During college, I always preached about how doing certain things was vital. I put it in a list of three because three is an attractive number. I said that you need three things every day — one to get your body moving, one to get your head working, and one to get your heart beating. It was how I lived my life. Naturally, I packed this in a suitcase with me when I came to Pune some seven months ago. It has been me running from one thing to the other ever since.
One word: time
We don’t have a lot of it, and irrespective of what your local Instagram guru says, sometimes, you want to do it all during the day. A friend said something profound recently. It went somewhat like the following.
I don’t understand what to prioritise about, since at this point, everything I do is a priority.
Those words couldn’t have rung truer, and I immediately stole that sentence. The reason was simple. I felt the same way, and I agreed with it. I only want three things in a day, and now, one of the three was taking most of my time.
Who wants to work their mind for hourlong stretches, right? I just wanted to do some sudoku and call it a mental exercise.
Unfortunately, real-world works differently and has different rules. When you live alone, and you try to do it right, you have to manage a place, a routine, a job, some hobbies, friends, family, and a romantic relationship, if you’re in one. I’m not anymore.
If you don’t want to keep all of them afloat, it’s a different story, and maybe this piece isn’t for you. However, if you’re like me, you probably know how picking one for the other in the name of prioritising feels wrong.
I love writing, and I love exercising, and I love my job, and I love doing the dishes. Most of all, I love a good night’s sleep.
There’s no one thing I would want to give up in an ideal world. I gave up the last one for months.
So, Let’s Go Meet Peter Parker
That sounds like a pretty balanced life, to be honest, but to balance it all at all times means equal forces from both ends act on it consistently and effortlessly. More often than not, it looks like that scene from Spider-man: Homecoming, where Peter is barely holding two parts of the Staten Island Ferry split into two.
There’s more to why that scene is essential though. Especially, when you take it in context of what we’re talking about.
One, Peter was responsible for the Staten Island Ferry’s destruction. He thought he could handle whatever he felt he could handle, but he wasn’t ready. Not that he knew it until he found himself hanging between the two halves of it.
Two, when he frantically tries to fix the ferry, jumping and running from girder to girder and pillar to pillar, he manages to tie it all with his webs. Then, he stands in a corner and Karen, the AI in his suit, tells him that he was 98% successful.
He freaks out, and as he does so, the webs start to break apart, and so does the ferry.
Why Are Those Two Moments Important?
That’s exactly how I felt balancing everything I mentioned and more some words ago. I put too much on my plate because I thought I could do it. I thought it would be the same as it has always been.
Then, when it started to fall apart, I started spending my days jumping from one to another, and at the end of the day, I’d miss something or something would go wrong, and that was my 98% every day.
I feel it is a little hypocritical to talk about it in past tense because it is still an issue I’m continually working on.
Is It Possible Then?
That’s the lesson I learned. It’s not possible to do it all, if everything is done correctly, in one day.
I know this seems like a long read to admit the obvious. However, and trust me on this one, if you’re used to handling it all more or less gracefully, and never failing to meet your standards for yourself, you have no clue how disappointed you’d be if you missed that one thing or wasn’t your best at another.
I’ve learned that a regular adult’s day is extremely stacked with so many unimportant but necessary things — something I never even considered during college or my gap year.
An initial version of this piece included a theory about applying Occam’s Razor, which is a mental model, to the idea of your to-do list but I realised that was bullshit, and it was coming out of me wanting to wrap this blog post neatly.
The thing is, almost none of my days, in the last three months or so were wrapped neatly. They were a mess, and I felt extremely dissatisfied with myself.
I’d like to mention that this feeling was after waking up at six-ish, reading, working out, making breakfast, going to work, doing some brain training on the way, meeting most targets at work, getting groceries or laundry, listening to at least one podcast episode, making some time for my part-time job, studying a little, finding time for at least one hobby, fixing myself some dinner, talking to my girlfriend, doing the dishes, and crashing in bed.
Even typing it out feels overwhelming. I’m surprised I did not faint on most days.
Here’s The Problem
Since I was spending a significant chunk of my day at work, some urge in me wanted to balance all three parts of my good day maxim.
So, if I was working my mind more, I wanted to move my body equally, and I wanted to get my heart beating by doing more things I loved. In other words, if I was doing three little things earlier, I was doing more things in each of those categories every day.
What Did I Do About It?
All that said, each one of those activities mattered to me, and they still do. Some of them are important because they let my life function, some are important because I like doing them, and some are important because they fit my long-term goals.
However, it’s essential to recognize the limits of time, if not your own body and mind.
Some months ago, I calculated the time I would need each day to get decent rest and, at the same time, do everything I wanted to do as well as I wanted to do it.
The number was 37 hours.
That number was if I gave myself 8 hours of sleep, and required rest between two opposite activities. While I joked about it a lot, it only hit me recently how tired I had been, and how much it had started affecting my health.
I got sick more frequently. I felt tired all the time. Coffee consumption skyrocketed, and that is saying something given I’m already low-key addicted to caffeine.
The Final Act
So, I did something I never thought I’d do, especially when I was in college or on the gap: I deleted my to-do list.
Now, there are things I do every day, such as getting up early, reading and working out, but none of them are tasks. It’s all just a rough time slot for when I want to do something, and I don’t do it if I don’t feel like I can do it.
All that matters is that I give some time to each activity during the week. For working out, for example, that is around three to five sessions weekly. For reading, it’s about a hundred pages each week. These are not deadlines to meet; these are just guidelines to ensure I still do things.
Some of us like doing things. The conditioning, from wherever it comes, is helpful to a certain extent, but it’s easy to lose ourselves in the motions. It’s impossible to unlearn all that in a day. It’s equally painful to do everything we consider a priority in a day, especially if we’ve stepped in the real world. It is an abstract idea to think we can do it all even if every task we have on our to-do lists falls in our priorities. On some days, it is okay to leave that to-do list and do the bare minimum. On some days, it is okay to burn that to-do list and do nothing at all.
Alternate Title: To Every Adult, I Met When I Wasn’t One: I Was Wrong; You Were Right