“How We Spend Our Days Is How We Spend Our Lives”

Mar 26

Pen, Diary and GlassesAs I told you last week, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life is one of my essential books on writing. Among my favorite parts are Dillard’s reflections on time and, what Maria Popova of Brain Pickings calls, “the tradeoffs between presence and productivity.”

Before sharing tales of some of history’s most disciplined writers, Dillard reminds us

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.

With Dillard’s words dancing in my ears, I came upon this quiz at The Happiness Project on knowing oneself better through understanding the rhythm of one’s days. I’m a sucker for such things and thought it would be fun, and perhaps even revealing, to reflect on my own answers. If how I spend my days is how I spend my life, what do my daily choices say about me?

Let’s find out:

Would I rather be ten minutes late or ten minutes early? Ten minutes early, without a doubt. I cannot abide being late.

What errands do I regularly do? How many times each week? Thanks to the wonders of Amazon Subscribe & Save, my only regular errand is a trip to the grocery store, usually once or twice a week (though this New Yorker article is making me rethink my already shaky devotion to Amazon).

How much control do I have over my time: what time I get up, go to work, go home, go to the gym, leisure time? My husband and I both work from home and have mapped out a pretty clear division of labor so I have about as much control over my time as I’m going to have while still being a mom to three young children, only one of whom is in school all day. Not having more control over my time given the vicissitudes of parenting is one of the big challenges of this season of my life and one that I’m trying to get better about all the time. Not easy.

How much time do I spend commuting or taking other people to activities? I have no commute. My husband and I take turns ferrying our kids to and from school and their schools are close to our house. (My oldest son’s school is close enough that we can walk; I hope we’ll do that more once the weather allows.) My kids only do one activity each and the only one that involves a drive is my oldest son’s weekly rock climbing class.

Would I like to spend more time with friends, or by myself? At the end of the day, I usually choose to spend time alone or with my husband, though I am always glad when I spend quality time with a friend or an intimate group. (In true introverted fashion, I find “mixers” or cocktail parties to be one of the lower circles of Hell.)

At what time of day do I feel energized? When do I drag? Unfortunately, I tend to feel energized at night and drag during the mid-afternoon – not the ideal set point for a mom of young kids.

Do I like racing from one activity to another, or do I prefer unhurried transitions? I don’t generally like feeling rushed, though it can be energizing from time to time. Like most of us, I bet, I like dictating my own schedule and my own pace.

What activities take up my time but aren’t particularly useful or stimulating? I spend too much time watching TV and mindlessly surfing the Internet.

Do I want to spend more time outside? I wish I could say yes, but I fear that, at my core, I am an indoor kid.

What stores do I often visit—for necessity or for fun? I almost never go into a store other than a grocery store and do almost all of my shopping online. That being said, I don’t know that I’ve ever walked past a bookstore without going in.

Do I have several things on my calendar that I anticipate with pleasure? Umm, that would be a no.

What does my ideal day look like? Waking up without an alarm (human or otherwise). Staying in bed with a good book. Going for a run. Having a healthy breakfast that someone else made for me. Reading and doing puzzles with my kids. Writing for a few hours. Practicing yoga. Going out to dinner with my husband at my favorite Italian restaurant. (My last birthday was a pretty close approximation of this ideal.)

What can I do for hours without feeling bored? Read. Hang out with my husband and our friends. Drive while listening to NPR.

What daily or weekly activity did I do for fun when I was ten years old? I would play in the woods outside my childhood home for hours. (Hmm, maybe I’m not such an “indoor kid” after all.)

What does the rhythm of your day say about you? Are you a sucker for online and magazine quizzes like I am?

Image: Pen, Diary and Glasses by Generation Bass via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea March 26, 2014 at 8:53 am

The rhythm of my day says I need to find a new job (or no job at all). I’m not a sucker for quizzes of any type, but this one seems like a useful and interesting soul-searcher. Maybe I’ll give it a try myself…


Kristen March 26, 2014 at 11:51 am

Sucker though I am, I found this quiz particularly eye-opening. It made me realize that I’m not always (or even usually) spending time the way I really want to.


Lindsey March 26, 2014 at 9:18 am

Love this, love the quote, love Dillard (am in the middle of a review of An American Childhood right now!), love the insights. Yes. xox


Kristen March 26, 2014 at 11:52 am

Thank you! Can’t wait to read your review. xo


Jessica March 26, 2014 at 10:57 am

I loved Dillard’s The Writing Life! I enjoyed reading your answers to these questions. If I were to take this quiz, I’m certain that several of my answers would be similar to yours. I’m thinking especially about Amazon and cocktail parties. ::)))


Kristen March 26, 2014 at 11:54 am

Just this morning I received an invitation to go to a mixer and I actually shuddered upon reading it. (Maybe we’ll need to start a support group before the holidays.) :)


Amanda March 26, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Oh the lost hours outdoors, I talked to trees for so many years. Loved this. Our child-selves are not so deeply buried after all, are they?


Kristen March 26, 2014 at 12:52 pm

I just heard from a friend that she bought herself an old-fashioned red bike that she can’t wait to trick out with a bell and basket. A bike! I used to ride all over town for hours and hours. And now I haven’t been on a bike in years. But now I feel my legs aching for one.

No, not so deeply buried at all. xo


slamdunks March 26, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Well you sold me on your perfect day: no alarm clock, reading, a run, and a dinner of Italian food–definitely an A+.

I wish my day were more routine-oriented, but with the bad winter that impacted schools being open, it seems like I have been playing catch-up since December.

But I am a sucker for quick quizzes as well. There is one that asks questions about phrases and then tries to predict what part of the US the reader is from. I am going to use it as a post soon.

Enjoy your weekend Kristen.


Kristen April 3, 2014 at 1:30 pm

I love that quiz! I’ve shared it with several people and it’s been fool-proof so far.


Nina March 26, 2014 at 11:21 pm

This is such a great post (LOVE Dilliard too). What a cool exercise. I learned so much about you– and yes–I’d learn some things about myself by answering. The question about what I liked to do when I was ten . . . I’d really have to think about that!

Loved your comment about “mixers.”


Kristen April 3, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Funny, Nina, I would have pegged you as an extrovert. Or maybe you’re like a me, an introvert with high connecting tendencies (i.e. introverts who can pass as extroverts at times).


Privilege of Parenting March 28, 2014 at 1:04 am

I read this during a rushed lunch between clients, squinting at my phone in a diner, nodding and agreeing with much of it (although I must admit to running a bit late rather than early), and then I couldn’t find time to leave my comment until 10pm… and even though time seems so precious and fleeting, your words helped to slow things down and it almost felt like you were telling my your thoughts as we met for lunch :) An introvert solution—imagined socializing?


Kristen April 3, 2014 at 1:32 pm

“Imagined socializing” reminds me of a “virtual salon” that a dear friend of mine once imagined… xo


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri March 31, 2014 at 12:56 pm


I love this meme. This is a fun exercise to really dissect our days. Of course, that Dillard quote is one of my favorites.


Kristen April 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Thanks, Rudri! I’d love to see your answers!


Rachael March 31, 2014 at 10:14 pm

The first question stopped me. Of course I would rather be ten minutes early. But then why am I nearly always just a bit late?


Kristen April 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Ahh, the truth that a simple question can elicit!


lisa April 1, 2014 at 1:21 pm

This is a wonderful exercise in analyzing our lives and where we spend our time. It really says a lot about our priorities. I enjoyed reading your responses!


Kristen April 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Thanks, Lisa!


ayala April 10, 2014 at 8:05 am

Love this! Love the quote. Thank you for sharing. :)


Kristen April 10, 2014 at 1:31 pm

And thank you for reading! xo


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