Did you start finding birthdays rather disappointing once you left for college?
All the sudden, having your birthday recognized was not a childhood entitlement but rather a popularity contest. As a grownup, if you’re not dating someone, you’re probably planning your own birthday. If you don’t plan, your friends find out about your birthday on Facebook, at which point they maybe wonder if you did plan something and just not invite them. Or else you’re reduced to pathetically texting people the evening of your birthday, and then hoping someone will remember and pay for your drinks.
As an adult, you have to plan fun. All those childhood birthdays? Each one was like 14 to-do list items for someone, probably your mother. It is very rare that fun merely “happens.” Every childhood Disneyworld trip was paid for in adult frustration at ungrateful children who pee their pants in the car.
The topic of this column is getting more done by recreating like a badass. Awkwardly, in English, “recreate” as in recreation looks much too much like “re-create,” as in making something again because your little brother knocked it over.
Getting way more done than a normal person
In any case, people sometimes ask me how I get so much done, or at least how I do so many things — for instance, see Bullish Life: A Day In The Life of Bullish (Caffeine, Pinstripe, and A Lack of Time-Wasting Bullshit). One answer: I’ve never looked back and regretted some span of time in which I did too many things and didn’t sleep and it was really hard. I don’t regret doing that in the 11th grade and consequently getting into a good college. I don’t see why I would regret doing it now so my forties and beyond will be backed by greater resources. (See Bullish: Extreme Advance Planning for Very Smart Women.)
I am also one of those obnoxious people who doesn’t have a TV. I see about four movies per year. But if I really loved movies, I would watch them like a motherfucker. I feel that wasting time is like eating white carbs; if you plan to eat zero white carbs, you end up eating just the right amount. For instance, I never bring bread into my house, but I do eat it in restaurants, and also sometimes I’m really busy or at a catered event and end up eating whatever’s around. So, by never deliberately eating white carbs, I end up eating them less than once per day, which is really still plenty of carbs. I’m certainly not lacking in starch molecules.
I’m against that zombie neverland of time in which you’re not getting anything done, but also not enjoying yourself. RUTHLESSLY SLICE THAT OUT OF YOUR LIFE. So, just as I plan for zero white carbs and end up eating less than most people, I plan for zero zombie time, and end up still having some normal human amount of “Where did my morning just go?”
“Balance” is for AFTER you’ve worked hard for an adult decade or so
In Bullish: Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Should Work MORE, I posited that work-life balance is not for the stage of life when you need to be launching:
“Balance” is not for the young and sprightly — instead, think of work-life balance over the course of your entire life. Do you intend to retire some day? Would you like to have a baby and invest substantial time in caring for it? If there is some phase of your life during which you will be working 15 hours a week, then maybe you should work 60 now.
This isn’t as difficult or unreasonable as it might seem. In 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam points out that, of the 168 hours each of us has every week, spending 56 hours sleeping and 60 hours working still leaves 52 hours left for other activities — over 7 hours per day. So, cut out all the fucking around, and you can easily step up your career and life.
Here’s what I mean by “fucking around”: I mean anything that is not extremely productive or extremely pleasurable. For me, that happens when I feel like I’ve been online long enough to read everything interesting … and yet I am still on the internet. Or when I am on the train and have read all the guilty-pleasure articles and find myself perusing announcements about the weddings of actors on shows I have never watched. If it isn’t extremely productive or extremely pleasurable, just stop. Either eat something healthy that takes five minutes, or have a huge decadent meal with friends for two hours. Either go to the gym and work every fucking muscle in your body like an Olympian, or stay home and find someone to make out with.
I’m in an unusual position because I am basically a freelancer who could do paying work 24/7 if it were physically possible (or, at least, the demand for my services exceeds the supply). I regularly pay people to do things that I could perfectly well do myself. For instance, while I am typing this column, a stranger I hired from TaskRabbit is sitting at my kitchen table typing up two years’ worth of my scribbly notes. (Yes, it’s a bit awkward, but TaskRabbit is giving our city’s better-educated actors some alternatives to waiting tables, so that’s nice.)
I mention this because, when you’re a freelancer, it’s easy to get into thinking, “I want to spend time with my friend but taking that many hours off will cost me $200!” Until you realize that you’ve worked every single day for six weeks, and the last 11 of those days were less than productive due to burnout.
If you are starting a business, you may have the same mindset: Taking a break could cause your whole company to fail and other people to steal your ideas and you to miss an important phone call about the president really wanting to buy the thing you sell and wear it during the State of the Union! (Or not.)
So, it’s important to recreate (not re-create). But if you have a lot of mojo and moneymaking potential — that is, you have the ability to convert a three-day weekend into a serious chunk of cash, a business plan, a strategic thinking session, a networking extravaganza, two chapters of your novel, a line of t-shirts screenprinted with math jokes, etc. — it’s really better to get your recreation in a more condensed way.
If there are 100 units of pleasure to be had, I say jam them into five awesome hours of watching ninja flicks naked drinking homemade margaritas that you put your own umbrellas in followed by sex followed by actually doing that hilarious idea you had of posting “Dry Paint” signs all over the subway (or, you know … whatever you like to do), instead of ten hours of looking at the Internet, getting bored, looking at the Internet again, eating at the place you always eat at, thinking about maybe seeing a movie and then wandering towards the mall to see what you feel like seeing when you get there and then later you’re ten hours older and you think you saw some attractive B-list actors dressed as ancient Greeks shooting things with special effects, but you can’t remember because you’re pretty sure that same movie comes out every six months.
Nothing is a bigger waste of life than fun that isn’t really fun. (In Bullish Life: What To Do When You’re Surrounded By Lazy Idiots and Sweet, Fragile Simpletons, I recommended politely scaling back friendships with any middle school friends you’re friends with only out of habit.)
The case for planned fun
A kickass life demands planned fun, at least if you’re not independently wealthy. Specifically, a to-do list of fun. You may think it’s a bit Kafkaesque to plan recreation, but that’s the only way you end up actually remembering when oyster happy hour is and having sex while skydiving (NSFW — and even if it’s fake, it takes some serious planning to make a convincing fake video of sex while skydiving.) Furthermore, when you know that awesome-day is coming, it’s a lot easier to say no to inferior recreation now.
Last Monday, I had a full day off, my first in a couple weeks. (What can I say? I’m excited about my work.)
So, I made a list. Top of the list: NO TECHNOLOGY. (See Bullish: Pre-Internet Productivity Tips for the Young and Sprightly.) The list included a few productive but quick items, like “drop off shoes at shoe repair place.” And then it included a book and three restaurants I always walk by on my way to a gig and never have a chance to actually patronize. There was also a Korean taco truck I was ultimately unable to locate, seeing my boyfriend in daylight (I’m usually teaching when he gets out of work), and visiting St. Marx Books, which is the sort of bookstore that has an Occupy Wall Street section right up near the register.
And then I proceeded to dress in fun, bohemian clothing inappropriate for work, drop off my shoes, eat the world’s best egg sandwich in the company of my business muse Molly Crabapple, and get my nails done without checking my phone or the time (the manicure lady shouted something in a language I didn’t understand and another lady came running with a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and I looked down and realized I was bleeding everywhere, but I was basically fine with it and insisted on checking my iPhone anyway, despite the fact that blood is bad for phones). I ate Scandinavian food and drank a Blanche de Bruxelles at the bar — and just happened to think through an important problem with a business I’m starting — and then walked down the street for oyster happy hour, bought every single book I wanted from St. Marx Books, met up with my boyfriend, took him back to the Scandinavian restaurant, cabbed it home, and kept up the no-technology pledge for the rest of the evening. Enough recreation to keep me going for awhile.
A side benefit to condensed recreation: If you spend less time on recreation, you can spend more money per recreational outing.
Internet fun will not refresh you for the challenges ahead
The no-technology thing is really key to serious recreation. When you use no technology, time is so long! You know how when you go on vacation to an exciting foreign nation and then you check into the hotel and then you walk around and see all the medieval buildings and then you go back to the hotel and take a nap and wake up and it’s still light out, so you go walk around again and eat dinner and see a castle and by the time you get back to your hotel the second time you’re exhausted? It’s like two days in one! Some of this effect is the time change and just the general freedom of travel, but plenty of it is having no cell service and having better things to do than crack open a laptop.
Think about how much stupid Internet time most of us spend. Just because you are sitting in a chair at a desk in front of a computer creating a reasonable facsimile of work doesn’t mean you’re producing anything or being virtuous in any way. It’s just one of the less exotic things human bodies can do.
Internet fun is rarely as fun as real fun (for instance: brunch). And Internet fun is no morally better than television. One way to cut down on inferior Internet fun is to make a rule to only watch hilarious Youtube videos (for instance) with friends and loved ones, so it’s like TWO FUNS AT ONCE, and so you’re also fulfilling the goal of feeding and maintaining your personal relationships — and, your friends and loved ones get the pleasure of introducing you to cool things.
If you’re going to spend the next 5-15 years furiously building an empire, what has to give? Not sleep or love, I hope. Instead, cut out moderately pleasurable things that are replaceable by extremely pleasurable things (you totally can plan dirty sex; in fact, some sex acts only happen with elaborate planning).
My theory of time is like my Theory of Shoes: if they are uncomfortable, they should be beautiful in proportion. If I have a pair of shoes that is as uncomfortable — but less beautiful — than another, similar pair of shoes, I get rid of the first pair. A pair of shoes twice as comfortable as my high heels should be no less than half as beautiful. I mean, do you eat meals that are both more expensive and less tasty than the thing you really want?
Similarly, some forms of recreation are more time-consuming and less pleasurable than sex, eating, drinking, or being on a boat. So, why ever do those things, ever? Cut them out, ruthlessly.
That will leave you plenty of time to try big, risky, bold, lovely things. Try enough of them and you won’t mind when you fail at some. You may not be able to have and do absolutely everything at once, but you can have a life three or four times fuller than the lives of so many spiritually anemic people around you. Just don’t waste time. Instead, reserve time for things that are completely fucking awesome in every way. And work your ass off. And ignore everything in between.
originally published on The Gloss