I am awake with the possums and raccoons this week for my periodic week of night shift. Removed from the chaos of a house with young children, and from the daylight, my hospital office is quiet, dark, and deep. These weeks are disruptive, not only to my circadian rhythm, but also to my whole family’s schedule.
While night shift weeks are challenging, the disruption is only temporary. We just suck it up. However, it’s difficult and unwise to attempt to “suck up” those weeks with a more typical schedule, as they constitute the vast majority of the year in the Curious household.
During a normal week, our schedule is hectic: both my wife and I work full-time as physicians; we have two children—an almost 4-year-old in preschool and a 4-month-old under the care of a nanny; and I’m fairly certain we still have a dog. As working parents with two young children, I believe we sit at one of the peaks of life-hecticness, with another one visible in the distance—the middle/high school years (with the after-school activity blitz that I hear so much about from friends and neighbors).
As much as I try to impose my will on it, my day-to-day schedule is almost never exactly the same. I occasionally work odd shifts beginning at 6 a.m. or 1 p.m. Even a standard workday—in which my wife and I both work from ~8 a.m. to 5 p.m—can vary considerably due to factors both in and out of our control.
What remains constant is the struggle to find time—be it hours, minutes, or mere seconds—to pursue the activities and goals that are important to me.
A well-being index
My life to do list is constantly expanding. Many items are long-term goals that may be fun or admirable, but have no specific time frame in which they need to be completed: a bucket list, in other words. Travel, for example, would fall into this category.
Other items are daily activities that I view as necessary to maintain a healthy and sane life. If I accomplish them daily, they augment my mental and physical health; if I do not, my health suffers. Each of these activities effect a small, positive change on my well-being. Together, I have come to think of them as part of a “well-being index.”
What do I include in my well-being index? In no particular order:
- Sleep: both quality and quantity are important
- Exercise: ideally 30-45 minutes of mixed aerobic exercise and strength training
- Family Time: time with my children and wife (and dog. Sorry you are parenthetical, Rio!)
- Meditation: preferably 15-20 minutes per day
- Self Education: lifelong learning is important to this curious dude. Books and podcasts are my media of choice.
- Leisure/Down Time: sometimes I just need to kick back with a beer and go down a YouTube rabbit hole for a while.
Each activity that I can tick off on a daily basis is an extra “point.” I don’t regularly tally up these numbers, but I do keep an unofficial count in my head, and I notice changes in my mood and attitude during long stretches of particularly high or low compliance.
Some items on the well-being index are fairly universal; I’d imagine that quality sleep and exercise would be included for the vast majority of people. But on your well-being index, you may include other items quite different from mine. More important that the items included is the forced introspection entailed in creating your own index, and the discovery of what happiness and satisfaction means to you.
Days of my life
To summarize so far: There is much I want to do, but not a lot of time in which to do it. I am reminded of a simple yet powerful quote that changed my mindset about time management:
“You don’t find time, you make time.”
It’s not easy to make time, and most days I fail to perfectly attain all 6 components of my well-being index. The average day is probably closer to a 3, with a particularly bad day a 1 or even 0. Each item is not all-or-nothing; for a few minutes of meditation, for example, I might assign a value of 0.5.
My workdays fall into 3 general categories: the elusive, rare perfect day; the common average day; and the thankfully also-rare bad day.
Again, the numbers are subjective and arbitrary, but you get the idea. The closer my days get to perfect over longer stretches of time, the more calm, relaxed, and happy my life becomes.
Can I increase my well-being index score?
I’d love for more days to approach my perfect well-being index score of 6, and I can think of several ways to do accomplish this.
Retire: The most obvious solution to free up more time for these activities is to retire early and completely. I’m not psychologically ready for this yet, even if I had enough money to pull the plug right now. At some point, my well-being index will be permanently elevated in retirement, but until that time I want to explore other solutions.
Work part-time: Any move which minimizes those big “WORK” blocks in the middle of my daily schedule increases the chance of higher well-being scores. At my current practice, a part-time position would mean working one week on and one week off. Free time during my weeks off will almost guarantee increased well-being index scores, but I still have the specter of average and bad days hanging over me during working weeks.
Tweak my current schedule: In the short-term, this is the most straightforward and realistic solution. However, it can only take me so far, and there are only so many hours in the day. Like skinny jeans, too much squeezing in one place can leave you popping out in another.
I have, for instance, attempted earlier wake-up times for a week or more. Morning is reliably the quietest time in the Curious household, and on my most ambitious days I have knocked out exercise, meditation and a little reading before anyone else wakes up. But almost invariably, I fall out of this habit for one reason or another. It might be a bad night’s sleep that sees me hitting the snooze button come morning, or a string of pre-dawn awakenings in my older child.
But I haven’t given up, and I am constantly searching for the best solution to my time puzzle.
Accept imperfection: This final approach is fundmentally different from the first three: in lieu of a change in schedule, I would attempt a change in mindset.
Most of my schedule disruptions—and I would guess those of most parents—are tied to the whims and moods of the tiny humans that reside in my home. Instead of becoming frustrated by one of these disruptions, I could opt to express gratitude for my two healthy, lovely children and the joy they create. In truth, I will probably never have a perfect day according my well-being score, but I can choose to see each day as “perfect” in its own way.
In the end, any approach that gets the job done—i.e. increases happiness and satisfaction in my life—could be seen as the correct one. If it merely entails a change in perspective rather than an actual change in my schedule, so what? The ends justify the means.
In other words, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Simple advice is often the best.
What is your daily schedule like? Do you find the time to improve your well-being? If so, how? What items would you include on your well-being index? Please comment below!