As someone with very little self-discipline, whose primary source of (terribly inefficient) fuel is self-motivation, I’m fascinated with and romanced by the idea of a daily routine. I am constantly on a quest to devise one for good (both: the greater, and lasting). Many a sticky note has been lost to this cause. Thus, I am fraught with an insatiable, voyeuristic curiosity about how other people spend their time. I’ve been known to corner friends with the phrase, walk me through your day. Sure, collated data, like the American Time Use Survey exist to inform a broad understanding of how we collectively negotiate 24 hours, but I’m too nosy for numbers. Charts and tables are so impersonal (with the occasional caveat: the Feltron Report is a quirky favorite); although the advancing field of individual data tracking does excite as it lends to the potential to analyze hours of me time. But, eventually, even I get tired of me. (Improbable! You say.) Try as I might to nerd out on analytics, what I really want is to poke around and see what everyone else is doing while I’m massacring sticky notes.
There are moments in which I am not a fan of being asked how I spend my time. Even as a casual parcel of conversation, What did you do today? can be a loaded question, disguised as an routine, harmless tick-box exercise. In fairness, most people, likely, are not aware that this topic is ensconced in bit of sensitivity; but consider the ease with which a conventionally employed person can respond with a dismissive and deceptively simple, Oof. Long day. Because I manage myself from home, I feel compelled to provide a substantial list of concrete tasks to satiate my listener. Often, I feel as if the asker is – subconsciously or otherwise – requesting an account of my day and evaluating if what I’ve done is deemed of value. How I spend my time is not up for judgment.
I don’t know if these questions are informed by assumptions that working from home is like a vacation (more variable! more exciting!), misplaced concern (does she have enough to do to keep her sanity?) or simply a mirrored fascination with a day unlike one’s own. Expectations tied to the validity of an individual’s productivity are considerably affected by one’s choice of workspace. Sometimes, in such situations, I too want an easily acceptable social write-off.
A self-identified stay-at-home mom, Annabel Monaghan wrote a blog post last year, imploring, Please don’t ask what I’m up to today. I think this applies equally to the unconventionally employed at-large (which I would argue includes stay-at-home moms). I get her point about gender equality, when she says, “There is no way in the world Sheryl Sandberg’s husband asked her what she was up to when she left the house at five this morning”. Then again, why shouldn’t he? Why do those working in an office get a free pass?
Try getting someone who works in an office to explain what they do. Not their job description, but their actual 9-5. As an equal opportunity investigator, I’ve persisted in attempts to find out what this type of day-in-the-life-of looks like. This was especially torturous living in the DC area, where every job is inexplicably classified. But you’re an intern at the Zoo, I found myself saying one happy hour.
Part of my frustration comes from a belief that favors demystifying the lives of women; still, largely, the ones at home (or flexibly working) for various reasons in various capacities (demystifying the lives of men who undertake similar arrangements is equally enticing). I don’t think we are accustomed to seeing a range of diversity – which is why questions about Work-Life Balance and Having it All became dated archetypes, laden with assumptions about women (as opposed to gender imbalance), existing in amorphous corporate jargon devoid of protagonists.
Knowing what women do and how they think is a necessary excavation. In terms of writers, supposedly, women are sharing too much in a Golden Age of Confessional Writing. (Those same writers are critiqued when they don’t go far enough.) It should be women’s prerogative to shock and share, if they feel compelled. Oh no! Too many women talking about their personal lives, they say. Paradigm shifts are imperfect.
I’m excited to see where it all leads. For now, I’m driven by a bigger curiosity: how does everyone else do life stuff? What are you up to? What am I missing out on? What can you teach me? I’m compelled by the ordinary choices, understanding why individuals shape/are shaped by their day. Where is the motivation? What are the trade-offs or limitations? Is it all the same? Or is each day new and different? I want it all contextualized, which is why I predominately harass those I love. And perhaps my ongoing quest is also propelled by a writer’s obsession with empty space and how shit gets done. Curiosity bred by time.
For more on procrastinating by reading other people’s routines, Google: “writer habits” and various iterations thereof. See you in a few hours. It may give you good ideas, it may cure your FOMO; it may even give you something to talk about over happy hour.