Don't Forget To Carve Yourself A Piece, Or The Secret To Almost Everything

   I wanted to share something that I discovered for myself recently. You know the phenomenon where you are trying hard to make the best use of your time, money or energy? To be thrifty or extra productive or eat only healthy stuff? For a while it goes great, and then something goes wrong. At the end of the super productive day you end up in a slump before the computer instead of going of to bed. Or you suddenly lose motivation and don't do anything useful for weeks. Or you splurge on something useless, or binge. Sometimes time, money and energy slips in little doses through the cracks -- you spend a surprising amount on small treats, sneak in empty calories several times a day, get seduced by the lure of social media or window shopping or conversations with people you don't even like -- and then wonder where the time has gone.

   It was when I was trying to plan my to-do list according the Six Selves of The Habits Of Highly Effective People that I had the realisation of what I was doing wrong. In short, you play several roles in life and it is recommended that you have at least two tasks for each role each week. On of the roles is called Sharpening The Saw, and it's all about rest and regeneration. And then it hit me -- on most days I wasn't actively planning anything fun for me. When I didn't plan something nice to do during the day, chances were higher that I would end up wasting time at the evening, usually at the computer, too tired to do anything that was actually fun.
  It's not a secret -- if you take breaks, you have better chances in sticking to your plan long-term, whatever that plan may be.

   I few days back I tried this theory out by taking around 45 minutes to read a book by a lake. It's just an urban lake and nothing exceptional, but I love lying on the wharf with a book, plus it's just a few minutes by bike from my home. (Being away from the house is also an important factor here -- I could focus completely on rest and not on the chores waiting to be done.) In the evening I felt satisfied with the day and didn't need to veg out in front of the computer. I went to bed at a reasonable time, and felt amazing the next day.

So, my theory is this. To make the best of my resources, I should plan:

* Me-time: no self-improvement, just pure fun or pure relaxation.
* Me-money: Again, pure enjoyment.
* Food I actually enjoy:  Good food. Guilt-free. Eaten mindfully.
* ?: What else is missing? I'll observe in the coming weeks.

Quality and regularity is quite important here. Not everything counts!

What loves you back?:

    Which activities do you genuinely like, and which ones make you actually feel better during and after? For example studies have shown that people watching TV are relaxed during, but afterwards they are just as stressed as before. Things that are touted as relaxing might not really be that much fun for everybody -- I don't really enjoy at-home-spas since taking care of my skin and hair bores the hell out of me (I just do it for the results, just like flossing). However it's really important to listen to your gut and observe what you really want and what is good to you. Don't let anybody tell you to go to the gym during your lunch break or read a challenging book when you'd much rather lie on a park bench or feed ducks.

   To find your activities for this time, ask yourself: what activities make you feel good both during and after? 


  Quality wins over quantity, especially when it comes to spending money. It makes sense to decide how much money you have for personal fun each month, and to spend it on items from a well thought-out wish list. While saving up for months on pricier designer items might be some people's approach, it's not my thing -- I wouldn't want to have to wait so long, and besides that I might end up not liking / using the item as long as I think I would. Also, transient pleasures have their place too -- a bouquet of peonies from the flower market, some really nice chocolate, crafting supplies, an interesting magazine.


   With time, it is really important to block off me-time each and every day, even just 20 minutes, but hopefully a bit more. I often take a bit of time off on my way back from work, to sit on the riverbank or have a coffee in my favourite cafe (or just the cafeteria) or sometimes to visit the current exhibition in an art gallery. When I plan the week I usually pick one day as me-day, where I plan in a bit more time.
You can't recompensate for work-packed months with a week or two on the beach, our bodies and minds don't work that way. Not even machines work that way.

   The hardest thing about caring out me-time and me-money is that you have to say no to other things and people. It might feel really self-indulgent and selfish. You need to realise two things: first, you'll probably manage the rest of your stuff better after you've carved out your piece first. You'll be more patient with the kids if you take time out for yourself; you'll be less inclined to impulse-buy if you plan a couple of special buys each month.
   Second, if you don't plan it, your subconscious will reclaim it anyway. Sooner or later you'll burn out, you'll lose motivation, the quality if yours work will go down, you will get grumpy and resentful. or you'll get sick because your body and mind will demand a break. You'll be tempted to splurge a bunch of cash just because the idea of doing something for yourself will sound so great.

For parents (or caretakers of elderly parents): 

    A friend who works as a therapist told me that stay-at-home-parents should spend a minimum of 6-8hours of personal free time a week outside the house (sans family) in order to recuperate and be happy at home. It is much harder to regenerate at home as it is simultaneously the work place, and one is constantly interrupted). So spending quality time with the family is also usually not "quality me-time".

 These are my musings on the topic so far. I have been trying to live according to  these thoughts in the past months, and I must say that I my mood is better and I feel more rested. If you'd like to share about hat your favourite mini-breaks are, let me know in the comments.

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