It takes time to make time
June 21, 2007 12:34 AM   Subscribe

How do you fit everything into life that you want to do?

Two years ago I found myself (happily) unemployed. At first it was difficult to get used to and I was bored all the time, but now I have finally found a comfortable schedule that allows me time to in-depthly peruse several interests. However, there are many, many more things I'd like to do with my time as well.

For example, I take taekwondo three mornings a week, and I also try to run three times a week. I'd like to start taking yoga again, but how can I fit this into my already full schedule? Taekwondo takes about two hours, running only one (showers and commute included).

I also like to devote a part of every day to writing (usually an hour, more if I feel moved). In addition to that hour, I also keep a journal and try to write in it at the end of most evenings. There's another two hours.

There's so much more — I have a list of about 100 books I'd like to read, and it grows exponentially. For every book I finish I add two more. The same with my list of knitting and sewing projects. I want to learn to play the guitar, I want to take dance lessons, I want to go back to school, I want to learn Spanish. The list is endless.

In addition to this, I also run my household, since I do not work. This includes cooking and cleaning, which I'm happy to do but which consumes a lot of time.

Next year I'll probably start working again (maybe only part-time) but that will still take another huge block out of each of my days. The biggest problem I see is that I'm not happy devoting small amounts of time to these interests. I want give them each enough attention that I become good at them, not just as a passing whim.

I'm also wary of spreading myself thin, but at this point I don't think that's the case (yet). There just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the week to do everything I want to do!

Mefites, how to you balance everything?
posted by Brittanie to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
What works for me is focusing on a new activity until I get a basic competency at it. For example, I don't play the guitar much anymore, and I'm consequently not a great guitarist, but I have a basic competency with it, and when I pick it up, there's enough muscle memory for me to quickly get some enjoyment out of it. And sometimes I'll catch a bug and play for a whole afternoon, and learn something new that might stick with me.

I think that a lot of items on your list are like this: Spanish, dance lessons, knitting and sewing, even running, tae kwon do, and yoga. You need to learn basic skills, but then those skills will pretty much always be with you after you do that. You won't ever be *good* at all of them maybe, but you can be *ok* at all of them; that's the price you pay for having a lot of interests.

My advice, then, is:
Pick whatever most interests you and get good enough at it that the "just like riding a bike" effect will kick in. This may require months of focus on that one thing--say, sword swallowing. Have patience! When you get basic competency with swallowing swords, do the same thing with something else--say, haberdashery. Notice that when you get sick of your haberdashing, you'll be able to get in a good five minute sword swallow without much effort.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

When you have a large library of activities that you can easily get back into it becomes a lot easier to quickly get something out of a lot of activities. Then, flit about between them like a deranged butterfly--I don't think it pays to overthink your leisure time. And when you come across new awesome things--pogo stick!--stop flitting about and get basic competency with that.
posted by Kwine at 1:10 AM on June 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Sleep less.
posted by Orange Goblin at 1:55 AM on June 21, 2007

You can't. You have to pick and choose at some point.
posted by grouse at 2:15 AM on June 21, 2007

Best answer: Own less so you don't have to waste time on keeping it. I deliberately bought a house with polished wood floors so i didn't have to worry about taking care of carpet. I don't have any rugs in it because nice as they look and feel, the taking of the rug is a difference process and requires different tools than the floor - you can't mop a rug, eh?

I cleaned out my kitchen cupboards and put 2/3rds of it in the garage and haven't missed it, but now it's easier to find the tools I use regularly.

I pretty much only wear stuff that doesn't need ironing (I think I have maybe two shirts for special that do). Another task I don't need to worry about. I have nothing that requries dry cleaning.

My bills are automated, and I have more than I will ever spend in the account the bills are paid out of so that I don't go in the red.

I delegate. I hate food-shopping, so my husband does it.

If I'm on public transport, I'm reading and/or listening to music. When I go to sleep at night, I always read a few pages of my current novel.

When I'm doing something important to me, I give it my full attention. I get much better mileage out of the experience.

I don't do social events (even professional ones) that I don't feel like. But then, I'm not career or materially driven. This won't work for everyone, but it certainly cuts down on wasted time in my life.

I plan in advance. Schedule my week,Check the public transport, back my napsack with useful things (mp3 player, notepad for ideas, book, whatever - a stitch in time saving nine and all.

And what i'm talking about a zillion productivity sites will tell you to do, but the difference is, they think you should use the time you save making more money or getting your house cleaner. I do these things so I can draw or read and still earn enough to put food on the table.

Some people think i'm a bit strange, though. I don't mind, but you might.
posted by b33j at 3:12 AM on June 21, 2007 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This is a GREAT book that you have to read - it's aimed directly at you. In the parlance of this book, you are a "scanner," someone who scans many interests in a fashion that can almost seem scattershot to folks with more focused interests. The author's whole point is that this is something to be embraced as what makes you uniquely you. Very empowering.
posted by jbickers at 3:26 AM on June 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

of course you can try to be more organized. But I think that you can also try to accept that you won't do everything that you'd like to do. It will lower your frustration significantly. And then, just think to something else, something you like, or something you're doing.
posted by nicolin at 3:31 AM on June 21, 2007

Hey Brittanie:)

So happy to know you have so many interests to keep you busy!
I kind of had a similar list that you have but I never had the dedication that you do to stick to it. So, as far as accomplishing stuff goes—you’ve already done a whole lot more than most of us might ever do.

How do I balance out everything that I do in my life?

Well, although I’m nowhere near you, I’ve accepted that I may not have the chance to devote the amount of time that is required to do everything that I like. Currently, that list includes work, hanging out with my family, contributing to a forum that I visit, along with Mecha and Mefi, and whatever else that’s bound to come up during the week. At first I was scared at the prospect of not being able to devote myself to the extent that I wanted, but I soon came to the realization that I would have to manage my time a whole lot more seriously than I was, if I wanted to make it work. And that meant maybe letting go of some other activities which I previously would’ve indulged in. The TV’s taken a back seat for sure, and my exams are coming up. Like you, I too am going back to school. I also want to read more and that’s something that I hope to find the time to do. Maybe on weekends. There’s also the writing I wish I could do. Gah! You’ve just reminded me of everything that I had to do!

So you see, we’re all in the same boat, and if you ever do find an answer to your question, be sure to forward it to me as well!
posted by hadjiboy at 6:11 AM on June 21, 2007

All I can say is keep at it. You'll be amazed at how much you can fit into a life. I have a wife and two daugthers. I also have a full time job. I also cartoon evenings and weekends. I also am working on a TV project. Oh and there's the occasional standup gig. And there's still time to run ten miles a week and play basketball. The piano playing is going well. And it looks like the second cartoon strip will be up and running soon. I just learned some new editing software and am looking forward to tackling Flash. And the list of want-do-dos is long. I'm 50 and still have a gadzillion new skills I want to learn. I just multitask. You solve creative problems while you run. You sketch while listening to music. You take public transport and read while you commute. You find that some things overlap ... a good comic idea leads to a good standup joke ... playing an instrument is more relaxing than watching crappy TV. Exercise lets you get by on less sleep. The only place where you can't cut corners is with your family. Luckily, I not only love my wife and kids, I like them, so that's not a problem. I am constantly amazed at how elastic time can be. And yet, there are always people whose schedules I can't believe. Doctors who are triathletes ... my daugther's friend who is dual matriculating in science and opera ... a friend who had three kids, owns her own ad agency and is getting her first novel published. I added up your description of your days and I only total about 4 or 5 hours a day spent doing things. Seems to me you have a lot of room left in your schedule. Just keep at it. When it stops being fun, then you'll know to cut back. But for many people like us, you can go a long way before you reach that point.
posted by lpsguy at 6:14 AM on June 21, 2007 [6 favorites]

You can't do it all. It's great that you see yourself as the kind of person who could or would like to do x, y, and z. In some ways that counts for something, but realistically, you are given 24 hours in a day and and a finite amount of energy to exert in the directions of your choosing.

If you don't have time to actually practice yoga, then perhaps spend some more time reading about it, and try to absorb the concept that what you are already doing IS your yoga, if it unites all of the opposites in your life-- mind and body, stillness and movement, masculine and feminine-- in order to bring reconciliation between them. Cheerfully accept your limitations.

I want give them each enough attention that I become good at them, not just as a passing whim.

Give what you have. If you don't have it, don't give it. Don't try to measure your progress against where you feel you ought to or could be; instead, feel constantly successful and at peace knowing that you have done what you can today. At the end of every week, know you have given what you could this week.

If you don't wind up learning Spanish or taking dance until ten years from now, will that somehow diminish the accomplishment? Of course not. This is the time in your life when you are doing some things. Later, other things will replace them or become integrated alongside them.

Really, do you know anyone who is is an expert in martial arts, dance, and yoga, who is fluent in several languages and a skilled musician, all while going to school and constantly reading for pleasure? I doubt it. So rather than beating odds (and beating yourself) by trying to become that person, take a deep breath and begin convincing yourself that success in any one of these areas will be just as gratifying as in any other, and then choose a path.

Life isn't a contest to see who reads the most good books or who can attain the greatest skill. You can read all the great books you can find and never get to all the ones worth reading. Ambition is a form of desire, which, as yoga teaches us, is our way of pushing this moment out of the way in favor of some imaginary impending moment. Try to laugh at yourself for thinking that you would attempt to change your nature in order to do these things.

These are all things I tell myself all the time. As a person who studies martial arts, practices meditation, is a writer, cyclist, and avid reader, works two jobs, and has an active social and family life, the greatest challenge I face at any given moment is convincing myself that I have adequately risen to the challenge. But honestly, if the answer was "no", then all this would be impossible, and since the answer is thus a clear "yes", then it hardly bears dwelling on at all. Banish your "potential" and dissolve into what is immediately at hand, and I doubt you will ever find yourself bored, defeated, or unchallenged.
posted by hermitosis at 6:30 AM on June 21, 2007 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Wait! Did I post this question in my sleep or something? Brittanie, I struggle with this same thing all the time. Like you, I have a wide range of interests and I hate missing out on anything. I can't say I've found the perfect solution (a 500-year lifespan?), but I do have some thoughts.

- for me, this stuff is only a problem when I'm not doing anything interesting. In other words, while I'm knee-deep in a workout session or a bout of writing, I'm not worried that what I'd doing will take up all my time and keep me from doing other stuff. If I was, I would take that as a sign that I'm not sufficiently interested in what I'm doing. Maybe I should drop it.

If I'm engulfed in a task, then all I think about while I'm doing it is the task. The bad times come during pauses. I look at my lists and panic about not having time to do everything. And sometimes this panic makes me feel hopeless and so I do nothing. I sort of feel like, "What's the point? If I can't cook a gourmet meal, split the atom, write The Great American Novel, and compose a symphony, why bother doing anything at all?

This is a silly, silly mindset, and I try to tell myself that it's silly over and over. It's silly, because all it does is hurt me. I'm not happy when I'm doing nothing; I am happy when I'm doing something. So if I can't prioritize, I'm better off choosing a random item and diving into than doing nothing at all.

Let's say that you decide, "before I die, I want to learn ancient Greek, astronomy and classical guitar." You start working on Greek and spend five years on in. Then you take up astronomy and spend ten years on it. Then you die. You never get to guitar. You certainly won't have wasted your life. You'll have been busy and happy. And I really doubt you'll wind up fuming in heaven because you didn't finish everything on your list. Either there's no afterlife (my belief) and so you'll have no regrets (because there won't be a you to have no regets), or there is, and, if so, you can spend the rest of eternity pursuing the interests you couldn't squeeze in during life.

-- Make sure you're ONLY working towards your own pleasure. I don't mean simple, immediate pleasure. It can be delayed gratification. So it's fine to go through painful practice periods in order to reach mastery. But it's not fine to do stuff because you have a vague feeling of some parent or teacher telling you that you should.

If you spend six months learning piano and find that you hate it or would rather be doing something else, quit piano and do something else. Or at least only stay with it because you can foresee a time when you'll get over the hump and enjoy it. Life really is too short to pursue hobbies because "they're good for us" or because "that's what well rounded people do" or because "I'm not a quitter."

-- Most tasks can be sub-divided into MEANINGFUL units.

I'm currently working on a book. But I have a full-time job and evening commitments. So I get up at 6am each morning and spend an hour working on my book. And that's all the time I have for it.

At first, I hated working this way. With previous books, I did great, multi-hour stints. I sometimes completed a draft of a chapter in one session. I hated the fact that, in my one-hour sessions, I wouldn't have any chance of doing that. How was I going to feel any sense of accomplishment?

Then I realized that I was arbitrarily linking accomplishment to finishing a chapter. That's fine. Most goals are arbitrary. But since they ARE arbitrary, they can be anything I choose them to be. So now my goal is to write a section of a chapter.

This is a really powerful concept, because if I got really busy and was only able to devote fifteen minutes to my book each day, I'd change my arbitrary goal to finishing a paragraph. You write, so I'm sure you know that there's a huge amount of art and craftsmanship that can go into writing a single paragraph. Even a single sentence!

Lately, I've been trying a different tactic. It's a bit odd, and it may not work for you, but I'll run it by you, anyway: I was sometimes finding that I had a hard time resuming a writing project the next day. I solved this by purposefully leaving "cliffhangers" for myself.

I now spend my morning writing one section. But I finish by writing half of the first sentence of the next section. If I did the paragraph version, I would finish by writing half....

and then the next day, I find myself jumping right back in!

...of the first sentence of the next paragraph.
posted by grumblebee at 7:14 AM on June 21, 2007 [12 favorites]

Give away your TV.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:58 AM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

There is never enough time to do everything. There is always enough time to do the really important things. Be grateful that you have a full life, accept that there simply isn't enough time to do everything you'd like to do, and remember that good relationships are the most important thing of all.
posted by ambrosia at 11:06 AM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your question reminds me of the different approaches my husband and I used to have to traveling. I was into coverage, and he was into enjoyment.

When I visited a new place, I loved to cram the days full of everything I could experience and see there. I didn't want to miss anything big, especially if we had traveled far or might never be there again. My husband just wanted each day to be enjoyable. What we might miss was irrelevant to him.

While we've found ways to compromise, it turns out that most of the time, I like enjoyment more than coverage, too. It's great to have spirited interest in such varied pursuits, as it's obvious you do. If you find yourself getting caught up in trying to cover them all, though, it may help to balance that with a focus on enjoying your time. If you can focus on enjoying what you are doing, you may find that what you're not doing becomes less important.
posted by daisyace at 2:33 PM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For the record, I DO NOT watch television. I also had no idea this question would strike such a chord in others. Many great tips here — what hash helped me the most is the advice to focus on a single task in the moment that I am in the middle of it. That's what I mean by being devoted enough to each of my interests to become good at them. And I'm learning to accept that maybe I don't have time for three music lessons a week, but one is okay.
posted by Brittanie at 3:04 PM on June 21, 2007

Brittanie, this is a fascinating question, and this whole thread is inspiring! I especially loved hearing the parent perspective from lpsguy. After working full-time, playing with my daughter (4 and very bright and artistic), making dinner and bedtime, my ass is dragging by 9pm. This thread is inspiring me to maybe choose a craft or to bake, etc, at least some of the time instead of plopping on the couch. Maybe one of the keys here for those without as much time to choose a creative activity to focus on is to just choose something. And maybe the energy to do more will build from there.

I don't want to hijack your thread, Brittanie, but I for one would love to hear from any other Moms and Dads who are out there who are balancing the whole creative/work/life thing.
posted by lucyleaf at 8:14 PM on June 21, 2007

I would like to strongly second jbickers' recommendation of the book 'Refuse to Choose'. There are ways of doing everything, although perhaps not all at the same time! This book is an outstanding resource on discovering your 'do everything' style and working everything you want to do into your life. (I'm you as well!)
posted by sLevi at 8:56 PM on June 21, 2007

One of my high school counselors told me that I could do anything I wanted to, but not everything I wanted to. I'm still out to prove him wrong.

My point is, if you're motivated, and relaxed, you can do everything one-at-a-time. Some nights I feel like drawing, some nights guitar, some nights programming. I just sort of take turns doing everything, and do it at leisure (which is really the key). I play guitar until I'm tired of it, then I move on to drawing or programming. I'm not particularly fixed to a schedule.

The trick is overall persistence. I'm not fantastic at any of the things I enjoy doing, but that's not the point. Just keep at it, and you'll slowly become good at it. In the process, it slows you down and sort of encourages you to be patient, while keeping up your sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
posted by spiderskull at 1:24 AM on June 22, 2007

Best answer: Do the things you know you'll look back on as time well spent. Think about how it will be when you're 70 and you count the hours you could have been out on the sun with friends or learning to play an instrument or dancing but that you instead spent watching forgettable and forgotten television or trying to destroy another wave of electronic targets. Or time spent in threads like this. So I'm out of here.
posted by pracowity at 1:49 AM on June 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm going though the same issue - balancing work, family, social life (not much of that) with working out and tae-kwon-do and various hobbies and projects(including writing) and a long distance course I am taking which is not very enjoyable.

And I find I can't really do everything. What I have been meaning to try is split every project into smaller projects and also schedule a different activity for each day of the week. But I'm still working on implementing that :)

I don't watch TV but of course there's always Maybe I should block that.
posted by spacefire at 7:13 AM on June 22, 2007

Best answer: Just for the record, I haven't figured this out either -- in fact I could have published the same question as you. My problem is that I let my whims dictate my focus. One day I'm really excited about martial arts and I spend a few hours looking up dojos in my area, the next day I bump into a friend who just returned from overseas and I become obsessed with learning a new language, then the next day I go out and buy a soldering iron or circular saw and a bunch of "for dummies" books because I think it will be really nifty to learn about electronics or carpentry.

The problem is, all of these skills require prolonged, focused effort if you want them to be worthwhile, but I get distracted too easily by new exciting ideas. Essentially I spend my life chasing shiny objects. So when I look back over the last few months or even years, I find that I have gotten tiny tastes of lots of things, but I have not actually progressed in any of them. Then I look at friends who have focused on just one or a few things and see how much progress they have made in the same months. Expertise comes from dedication and focus and an unwillingness to be distracted.

But I have figured out some things that seem to help.

-Prioritize. Really sit and WRITE down a list of all the things you want to learn/do in life. Circle the handful that are most important to you, that you have been dreaming about the longest/most persistently, and particularly the ones that really require prolonged effort to develop any mastery (learning an instrument, language, martial art, etc.)

-Set yourself some "quotas" for these things. Not a schedule per se, but something like "This week I will attend martial arts class 3 times, spend 5 hours studying Italian, will write in my journal at least once per day, etc." (The website is great for this)

-When you get excited about a new thing, put it on your list so you can come back to it. But DON'T just chase it blindly in the moment you think of it. It can probably wait. Don't let it distract you from the things that are dedicating yourself to.

-Re-evaluate your list occasionally and bump some of the non-priority items into priority status (and set quotas for them accordingly). Again, be careful not to let whims distract you from the things you are working on focusedly.

-On your list you might have a handful of things that DON'T require prolonged effort. That might just take a few hours or a few sessions-- memorizing a poem, learning the basics of a subject, learning to cook a certain meal--things where you're not looking for mastery, just a basic understanding. Mark these things on your list and save them for a rainy day or a time when you don't feel like working on your priority projects.

-ABOVE ALL, find ways of keeping yourself accountable for the progress you want to make. Martial arts -- study towards a belt/ranking test (with a deadline) / Running -- commit yourself to a marathon a year from now / learning an instrument -- join a local band or schedule an informal recital for your friends / learning a language - schedule a vacation to that country (or a trip to a foreign neighborhood in a big city). If you actually have an upcoming sink-or-swim type of goal, you have more motivation to focus and make genuine progress.

Anyway, like I said, I haven't figured it out yet. But some of these things are helping me to get on track. Hopefully they'll be helpful to you too.
posted by Alabaster at 7:23 AM on June 22, 2007 [6 favorites]

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