hard fun", stuff that’s restorative to some part of you but isn’t easy.
posted by clew at 9:56 AM on March 22, 2022

You could take a look at the coding lexicons for the American Time Use Survey . PDF of the 2020 lexicon with examples here. Not exactly concise though.
posted by yarrow at 10:02 AM on March 22, 2022

There was an article on NPR that called a certain subsect of activities “Life Admin”.

This is a thing that is a concept in the UK but not the US, "doing admin" is one of the useful parts, to me, of splitting my time. I am a person who has a hard time with the concept of leisure and has a nebulous idea about work (i.e. I do many worklike things that do not pay and my paying jobs aren't always in my specialty area). I think the main thing to think about is do you need a pie chart where things add up to 100% or can you have categories that overlap?

So like for me, my categories are: admin (email, staying on top of clutter, paperwork, mail), food (all the parts of that, shopping, prep, dishes), physical and mental hygiene (bathroom, staying clean, exercise, doctor/dentist/therapist), reading/viewing (huge chunk of my waking hours if I'm being honest is spent reading and somewhat less watching tv/movies), social/connection time (with partner, friends, neighbors), sleep (and related sleep-time activity) and work (paid, unpaid, volunteer). And that seems like most of it. Most of that stuff doesn't overlap but some of it does. I'm sure once I hit submit I'll realize some terrible gap in there but that's how it feels to me.
posted by jessamyn at 11:25 AM on March 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Also you might like this book which is kind of like Marie Kondo but for how you split up your time and attentions.
posted by jessamyn at 11:26 AM on March 22, 2022

Outdoorsy folks in my life refer to types of fun:
Type 1 fun: is fun, while you’re doing it
Type 2 fun: not fun in the moment, but you’re glad you did it afterward
Type 3 fun: not fun, not now, not later, you should have bailed
posted by momus_window at 12:32 PM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Yeah, trying to classify things as either work or leisure doesn't work that well because it's not clear what the difference is. If you love your job, is it still work? If you choose to go on a run but you don't enjoy it, is that still leisure?

I think it makes more sense to look at what kind of benefit you can get from each activity. These are all the different benefits I can think of:

1. Get what you need to live (work for money, hunt for food)
2. Avoid punishment, meet expectations and obligations (do your taxes, visit relatives you don’t much like)
3. Keep your life from falling apart (clean your house, buy groceries, fix broken things)
4. Stay (or become) healthy and fit
5. Connect with other people
6. Help other people
7. Have new experiences
8. Get new skills/knowledge
9. Further develop existing skills/knowledge
10. Relax, recharge, get comfort, distract yourself from bad things
11. Enjoy yourself
12. Challenge yourself

A lot of things can give you more than one of these benefits. For me, planting and taking care of a vegetable garden hits #8, #9, #10, #11, and #12, plus bits of #1 and #3. A few things might not give you any (e.g. sitting on your bed worrying about stuff that might happen and trying to muster the energy to get dressed.)

You could say that #1, #2 and #3 are work and everything else is leisure but dividing it up that way isn't all that meaningful. What you do to make money to live on may also have other benefits, like connecting with other people or developing skills. You may even enjoy it. And some of the things you choose to do because you want to help other people or learn new things may be even harder or more unpleasant than some of the things you do because you feel like you have to. In deciding what to spend time and energy on, I would just look at what you can get out of it without feeling like you have to decide whether it's work or not.
posted by Redstart at 3:45 PM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don't have any published resources to point you to but I remember dividing my life activities into chunks one year when I was too busy (job, school, and a major volunteer commitment). It helped me alternate what I was focusing on each week so that I could not drop anything too long. Friends will forgive a few weeks or month incommunicado but a year is hard to recover from, that sort of thing.

The categories I remember using were work, school, family, religious, friends, exercise, (specific) community, (specific) hobby. "Specific" as in, you would have multiple listings under community if you are trying to be part of the local music scene and the food-not-bombs group, or if you are trying to learn a musical instrument and also finish a sweater.
posted by Lady Li at 7:25 PM on March 22, 2022

Overall though I think the concept you're "missing" is one of "productive" leisure, which could be either things you do for your own long term goals (exercise, learn an instrument) or things you do for others (send a card to a sick or bereaved friend, give someone a ride to the airport, caretaking, volunteering).
posted by Lady Li at 7:27 PM on March 22, 2022

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