April 9, 2022

Planning for More Time Doing Nothing

I recently read and loved this article by Nir Eyal on how Planning Ahead Is the Key to Living With More Spontaneity. The title is intriguingly contradictory, but it’s something I’ve known about myself for a while: if I can strictly plan everything I have to do (with the help of a to-do list or calendar), I can comfortably waste some time, even if everything else isn’t done yet. Timeboxing makes it a lot easier for me to enjoy the time I’m wasting, rather than worrying about “goofing off” and doing something unproductive, and it’s part of why I love jotting down schedules of when I’ll get to which chores, even if I don’t need to be accountable to anyone but myself.

I’ll admit, my therapist probably wouldn’t like that I’m still concerned with wasting time. One of her assigned goals for my leave from work was to get more comfortable not having a plan, and to get more comfortable doing nothing. (“What you call frittering away your time is actually building a different muscle.”) Anytime I do something I think of as wasting time, like scrolling social media or watching TV, I feel horribly guilty afterward, and end up judging myself for not doing something productive. I end up not even enjoying that relaxation time, because I’m too busy thinking of all the other things I could have / should have been doing! In the last few months, I think I’ve gotten a lot better at relaxing, without that big dose of guilt… but you’re still probably not going to find me doing much meditation anytime soon 😉

I’m getting ready to go back to work next week (!), and in this final week of my leave, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I’ll do things differently, and the equilibrium that I want to find. In 2021, I was working way too hard and not taking enough time to relax. Meanwhile, in this first quarter of 2022, I honestly feel like I’ve spent too much time relaxing. It was certainly necessary for me to have that complete downtime, to recover from my burnout, but I’m now itching to get back to productivity. However, I know it’s going to be challenging to find that middle ground, where I’m accomplishing all I want without burning myself out to do so.

I’ve been really missing my friends and socializing lately – a product of both the last two years of the pandemic, and more acutely, the last two weeks of total isolation I’ve been in while I’m freezing my eggs. My egg retrieval surgery is finally happening tomorrow, and I’m so excited! Not only for the end of the hormones, which have been making me absolutely crazy, but also, so I can get back to running and seeing my friends. Although there’s a long list of restrictions while going through stimulation meds for egg freezing – hot tubs, sex, chocolate, and any tiny milligrams of caffeine (including decaf tea and coffee) – it’s the exercising and socializing that I miss most. With the end of my egg freezing journey timed to coincide with my return to work, there are going to be a lot of changes afoot.

To build the schedule I want, I’ve been thinking about what my dream day is. (And really, what my dream week or month is, because I recognize that balance usually has to come across a longer period of time than just 24 hours.) As I think through my realistic dream week, it’s something along the lines of spending my weekdays doing a short-but-intense workout in the morning, working a nine or ten hour day, then shutting down my laptop (not going back to it periodically throughout the evening!) and meeting up with friends for some sort of social activity. I really miss going to concerts, lectures, trivia nights, art classes, and other events that COVID has called off. Doing a variety of activities makes me feel really alive, like I’m living life to the fullest; as much as I love trying new restaurants, I want to get back to socializing outside of just going out to eat.

I’ve decided that for my initial return to work, I’m going to make a lot of weeknight plans for these sorts of activities, to keep myself from falling into the trap of working late into the night because I didn’t have another plan anyway. But eventually, I’d like to make plans with friends two to three nights a week, and leave my other nights as unplanned downtime to cook, read, and relax. I just need the training wheels of my plans until I can trust myself to set proper boundaries, so I don’t let work take over that downtime!

As far as weekends go, I have fewer concerns about work encroaching there – my current group at work doesn’t schedule many meetings / calls on Saturdays and Sundays, and I’ve generally been good about not doing too much work on the weekends. (Granted, it takes me a lot of late weeknights to make that possible, so there will still be some adjustment if I’m trying to work fewer hours during the week.) But even though work hasn’t been an issue on weekends, I want to do a better job of making enough plans to keep life interesting, while still giving myself the flexibility to relax and smell the roses.

Over the last few months, it’s been really nice to have friends call me up with last minute plans, and realize I can actually accept them because I didn’t have something else already planned. It’s been delightful to get the urge to read a book, and have the freedom to immediately snuggle up on the couch with Sadie (we are both obsessed with this heated weighted blanket) to read. And I’ve loved going for walks around the neighborhood with my BFF, without having to worry about the pace we’re going so I can get home for my next appointment. And most of all, there is nothing more decadent than being able to go out for a trail run and keep running as long as I want.

I love heading out on a familiar running route, but adding extra loops or even letting Sadie pick which way we go, without having to worry about being home by a certain time. Sometimes I set out thinking I’m only going to do 3-5 miles, but the blue Colorado sky and beauty of the mountains keeps me out for 10 or more. I luxuriate in getting to run forever on weekend mornings, and now that it’s spring, I’m looking forward to more days doing just that. I used to jokingly refer to my Sunday long runs as my “Church of the Holy Trail” – sometimes even listening to actual sermons or Christian music while I run. There is always something so spiritual about being out on the trail, enjoying nature, with no other people around, and I can’t wait to get back to that.

A solo adventure last fall in Grand Lake, where I ventured up the East Inlet Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park for what ended up being 19.7 miles, before heading back to the real world to celebrate the wonderful wedding of my friends Sara and Torrey.

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