The Habits, Part 1

Full disclosure: I’m grumpy today. And frustrated. So you all get the brunt of it. You’ve been warned.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the things we’re supposed to do. This is the time of year when all the well-meaning think pieces show up in our inboxes and newsfeeds—you know, the ones that remind you of all the “easy” ways to read more, exercise more, eat better, etc., etc. It’s all just habits, right? “Just five minutes… Just ten minutes… Just do a little prep, a little planning, a little… It’s easy!”

Or so they say.

I call BS. On all of it.

Hear me out.

Let me preface this by saying that I totally understand the idea behind so many of these pieces. And it’s not that I completely disagree; I understand the idea of habits, and I’m going to work on my own this year. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to establish good habits–totally understand, totally agree.

But it all gets a little overwhelming…

Let’s back up and do a little math. Here are the general recommendations for all the things you “should” do to be a well-rounded, healthy person:

Sleep: 8 hours (The recommendation is 7-9; I split the difference.)

Exercise: 30 minutes (CDC recommendation is 30 minutes of vigorous exercise 5 times per week plus two strength training sessions. 30 minutes seems short, but let’s go with that.)

Meditation, prayer, spiritual growth, whatever: 30 minutes. I’m giving it 30 minutes because your soul is at least as important as your body. Time recommendations for this habit are all over the map, so I’m just giving it approximately what I spend every day–30 minutes, give or take.

Reading: 30 minutes. Again, there’s a wide range of “ideal” here; I just picked something that seems doable.

Self-care: 1 hour. I define “self-care” as meeting your own basic needs to keep your body operational–eating, showering, grooming, etc.

If I add those things up, I get 10.5 hours of just basically taking care of myself. So far, so good.

But then you add all the “have tos”:

Work: 8 hours. Of course, there’s a wide range here, depending on your job and your commute. If you’re working outside the home and you have a commute that includes dropping kids at daycare or school, that obligation could require up to 11 or 12 hours a day. Yikes! That’s half your day! But let’s just use me as an example. I work from home, so I don’t have a commute, and unless I’m going to a meeting, I don’t have to worry much about putting myself together.

Cleaning and cooking: Average of 2.5 hours per day. One blogger kept track of her time for three weeks and came up with a total of 19 hours per week cleaning and cooking. At first I thought, “I don’t spend that much time on those things,” but then I realized that I probably spend less time on weekdays and more time on weekends, so the average is probably similar to hers.

Driving: 1 hour. That’s the average for a driver in the US. I spend more than an hour driving on most weekdays. My daughter’s school is 20 minutes away, so a round trip to take her or pick her up ends up being about 45-50 minutes by the time I get through the line. I can EASILY spend 90 minutes per day in the car just taking her to and from school, and that doesn’t even factor in the other time I spend in the car.

Well, shoot. If I do all those, I’m up to 22 hours a day, conservatively speaking.

Oh, but wait–I didn’t add all the other things that happen on a weekly basis:

  • Volunteer at the animal shelter (because my 14-year-old wants to do it and isn’t allowed to do it by herself until she’s 16): 2.5 hours (including travel time) (Unless we’re doing extra, like we’re doing right now, so that we can get trained to work with more challenging animals.)
  • Grocery shopping: 2-3 hours, sometimes more if it’s a “stock up” week, because Costco takes a while.
  • Miscellaneous errands, including paying bills online, making phone calls regarding home/family stuff: 2-3 hours, conservatively speaking.
  • Socialize, because even though I’m an introvert, I’m still human, and I need my bestie, and also my children talk to me a lot, and sometimes my husband and I like to chat with each other, and on rare occasions, people invite us places or someone calls me, and sometimes I might need to babysit the grandchild….: 4-8 hours, depending on the week.
  • Random appointments or events (orthodontist, doctor, dentist, DEQ, oil change, tuxedo fitting, veterinarian, choir concert, parent meeting for some class your kid is taking, track meet, college visit, haircuts, shopping for shoes or gifts or clothes, waiting outside a school for a kid because God forbid you enter the school to search for him and embarrass him in front of his friends because now they know he has a parent, etc.): anywhere from an hour to 10 hours, depending on the week
  • That One Random Nagging Chore that No One Else will Do: An hour.
  • If we’re lucky, dinner out with the husband: An hour.

You can see why I so easily run out of my 168-hour per week allotment.

But even so, even looking at the above list of random weekly things, it’s not like all of those things happen every week. And I’m the first to admit that I could use my time more wisely. Do I spend too much time reading articles online, scrolling through social media feeds, playing solitaire on my iPad, or watching whatever random YouTube video someone is streaming on the TV while I should be doing something else? Yes, probably.

But let me submit that there are also some other factors here in the “just spend a few minutes a day doing XX” philosophy that keep XX from happening:

  • Unrealistic estimates: I never workout for 30 minutes. Ever. Even if I only did a 30-minute workout, I’d add ten minutes of warm-up time to the beginning and at least five minutes of cool-down time to the end. And personally, my workouts tend to be in the 45-60 minute range WITHOUT warm-up and cool-down time. By the time I put on exercise clothes, set up the workout (weights, podcast on the phone, exercise tracking app, whatever), warm up, exercise, cool down, stretch, and shower, it’s easily two hours, sometimes more. Could I exercise less? Probably, but I could also gain back 60 pounds, and I’m not leaving that open as an option.
  • Transition time: It’s almost impossible to go directly from one task to another, at least in my world. There are always several little niggly things that have to happen before I start the next thing. A typical transition between work and making dinner, for example, might mean that I close my laptop because a kid interrupts me to talk about a crazy dream, and then a dog wants in or out, and then a cat decides he wants in or out, and then another kid needs to know where the 3 x 5 index cards are, and then the husband has to tell me about a work event, and all of this is punctuated by several instances of “what’s for dinner?” and also did anyone get the mail? And could you take out the trash? And then the phone rings… It can easily take twenty minutes, conservatively, for me to transition between any two random duties in the day. Those 20 minute intervals add up, and they never get considered in the daily hour tally.
  • Distractions: Sometimes these things are in the mix of the transition, sometimes not. Sometimes, the distractions just make the duties go slower because it’s hard to focus. The distraction can be anything from a TV to two cats chasing each other in the living room. I can turn off my phone or bury my iPad or close my door, but sometimes, the distractions are unavoidable.
  • Exhaustion: I think this is pretty self-explanatory. At a certain point, we all collapse.

And there are the things I’m not doing on a regular basis… Church is one. I have a lot to say about that, so I’ll save it for a future post, but church can easily take half a day. I also don’t spend enough time with my parents or other family members who don’t live in this house. I don’t spend enough time training the puppy/working with the dogs, knitting, marketing my fiction, marketing my copywriting services, decluttering or deep cleaning, and probably about a dozen other things that well-meaning think pieces will tell me about periodically.

It’s enough to lose your ever-lovin’….

What’s my point?

I have one, I promise. But this is getting long, so I’m going to save it for the next post.

Until then, if anyone can get me one of those time turners that Hermione Granger used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I’d be very grateful.

2 thoughts on “The Habits, Part 1”

  1. You’ve forgotten the raison d’etre of most of those articles: they consider (as we all do) what they say to be to only valued words. Make your own way. Read them, consider if the concept is worth keeping, and regard the specifics with the scrutiny they deserve.

    Carry on. And thanks!

    1. Well, there’s certainly some truth to that–it’s all about the clicks, right? I think this stuff has been around as long as people have been doing New Year’s resolutions, but the internet amplifies it all (as it amplifies everything). I have more thoughts, though… Stay tuned… 🙂

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