As part of my September reboot, I’m looking for ways to refresh my weekly routines. I want strategies that encourage personal accountability, with a healthy dose of flexibility. The older I get, the more I realize there is a sense of freedom that comes from establishing boundaries. And, since I’m an adult, I actually have a lot of autonomy over what boundaries I choose to set – or break through!
Enter Tranquility by Tuesday.
I know some readers here follow – and have even been actively involved in contributing to – Laura Vanderkam’s work on time management. (Sarah is co-host of the Best of Both Worlds podcast and Lisa was recently a guest on that show!)
So the timing of her newest book, Tranquility by Tuesday, is fortuitous as I’ve been feeling a desperate need to “calm the chaos.”
You know this. I’ve talked at length about the challenges of renovations, overnight company, parenting, work, health issues, negative storytelling, and lots and lots of water woes. (I discuss plenty of positive things too, but there has been a liberal sprinkling of chaos and frenzy in my life recently. I’m sure you can relate.)
Most of you only know these details because you read along in my little corner of the internet, which I finally got off the ground – and into the cloud, pun intended – after participating in Laura’s Tranquility by Tuesday time study back in 2020/2021. So writing about her book in this space brings the experience full circle.
(By the way, I’m not being paid or perked to talk about the book, I just really love the message and Laura’s delivery. The fact I make a few cameo appearances – she discusses how one of her rules spurred me on to finally launch this blog and references the giant chalk Chutes and Ladders game we constructed in the driveway during a COVID lockdown, among other things – is just a giant cherry on top.)
Laura starts off by suggesting that “people want…to stop feeling like they’re either racing against the clock or wishing time away.” At the very least, most of us are likely working toward the same goal: increased satisfaction with how we spend our days.
I know I am.
So over a series of weeks, back in 2021, I – along with 149 other people – systematically implemented her nine rules aimed at “calming the chaos.”
TRANQUILITY BY TUESDAY RULES
- Give yourself a bedtime.
- Plan on Fridays.
- Move by 3 pm.
- Three times a week is a habit.
- Create a back-up slot.
- One big adventure, one little adventure.
- Take one night for you.
- Batch the little things.
- Effortful before effortless.
There’s a lot to unpack, which may be why Laura wrote an entire book detailing strategies to most effectively incorporate these rules into daily life.
Every “rule” – and I use that word loosely because she never comes across as a drill instructor – felt doable and broadly applicable. More importantly, several rules were specifically designed to bring more fun/adventure into everyday activities. And I think that final point is key: she’s not just suggesting we alleviate pain points (though she helps with that, too) – she’s encouraging readers to actively schedule time for joyful pursuits.
While all of us have unique challenges and privileges, we share the same time constraints of a 24-hour day. But the stories we tell ourselves about those constraints can make all the difference in how we structure our lives. Tranquility by Tuesday provides practical suggestions for how to prioritize the energizing parts of life, while effectively dealing with the mundane – but largely unavoidable – managerial aspects.
We can participate in a community soccer league and be someone who manages to get our garbage to the curb on Thursday morning.
After I completed the time study a little over a year ago, no one was there to lecture me if I didn’t Move by 3 p.m.; I didn’t get weekly reminders to Plan on Fridays.
In lieu of any oversight, did I stick with the rules perfectly? Not even close. I’ve already admitted to the appalling state of my bedtime this summer. I almost never planned on Friday. I frequently picked away at little things inefficiently throughout the day instead of batching. During one low point, I ate onion rings and chocolate in response to catastrophizing about how long it had been since I had been running – instead of getting up off the couch and, you know, actually going for a run (the epitome of effortless before effortful?).
But her strategies have influenced my thinking. A lot.
I show up here at least three times a week which, according to Laura, makes my writing a habit.
Would I have been as open to packing in so many summer adventures without her One big adventure, one little adventure rule? Unlikely. It was thinking about this rule that inspired me to invite a friend to go out for ice cream one night…without kids. It was delicious and a highlight of my summer. This rule spurred me to pursue a second Broadway show in New York City (which, ironically enough, Laura went to see with her son a few weeks later).
Her Move by 3 p.m. rule was the subconscious nudge I needed to start my daily walking routine (which I’ll do today for the 265th time in 2022).
Last Saturday I got up early and did a gentle yoga video instead of lounging in bed because I knew doing something Effortful before effortless would set the right tone for my day. No onion rings required.
I’m trying hard to Give myself a bedtime. For two weeks now I’ve carved out time to Plan on Fridays, and this intentional “appointment” to structure the upcoming week has felt both efficient and, oddly enough, comforting.
Last Friday, after tackling an outdoor painting project with a friend (a big adventure for me, a self-declared DIY novice), slogging through hours of a work backlog, and making even more renovation decisions, I Batched the little things. I sorted paperwork that had accumulated for weeks in an office drawer, paid credit cards, and completed an online order. I had time to do the painting job because I had Created a back-up slot (I even said “no” to a last-minute meeting pitched to land right in the middle of my Friday morning back-up slot).
I planned an hour-long lunchtime walk with a friend on the first day of school and, later in the week, an evening walk with another friend. So I took time – even if it wasn’t always at night – for myself.
Undoubtedly the fact I got to test-run these rules in my own life has given me a special interest in this project. But as someone who regularly reads time management and productivity literature, I think this is an especially great book in this genre – and not just because of my sprinkling of appearances.
Laura’s writing is practical. It’s also funny and highly relatable. I described the book to someone – both topically and stylistically – as healthy comfort food for my mind. And that’s exactly what I need as I ease into a new season at work and home. She references wanting to be a “good steward of life’s possibilities,” and I feel the same way.
Admittedly, stumbling along with my own application of these rules hasn’t led me to a state of tranquility (I’m thinking I might be too high-strung to ever achieve “tranquility”?). But they have made me feel better about how I use my time. They’ve made me more mindful of my autonomy to choose well. While it’s tempting to consider a complete life overhaul, sometimes what we really need is the inspiration to finally launch a little writing space online or pick up a dusty guitar…or commit to a 10:30 p.m. bedtime (this last one is harder than it sounds).
Early in the book she writes: “I believe the big pieces in your life are probably good. I don’t want to change those. I want to change how you spend an average Tuesday.”
Well, today is an average Tuesday. I’ve written a blog post, I’ll walk the kids to school. I have a slew of meetings ahead. Likely there will have been some little adventure sprinkled in and around the remaining hours. And hopefully I’ll get to bed on time.
Your turn. It’s an average Tuesday for you, too. How do you plan on spending it?
P.P.S. And because you know I love a good quote, here are some of my favourites from the book (I got an advanced galley version because of my participation, and pre-ordered my hardcover copy last week!)
Going to bed early is how grownups sleep in. [Sing it. After the shambles of my summer bedtime routine, I’m recommitting to this rule.]
There is no right way to do a morning routine. A morning routine exists to serve you. [Mornings are not. my. thing. and it’s very nice to not hear “Your life would work perfectly if only you got up by 5 a.m.” I can’t, I won’t, and Laura isn’t trying to make me.]
…strategize ways to ignore, minimize, or outsource anything that you’d like to spend less time on. [This is definitely an issue for me. I tend to crave control over everything, even if holding on to responsibilities that could be outsourced or – better yet, eliminated altogether – is driving me further into the chaos.]
When we don’t take real breaks, though, we take fake ones, which explains how you lost forty-five minutes the other day looking through photos of a high school classmate’s dog on social media and then clicking on ads for stylish pajamas. [I’m not on social media, but I still fall into this trap because, let’s admit it, dogs and cats do some pretty funny things that make for a great diversion from writing a thank you note or taking a walk!]
Tuesday will pass one way or another. All time is eventually just water under the bridge. But thinking about how we’d like to spend future time can nudge the course of the stream toward something more fun, or at least more memorable.
There is a big distinction between “never” and “not as much as I want.” [It reminds me of the wise relationship advice to avoid starting a sentence with “You always…” or “You never…” because, in reality, these blanket statements are typically both unhelpful and untrue.]
We don’t ask “where did the time go?” when we remember where the time went. [I have NEVER felt like a summer lasted as long as this one. And while it’s true that we started things early, I think the main reason this summer has felt so long is because it has been filled with highly memorable adventures – especially our never-ending quest to find public bathrooms on our road trip.]
Seconds tick forward with the steady beat of a metronome, and yet we experience time in vastly changing ways depending on what we’ve done with it.
To plan adventures each week, we have to plan our weeks…with a satisfying emphasis on planning what we want to do, and not just what we need to do. [I do like the spontaneity of heading out in search of unplanned adventures, but there is a special satisfaction of anticipatory delight when we plan adventures in advance. And anything can become an adventure if we make it so; see next quote.]
…adventure is more a state of mind than an objective standard of measurement.
To qualify as an adventure, something needs to be enjoyable, awe-inspiring, meaningful, or at least generate a really good story for parties. [I mostly love this quote for her permission to classify something as an adventure solely on the basis that it makes for a “really good story for parties.” This reminds me of The things that go wrong often make the best memories line I say regularly.]
A lot of time when we feel tired, it’s not necessarily our bodies are lacking energy, it’s that our minds need change. Kathleen Paley [Yes, yes, yes!]
Tasks expand to fill the available space. When we give them less time, they take less time. [Simple but brilliant. And we all know this to be true.]
Ultimately, there are no prizes given for enjoying your life the least. And there are no prizes given for being too busy to get what matters done. If you like how you spend your time, great. If you don’t like it, change it.
She borrows Brigid Schulte’s description of small pockets of time throughout our day as being “time confetti.” [This description made me smile! It sounds like something Ingrid Fetell Lee would say if she were writing on the aesthetics of time. Time confetti = a minute here, two minutes there that we can turn into something that is, if not overtly productive, fundamentally joyful.]