I have a full-time job, I pursue my own writing projects, and I make some quilts. Nonetheless, I kill a lot of time.
I rarely cook. I don’t exercise regularly. I don’t have much of a social life, unless you count the Internet, which I sort of do. The house is usually a mess. Sometimes I lose several hours on a Saturday researching some topic about which I do not need to know.
Maybe all of this is fine. Kurt Vonnegut said, “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.” But Slaughterhouse-Five did not write itself while Vonnegut reblogged Agent Coulson photos on tumblr. I would like to write more. And while it is no fair at all, when I completely neglect my health, I feel shitty as a result.
In Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, which I reviewed earlier this week, she suggests tracking all your time for a week so you can see where it really goes. I found a lovely paid iPhone app, Eternity, that makes this easy. You set all the categories you need, and then you use a stopwatch to time each activity. (Of course, I limited the categories. I didn’t want to track, for example, “pooping.”) You can even adjust the time after the fact, which is handy if you forgot to hit the “off” button and now it looks like you bathed for four hours.
And then you can see gorgeous pie charts of how you spent your time! Who can resist a pie chart?
One of my categories was “Time with Mr. Donovan” – talking, eating together, being romantic, whatever. Mr. Donovan and I spend a total of about 45 uninterrupted minutes together Monday through Friday just commuting together. I couldn’t count this as couple time, though, because in the mornings I often slept, and right after work, I frequently wasn’t in the mood to chat for a long time. Mr. Donovan would sometimes ask me one question after another, until I would say, “No more questions!” like a diva dismissing the press.
Looking at my new phone app, I suddenly realized I was wasting valuable time I could spend connecting with my husband, who I love like crazy. I was being kind of an asshole.
I began making more conversation in the car, and phrased it as though we were on a date rather than driving to work. He seemed to like it. I liked it a lot.
One of the reasons I slept in the car in the mornings, I learned, was that I hardly ever got a good night’s sleep. I have always woken up easily. Mr. Donovan snores loudly; our smaller dog goes into Crazy Puppy! mode at 3 or 4 in the morning, and I’m rarely able to get back to sleep. I had somehow persuaded myself these were exceptions rather than the rule. Mr. Donovan and I figured out a plan for me to get more rest.
I already track my time for my employer. Now, as a greeting card writer, I can’t work constantly. After a few hours of steady writing, my ideas start to suck and I need a little break. I used one of these breaks to show my boss my new app.
He squinted at it, skeptical and said, “I would need a category for despair.”
“I put that under ‘admin,'” I told him.
A year ago, when I was released from a mental hospital after a bout of suicidal depression, my doctor encouraged me to plan out a detailed schedule of how I would spend every hour of my first few days at home. For me, this structure was very comforting, giving me a sense of control. Keeping busy is one way I can avoid bad thoughts.
Of course, everyone needs a little bit of down time, and I’m still figuring that out. Does an hour of TV watching revitalize me or make me feel more lethargic? Does an hour of working on the quilt give my brain a break, or is it just more work? If I become a voracious reader again (how did I stop?), how does that make me feel?
I can’t use the Eternity app perfectly. It’s like a food diary: it encourages me to make healthy choices, but at times, I give up and stop tracking. That’s OK, too. I don’t have to use it perfectly for it to be a useful tool. It’s been pretty enlightening so far.