Thoughts on time scarcity, planning ahead, and soul dates
As a mom of two kids, I’ve historically not had that much time to myself. 6 years ago, I had two young kids at home, was commuting daily from Berkeley to San Francisco, and struggled to find time for me.
But now, I do have space to and time to myself. The kids are at an age where they can sort of respect when I climb into the attic for some solo time (though sometimes they join in with a book or crafting), Naveed pulls his weight in childcare and household chores, and the nature of split custody means that I can carve out space for myself.
I am still figuring out what to do with it — how to “make the most” out of the time, how to balance productivity with just being, how to balance getting up and doing stuff and being a blob, and how to let go of what I think I should do and tap into what I want to do.
When previously faced with unstructured time, I’ve noticed two sort of “failure” modes that can emerge.
The first is that I try to optimize the time and use it productively. The time feels so precious and scarce, so I make lists of things I’ve been wanting to get off my todo list, I fill my schedule with things, and I set ambitious goals that I don’t come close to meeting. With all those expectations, there is no where to go but disappointment that I didn’t make the most of my time. If I happen to get everything done, I feel depleted and disappointed that I didn’t prioritize self care.
The second failure mode, on the other extreme, is that I put so much pressure on myself to be more intuitive with the unstructured time that I don’t make any plans, but then I am paralyzed by the choices in front of me. Do I go for a walk? Do I make soup for a sick friend? If I make the soup, am I not putting my needs first? If I don’t make the soup, am I not honoring the part of myself that gets energy from being a good friend?
I happen to have some spacious time next week, and so this is quite top of mind for me. Here are some approaches I plan to try.
Let go of scarcity
Time is not quite as finite and limiting as I think. I’ve been known to dramatically say things like “We’re wasting our time — the weekend is almost over!” when it’s Saturday afternoon. Or anxiously watch the clock on days off and think, “It’s already 1pm and I have to pick the kids up in a few hours! My day is almost over!”
When I think about picking up new or old hobbies like piano, ukulele, singing, reading, or crocheting, I default to “I don’t have time for that.”
But I’ve also experienced the opposite, where time feels spacious, when doing things I’m energized by seems to make time for itself, and create more time.
I dug up this old post from Will Larson that shares similar insights about playing the piano — “What’s most surprising to me, is that the piano creates time for itself. Playing it creates new energy for me.”
Time is of course a real constraint, especially when responsibilities like children demand much of your time. But I have to remind myself that it’s not quite as finite as I imagine.
Reduce phone time
I am the first to admit that I spend too much time on my phone, mindlessly scrolling social media apps when I could be doing something that I would enjoy more and feel better about. Time truly flies by when you’re reading the AITA or relationships subreddits. It’s unfair really — these companies spend inordinate amounts of money and resources to make these apps as addictive as possible, and I am just one person. And there’s just enough that feels not-junky that keeps me coming back — the community on my local Buy Nothing facebook group, keeping in touch with friends on instagram and twitter, being incredibly up-to-date on reddit memes (ok maybe not so much with this one).
A few years ago, rather than think about a list of things I’d do differently, I just focused on getting enough sleep, believing that sleep was a core change that would improve all aspects of my life, from my general mood, to my ability to think and make decisions. Spending less time on my phone feels almost as fundamental, as I will actually be present to what’s happening.
I’ve made a few half-hearted attempts — I deleted the apps, but then I just accessed them through the browser. I increased friction by moving apps into folders in later screens, but then I just learned to swipe to get to them. Yesterday, I set screen time limits on my iPhone (both for apps and specific websites), so I’ll see how that goes.
I’d love to hear how any of you have tackled this successfully. I’ve heard friends and coworkers share that their Apple Watch has actually made them less attached to their phones, since its functionality is more limited.
Plan around some themes
There are probably some people that can go into time off or vacations, and just wing it, and have a grand ol’ time. But right now, that is not me. I’m likely to end up on the sofa, binge-watching Netflix, and then feeling bad about myself. (There will probably be some very welcome binge-watching, but that’s not how I’d like to spend all my time).
Year ago, when I worked with a personal coach for the first time, she sent me on monthly Soul dates, which baffled me at first. Daylong self-dates where you feel into what you really want. But she warned me that given how out of practice I was, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself at first, so I should start off with planning ahead and trying out different things like scouting out a hike or booking a massage — over time, I would be more able to feel into what I want in the moment.
I planned a little bit around some themes — Connection, Reflection, Movement, and Play. I have some plans with friends I’ve been meaning to catch up on, but other than that, I have lot of ideas I’ve jotted down as possibilities. Under Play, I have generating AI avatars for myself. Under Reflection, I have some end-of-year reflection exercises I may check out.
And of course, writing about planning wouldn’t be complete without quoting Eisenhower: Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
I don’t know if I’ll end up having a full-day Soul Date, but I’ll try to revive the intention behind them, and maybe experiment with half-days, hours, or even minutes.
On family vacations, my 9 year-old Alina has convinced all of us to alternate between activity days and “chillax” days, where we all hang out and take it easy. It works surprisingly well.
I’d love to hear from you — any strategies or mindsets you’ve found to be useful when approaching time off?
In completely different news, we got married just a few weekends ago (which is also why I didn’t publish a post), under the gingko tree in our backyard! Given how abundant and stinky the fruit is, we were unsure if we’d keep the tree long-term, but now that we got married under it and its leaves are blanketing our backyard beautifully, I think we’ll have to keep it forever.
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