I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes an ideal day, and by extension, an ideal life. If you have noticed, I haven’t updated my blog or posted anything personal in a while, although I have been posting the author interviews on schedule. The reason is that a lot has been going on in my personal life, and the blog took a bit of a backseat. Besides, I was trying to be productive and complete many projects that I had promised myself I would.
I also recently moved to a new place, and had all the attendant hassles that go with that. But the move has done something else - it forced me to confront how I was scheduling my days, simply by changing my surroundings so drastically. I work from home, so as my home office changed, the patterns of work changed, and I have been asking myself what is the best way to plan the day. Maybe it is also to do with the ending of a year, beginning of another one. I have been trying to complete as quickly as I can projects that I had hoped to be done with in 2016. And in other ways I am recalibrating, and assessing how much I did do, what I can realistically plan for the next few months, and all of that wonderful end of year planning that one tends to do but can be depressing, or at the very least, sobering.
And in all this, I have been asking myself - if I could craft my day any way that I chose, what would I do? Sometimes I feel that I obsess about productivity for its own sake, without looking at the bigger picture. That is actually a theme I have been thinking a lot about, and some conclusions I came to will impact the kind of work I take on, and even the blog, from next year. But in the meantime, it is a question that I want to have an immediate answer to at present - if I could work on a project, what would it be? Should I keep working, or take advantage of the lovely weather and go for a walk? Should I meet my friend or hole myself up in a cafe and get a couple thousand words written?
Maybe these aren’t such big important questions? But taken another way, they are a lens with which to view life, and even to decide your philosophy on what makes for a good life. Is it better to spend hours at a desk hammering away, missing out on friends and family and even fresh air, but then finally completing that novel or that symphony or writing an important scientific paper? Or would it be better to look back on the past few months and recall the many times you went out with a friend, cooked a meal for a loved one, took long walks and read a few good books? I know it may not be the case for everyone that life choices are so stark as these, but this isn’t as far-fetched as you may think. I listen to a lot of podcasts where successful authors come on and discuss their strategies, and one thing I took away from many of these sessions is how hard the authors worked in the initial years - when the money wasn’t coming, when the work was hard, when they were toiling away for hours at their manuscripts. And then I go on Instagram and Facebook and see my friends eating at lovely restaurants, and going on holidays and posting fab pictures. Paradoxically, so do some of these writers, actors, celebs who are successful and have the time and money to go on holiday to exotic places and post pictures.
But the question I ask myself is this - would it better for me to enjoy my youth and the sun and the good times now? Or work hard, toil away so that I could do that in the future - although there are no guarantees and not everyone achieves success? Maybe these are even the wrong questions to ask. Maybe the real question is what do you most love to do with your time? If you love to create, then you should, regardless of the reward.
Then again, is it that simple? I love to write, when the writing is going well. But then as I start a new project, maybe something harder, more ambitious than my last one, the writing doesn’t go well. I don’t think I will be able to do it. I feel frustrated. I definitely don’t love it at that point. I would much prefer to go watch a movie or read a good book. And sometimes I do. But then the challenge of the book beckons, at least it beckons enough to ruin the experience of the movie or the book. Eventually I know that I couldn’t be in peace till I tried at least to write it.
And maybe that really is the answer. That balance doesn’t come from writing for 3 hours in the morning, going for a walk in the afternoon and then going to bed early. That kind of schedule might work for some (many famous writers in fact follow this routine), and for others it might be something they have built up to after years of struggling. But balance in life doesn’t always have to be the same as symmetry, or doing the same thing every day at the same time. Laura Vanderkam wrote in her book 168 Hours that balance could happen over a week, and I would go so far as to give an even bigger timeframe. It is okay if while you’re writing the last four chapters of your PhD thesis you eat Chinese food and only occasionally hit the gym, as long as you get the chapters done, and get back to a healthier lifestyle once those chapters have been handed in. It is okay to be a hermit while you write a draft of your novel for 3 months, working after work and on weekends, as long as you emerge, catch up with friends, and don’t place all your hopes and dreams on one manuscript.
Perhaps balance looks different for different people, and what matters more than crafting the perfect day is crafting a mindful one, where you make choose how you spend your time.