How to Have Time For a Life

On Twitter this morning, the following tweet:

I looked at the tweet and realized that, in fact, I am an adult who mostly manages to do all of those thing (that is, when the cats don’t wake me up at 3am to show me their butts and then I can’t get back to sleep). It made me curious as to what factors allow me to do all of them.

And I have answers! One of them is very general, and the others are specific to me. I answered the very general one in a tweet as well:

The reason that money can increase your bandwidth is that it can let you buy solutions to time-sucking activities. This often in the form of people you pay to do things, but also in the form of goods and services that let you spend less time doing things you don’t want to do (which then leaves time for the things you do want to do). Money also lets you do things like live in nice neighborhoods with fancy stores that have organic meats and produce, go to the gyms with trainers, have decent healthcare, enjoy the wherewithal for hobbies, etc. Money solves problems, and problems take time, so: money makes time.

Sometimes. As noted in the tweet, to make money one often has to be the sort of personality that overcommits to work and/or have the sort of job one never actually gets to leave even when one is not “at work,” so the mere presence of money in one’s life does not mean that one will automatically have any of those six goals enumerated above. Money can solve problems, but the pursuit of money itself creates its own problems, and the latter can swamp money’s ability to deal with the former. Welcome to the capitalist system.

So that’s the general answer. Specific to me, here are some of the things that allow me to hit all six of those goals:

1. I am well off. See above for what that allows. Also, I am fortunate that I neither have the sort of personality that makes a pleasure of the pursuit of money (I like making money, and recognize the necessity of it in our system, but the act of making is not in itself a dopamine rush for me), nor do I have a job that requires time penalties to make money. Speaking of which:

2. I have a creative job with no set hours that lets me work from home (or anywhere else). I have to produce roughly a novel a year. Once I do that I have other responsibilities relating to the production and promotion of the novel, which take up time but also leave stretches of time unoccupied. The novels can be (and largely are) written at home, which means time usually given over to commutes and presence at a workplace (not to mention things like meetings, client maintenance, etc) are not a factor for me. Which means I can sleep in! And, also, schedule time for exercise. Additionally, the work is portable, so if I do travel, I can theoretically at least take the work with me.

3. I’m an introvert who socializes online and/or whose social life often dovetails with work. Being an introvert means that my need for socializing is less than it might be for other people, and means having social interactions via social media, texting, etc actually works for me a lot of the time. Also, a lot of my “real world” socializing happens at things like science fiction conventions, book fairs/festivals or when I’m on a book tour, which is nice because a) in the case of conventions and festivals, there are other publishing pros (writers, editors, etc, and also members of SF/F fandom) who I like who are also there and happy to hang out, b) on tour I see friends in their hometowns. This makes social activities both schedulable and pleasant. Also, you know. On a daily basis I see my wife, whose company I like, and my daughter is nearby too, and I also like her a lot.

4. My hobbies dovetail into my life rather than require space to be made for them. My current hobbies are photography, music and writing. All of them work pretty well with my work/life flow — photography I can do opportunistically as I travel or do other things, music I get to incorporate with my social activities (for example, I now frequently DJ dances at science fiction conventions), and as for writing… well, hello. Thank you for reading my hobby. (I don’t count reading as a hobby; for me that’s like saying breathing is a hobby.) There is nothing wrong, and much right, about time-intensive hobbies like, say, bird-watching or mountain climbing or community theater. But I don’t do those. The hobbies I do have are, for me, low-impact/high-reward, timewise.

5. I have a spouse who handles a bunch of stuff. To be clear, I can, and do, do things about the house (I am at home, after all). Also to be clear, the amount she does is not strictly tied into the amount I don’t do — she has her own plans for things that are independent of anything I want/need/desire. But the side effect of that is I don’t have to do a lot of things relating to household upkeep and maintenance. I’m also not going to pretend that, with regard to the work I do, the division is equitable; Krissy does more. I asked her just now if she thought that was an artifact of our personalities, or just garden variety sexism; she said probably both. More specifically, she said “I don’t think you are a sexist, but I think we both sort of fall into some of society’s expectations.” Which was kind of her, to blame the system and not me personally.

6. I’m 50. Which means a lot of set-up for those goals is already in my rear-view mirror, and I’m currently getting the benefit of those set-up exercises. There were times, mostly in my 20s, where I was not close to hitting all of those goals — my social life was a dead zone from when I left college to when I met Krissy, and when I was working at AOL in the 90s, the job sucked all the hours, because the tech ethos of “we put food and a laundry in the building so you never have to leave” is not a new invention. It all paid off, which is nice for me.

7. I’m healthy. Mentally and, aside from a temporary case of tendonitis, physically. This is not a value judgment; I’m not a better or more virtuous person for being healthy. It’s recognition that health issues burn lots of hours (and in the US at least, lots of money), and can make it more difficult to achieve those goals.

Add all of this up, and there are two conclusions: One, it is possible for someone to achieve all six of those goals; Two, that to be that someone, it helps to have specific conditions to one’s life.

(Additionally, inasmuch as the sleep goal is one I only intermittently hit, it helps not to have cats waking your ass up at 3am. I did bring the cats into my home, so that’s on me, however.)

I don’t think you have to have my life to achieve all of these goals, mind you, especially if you combine factors. If you’re someone who loves to cook, for example, you can hit three of these with one stone: Throw a dinner party and you get to work on your hobby, socialize and (depending on the menu) eat healthy. If you live somewhere you can bike to work, there’s your daily exercise. And so on. But there are conditions to one’s life which are beneficial to realize those goals.

I do think it’s harder for younger people to get all of these goals lined up. Partly because being younger means having to work crappier jobs that require more from you, and that’s been true in most eras, but in this era in particular, in which jobs are more temporary and are stagnant in wages, and younger people’s debt loads are significantly higher, it’s more of a challenge. Obviously, they’re aware of this inequity, and equally obviously, it’s not fair.

It would be nice to live in a world where all of these goals were more achievable for more people, and more achievable without the time solvent of money. Such a world is possible! We’re not there yet, however. Hopefully activism toward that goal will be more people’s hobby, and they will find a way to make time for it.