August 18, 2008

Ready, Set,... Ah Hell.

[By Crabby]

Is Transition Time Eating Up Your Day?

Does anyone else find that a really huge and annoying percentage of the day seems to take place not actually doing things, but getting ready to do things and tidying back up after the things have been done?

"Going to the gym," for example, may consist of working out for an hour or so, but is that how much time you need to budget for it?

No, of course not! Not unless you work as a personal trainer or have a home gym and happen to spend all day in your gym clothes, ready to go at any moment. Oh, and you'd also need to manage to work out vigorously without perspiring.

Depending on your routine, "going to the gym" could also consist of finding your car keys or bus pass, collecting all your gear, getting out the front door and remembering you've forgotten something, starting all over again, driving, finding parking, waiting in line at the front desk, chatting with friends, changing into workout clothes, using the restroom, working out (which could also including waiting for machines or class to start or whatever), going back to the locker room, trying to remember which day locker you put your stuff in, stripping off your sweaty clothes, showering, drying your hair, applying deodorant/lotion/sunscreen/make-up or whatever you tend to slather on yourself, putting on your clothes again, getting back into your car... and then, finally, getting ready to do the next thing.

Don't You Hate It When You Realize
You've Forgotten Something Important?
Photo by NataliaEnvy

And yet, some folks stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that life is like this. They are surprised, every single time, when things take so much longer that they should. How come the day is over already and so many things didn't get done?

It's my theory that people who tend to be lead healthy, balanced, productive, yet stress-free lives are often really good at mastering transitions.

Alas, I am not one of those people.

I would further hypothesize that there are at least two important components to mastering transitions, both of which I suck at. But if you, unlike me, actually want to work on these two things, perhaps you can be one of those Successful, Balanced, Healthy, Stress-Free Productive People!

1. Prepare Ahead or Improvise?

Some people are natural "prepare ahead" types; others may have to try to teach themselves this skill. Pack your gym bag the night before your workout! Make a list of things you need to pick up after work! Have a single place to keep your keys so you don't put them down all over the house and then forget where! Think through meal planning, shop for days/weeks/months in advance, cut things up for the week ahead, make extra portions to freeze for later, and have lots of matching food storage containers that are not warped and actually have tops!

There are people out there who actually do all this stuff, consistently, and you rarely see them at work all wild-haired because they forgot to bring a brush to the gym, or guiltily scarfing sad vending machine items because they didn't manage to pack a healthy lunch.

Those of us who wait until we're hungry for dinner and then stare into the refrigerator and realize we need to go shopping unless we want to make a meal out of microwave popcorn and canned tuna and raisins? And then three hours later we're back from the store and actually finally eating something and wondering if the dishes will just this once agree to do themselves because, damn it, it's bed time already?

We're the ones who don't tend to get stuff checked off our "to do" lists very often. (Not that we're very good about making them in the first place).

2. Philosophical or Frantic?

Whether you prepare well or not, there's a certain amount of transition time that everyone has to go through. We need to gather things up, we need to get ourselves places, we must wait in lines and endure delays and deal with things that break at the wrong time or people that don't do what we want them to.

Some people take a very Zen* approach to everyday transitions. Life is life! Might as well enjoy each precious moment! So what if those moments are piling up and you're stuck in a long line at the grocery store and the cash register does something funny but the clerk doesn't know how to fix it and the supervisor is busy elsewhere and no one is opening another checkstand and a little boy is screaming Mommy Mommy Mommy Lookit Me Lookit Me over and over and over but Mommy is still not Lookitting?

Smile! It is what it is. You'll be out of there soon enough. We'll all be "outta here" soon enough.

Anyway, others of us are not so Zen. We get frustrated and make ourselves miserable; we rush and so we forget things; we get anxious and frantic and fumbly so we drop things and lose things and break things. We try to extract revenge on obstinate inanimate objects or, better yet, find culpable humans to blame when things go wrong. We rage and fume and fret and worry, which doesn't get us through our transitions any faster or more happily. Yet to change our approach? That would mean effort!

Perhaps some day I'll join the Stress-Free Healthy Balanced Productive People Crowd, and life will seem like it's all Doing! and not so much the Getting Ready and Cleaning Up!

But then it just wouldn't be Cranky Fitness, would it?

How about you folks, are you all Prepared and Zen, or do you struggle with all the extra crap that gets in the way of Doing?

*Like many health and personal development bloggers, I often invoke "Zen" principles without having any idea what Zen is about, liking the sound of it but being too lazy to educate myself. Actual Zen people--feel free to make tsking noises, if you Zen folk are allowed to do things like that.


  1. Fo' Shizzle.

    No one warned me that with kids 87.6% of yer day is transitioning.

    So as not to trigger tantrums.

    (Hers. Not mine. Maybe. You'll never know.)


  2. Things take for-freakin'-ever to do sometimes and it seems to be getting worse. Maybe I've just slowed, but even simple meal prep takes longer and longer.
    I often do the philosophical approach to waiting in line, but as things take longer to do the less philosophical I become. I'm really honing my old, slow, and cantankerous skills these days.

  3. Part of having kids is that you learn that any activity that would take, oh say one hour, takes two. The end. So I am pretty good at not over-scheduling myself and preparing ahead of time. That being said, I hate having to wait. Being in a waiting room for more than 20 min causes my blood pressure to go up. The DMV throws me into fits of utter frustration. So maybe, I need to Zen up a bit...

  4. I just moved from a smallish town to a tiny tiny town in the middle of nowhere, on an island. Going to the store is an event, there is very little shopping to be done in the store which is the size of my living room but there is lots of chatting to do with the proprietor and my fellow townees. Nobody expects you to entertain lavishly or do lots of fancy things because, heck, where would you get the stuff to do that and why would you spend time on that when you could be hanging out with your fellow community members? What is really, really striking in this shift in lifestyle is how much my 'old' life was focused on get more done now, get in rage because more things are not getting done, to a 'new' life where not so much gets done, and that is really A-OK. And I really wonder why I got so caught up in 'getting things done' in my old lifestyle. The answer, I think, is because everyone was and it seemed normal; and here everyone doesn't do it, and that seems normal, and I will tell you it is much more pleasant even though it means you will have a noticeable cut in (a) income (b) fanciness of food (c) amount of house decoration you do or (d) whatever things you normally race around getting done.

    On a more mundane note, I handle the transition time of exercising by exercising at home, first thing in the morning before my shower. Takes me 5 minutes to put on my gear, 5 minutes to get stuff set up to exercise, and all other overhead is what I'd normally have in the morning anyway.

  5. Preparer here, but only out of self-defense and to enable myself to be lazy the rest of the week. Why cook a big dinner seven days a week when you can do it twice instead, and cover your lunches in the meantime.

    I definitely need to bone up on the zen though - waiting still kills me.

    Enhance your calm, John Spartan.

    I think what I do in order to combat the multitudes of Stuff that crop up and keep me from Doing is to plan, but never too much.

    I wake up early so I can work out and have a good breakfast.

    That's two things between 5:30 and 6:45. I hate waking up early, so I tend to cut that one kinda close most mornings.

    Then work, where I try and pick three things that I want to accomplish, and I make sure that I get those done (or as close as I can come). I add in as many other things as I have time for, but I try to focus on the three.

    Then home again, where I fail the most at actually spending my time well. Do I write blog entries? Do I read blogs? Comment on them? Write in my book(s) or stories that I owe on? Buy groceries, do the laundry, clean the house...

    Or do I take a nap, play video games, hang out with the cat in random patches of sunlight...

    It's nice not having the entire day planned out, but sometimes it does mean I get less done.

    Blogging or catnapping...hmm...

  6. “Enhance your calm, John Spartan.”

    Fabulous reference dieting ninja!

    I find that I go in cycles where I get really organized and scheduled and then I get out of that habit and find myself being drifty and unproductive and disappointed that I am not accomplishing as much. Just last night I was thinking that I haven’t been making to-do lists lately. I think that really helps me to be mentally prepared which sets me on the right track of being organizationally prepared to get more done.

    Thanks for this post, the scratch paper is comin’ out!

  7. I keep my gym bag packed at all times. I never know when I may get inspired to go for a run or a swim.

    I wear my workout clothes to the gym, this way when I get there all I have to do it find a locker, throw my bag in, and go. And I wear my gym clothes home.

    Parking, however, can be a 5-10 minute search.

    So, let's see, 15 minute drive each way, 10 minutes for parking, 45 minutes working out, 5 minutes getting dressed...

    So, for a 45 minute workout I spend about double that with preparation included.

  8. I'm definitely a planner, although it may have been more from being part of quadruplets and having parents who refused to spend their lives running to the store (on the weekends my parents would run errands, and if we remembered to tell them what we wanted/needed, they'd pick it up).

    I also tend to be zen about things like traffic lights, but get angry fast when there are huge lines and the people at the store can't be bothered to open another register.

  9. hee! I second MizFit's comment. My day is nothing but transitions. It takes me getting up an hour before the wee ones just to coordinate all the transitions that inevitably occur in the a.m. Everything just goes to pot after nap time;)

  10. The Bag Lady wants to move to Matmos's island....

    She is of the sorta/kinda organized type...she tries really hard (car keys go on the hook, lists are made constantly) but she's also a real slacker about some things (cleaning out closets, paying bills on time).

    She also hates waiting in huge line-ups (Costco comes immediately to mind - 80 people shopping; two tills open....sheesh!)

    Now, where is that island?

  11. today is a perfect example, as I was planning on wearing my (cute) workout outfit to lunch downtown with a girlfriend, then to the therapist's pffice (bet he would have a field day with THAT) and then to the gym. I have decided not to, tho, b/c even tho it would be easier, it's not exactly appropriate. So yes, I do always try to make things happen faster..the problem is, when we get caught up in the transitions, we miss what's heppening in the NOW. Like, if I was in short athletic shorts during therapy, I'd likely keep tugging at them and being self-conscious and then I'd miss out on what was actually being said!

  12. I do have a hook by the front door where I keep my keys. I got tired of losing them. I try to be prepared and efficient, but it usually goes to crap and I go to work with wet hair. Fortunately, no one cares how you look as a grad student. You could come in your pajamas as long as you've got your ass in the lab.

  13. That picture is beyond hilarious.

    I find that I manage and handle my transitions well and plan for them, but by no means does it make me any less frantic or more Zen. I still stress. In fact, sometimes because I am so planned and "ready," I don't handle things well when everything doesn't go according to plan. So, there's a balance. :)

  14. I try to be prepared because my day go sooo much smoother when I do: pack the gym bag the night before, get my clothes picked out and ironed, get the coffee maker ready to go. If I don't do these things my day is usually off to a bad start!

  15. Thank goodness for mothers!!! Getting us ready for school, etc, etc!

    But enough of that, HURRICANE coming...:-(

  16. Thankfully, living in a city and commuting on the subway to work, I can make the most of my transitions by reading (I also read and walk, which while probably not the best of ideas, is definitely making use of the transition time!). I also always bring a book to a waiting room or I'll just go nuts sitting there and waiting.

    I've really noticed the transition time in the boot camp class I teach. It's a circuit class, with 6 stations interspersed with cardio segments in the middle. And I can only plan about 40-45 minutes of that hour because the rest (fully a quarter, can you believe it?!) is taken up by transition time between stations.

  17. I try to be proactive constantly without getting a is a challenge with kids sometimes!

  18. me + stress = bad.

    However, I know exercise helps me deal with stress better. I'm learning to do both. It's tricky tho - sometimes it takes all day to just accomplish the one thing you thought of when you first got up...

  19. I'm right there with Jenn. I can't even agree to do something without taking some time to visualize myself doing it and making at least a preliminary plan for what I'll need to bring, wear, etc.

    Then as I am getting ready I feel unreasonably rushed and stressed and sort of hostile.

    At the end of the day I often feel enraged because I am still wanting to knock out more to-do items and I am feeling more frantic as bedtime approaches all too soon.

    I need to work on my Zen big time!

    But I'm always well-prepared and always on time! I run on the trail a few blocks from my house and work out at home to save transition time. I lay my workout clothes out the night before.

    Zen, why do you continue to allude me you cheeky minx!

  20. I hate waiting and I have to many interesting (to me) and fun (for me) things to do to waste any more time than is strictly necessary.

    I've therefore worked hard at organizing my life in a way that maximizes my "doing" instead of "waiting" time. It's about priorities. I don't want to cook every night or eat unhealthy meals I have to wait in line for at McDonald's so I cook every Sunday and stock up the fridge for the week. I don't want to spend my time at the doctor's office or buying new, bigger clothes, so I work out 3-5 times per week. And yes, I pack my gym bag or lay out my clothes the night before because I'm slower and more apt to forget things in the morning.

    I absolutely hate waiting when there's no good reason for it. I was ready to kill our slowpoke cashier at Central Market on Friday night. He took forever to do anything and kept getting sidetracked. At one point he stopped ringing our groceries to go take a stray shopping cart outside. Uh, hello? Customer here!

    But when the wait is expected, typical and necessary, like at the DMV or doctor's office, I consider it my responsibility to plan ahead for a constructive way to use that time. I'll take along a WSJ or magazine, or maybe a manuscript I'm editing, and wait very contentedly as long as I see evidence that things are moving along and I'll get my turn in a reasonable timeframe given the circumstances.

    But really, planning ahead is all about valuing yourself and your time. Having a single place at home and work for the keys and sunglasses, making a shopping list, etc, are all ways of saying, "My time matters to me. I love myself enough to not waste my own time."

  21. Good Point!!!!

    Transitioning costs money, too.

    I got a procedure off The Simple Dollar for actually calculating how much you make per hour after taxes, transitioning time and expenses (like work clothes, etc). Even if you're on salary. It helps you stay real about your money, which is something I have to constantly work at. :-P

    I commute on average over an hour each way whenever I have a job, day job or gig, so I'm trying to make the most of that time by doing something else. All too often I spend it doing Sudoku--where are Shamebots when you really need them?

  22. I actually work at a job where the boss doesn't care if I show up in gym shorts and a workout T. Five minutes of planning ahead is all it really takes.

  23. I'm the sort who was born organized. The idea of picking out my clothes the day before occurred to me spontaneously sometime in elementary school, and I've always been good at the getting ready and cleaning up stuff.
    I've never lived with a toddler, but now that I'm caring for a ninety-five year old, I find it much more difficult to plan, because I can't tell what the transitions are going to BE.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  24. Transition time is a huge bummer! My gym is a five minute walk from work. 5 MINUTES! But it takes me so long to shower, get dressed, and get ready afterwards, that a 30 minute workout takes about an hour and a half. Sigh. Organization definitely helps, though...

  25. Hey new to your blog and love it. At somethings I can prep ahead..or at least I like the idea. I try to make lists of things ahead of time but for some reason I still forget to pack vital things. I'm also more frantic than Zen for sure. Three kids, a hubs, and a full time job don't help my situation much either! :)

  26. I like to think I am usually prepared. I am a big-time planner and get annoyed if other people make me wait or don't plan the same way as I do which is a huge percentage of the population. I realize that not everyone is as perfect as I am - it takes time and planning to be perfect. haha

    I believe that there is nothing zen about being annoyed.

  27. I'm pretty big on planning. However, no ammount of planning can really save you when you're in school full time, volunteering 40+ hours per week and working 25-30 hours a week.

    Let's just say that now that I'm only working about 50 hours a week (and getting paid for 39... grr) I'm way more on top of things. And that's probably the only reason I've been able to dedicate any time towards getting into shape at all!

  28. Well, by nature I'm a struggler. But I hate struggling more than I hate preparing, so I've trained myself to be more of a Preparer.

    I'm pretty Zen about some things: I don't mind sitting in traffic because, hi, it's a big city and it's 5:00, and there WILL BE TRAFFIC. It's not like it's a surprise. But I'm less Zen about surprise waits - if I'm coming home from a friend's house and it's 3:00 in the morning, THERE SHOULD NOT BE TRAFFIC, WHAT THE H*LL IS THIS BULLSH*T?!

    Ahem. That preparation time is part of the reason I hate the gym so much, though. Meh.

  29. I'm a Virgo...planning comes naturally to me. Having said that, I learned long ago to take a book where ever I go.

    Line ups in grocery stores these days are a given. We don't have enough people willing to work at them with our boom, so it is a rare thing for more than two tills to be open. That is when I love my phone! I can play games, I can make lists, I can surf the net, catch up on blogs - whatever it takes to get to the till.

    Having a nervous breakdown at a mere 26 yrs old has had a profound effect on my waiting abilities too. But, I like to plan and if I have to do something with someone how won't plan ahead, it drives me crazy!

  30. Hi Crabby,

    This is the best post, with a super terrific thread of comments.

    I'd love to talk back and forth with all the great commenters, but I just don't have the time. Suffice it to say: I hear ya!!


  31. In my head, I'm a great preparer, but in practice, I stink at transitions.

    My worst offense is not being good at estimating how long something will take. I'm always running late...but only by five minutes, which really just makes me look lazy and inept.


  32. I'm entirely organized when I'm planning something that affects others. I'm totally disorganized for my own self. How I can teeter-totter like that with my Gemini ways.. Zenybody's guess. ;)

  33. Oh my goodness, it's like you nailed me on the dot! I always feel like I am trying to prepare to do! It probably doesn't help that I live in a location that requires me to drive 10 minutes before I hit the first gas station, and 5 more minutes to hit the first grocery store. If we want to go to a decent gym, we have to drive about 25-30 minutes. Ha! Just this morning I had to do the whole going to the gym routine.

  34. Planner for the most part. It keeps me calm in the long run. My gym bag is packed the night before I plan to hit the gym, but I throw (try to remember to) throw a cold protein drink into the bag before I leave home.

    I plan other parts of my life, too: which trips to combine, where to walk the dogs (especially if combined with errands). It just takes so long to do things if I don't plan at least partly ahead.

    Waiting and that zen thing? I'm working on.

    Personally, I think we should all add to our resumes that we are experts at transitioning. Just for the heck of it.

  35. I see no one's sticking up for Zen, so I will (and I really do feel this way). Buddhism is a religion, not an adjective or flippant catch-all, so to show Zen Buddhism the same respect you would for a popular Western religion, don't use the word "Zen" in a place where you would hesitate to substitute the words "Christlike" or "Baptist". Read through these comments making that substitution, and you'll see what I mean!

  36. I have a baptist attatude towards waiting. I have to, I spend a minamum of 4 hours a day traverling, more if I want to do anything other then go to work and come home. It kills me some times to think about how much of my life is dissapearing, but what can you do, right?

  37. I would actually add that Zen is a school of the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, of which there are many variations, all of which have taken on some of the religious aspects of the earlier local, usually animist or pagan faiths in the areas where Buddhism has taken root. It's in many ways more truly a form of mind training than a religion, though most traditions exhibit often extensive ceremonial trappings that have become religious in aspect.

    BUT Buddha Shakyamuni essentially said "do not worship me, do not make me a god"; unlike in other world religions he laid no claim to godhood, but instead said that he was only a man and if he could attain enlightenment, so could others, and this teaching was the way. Of course people did make images of the Buddha figure to represent the embodiment of the Buddha nature present within all people. Buddhists bow to one another in recognition of the Buddha nature within.

    Because the main goal of Buddhist study and training is to learn to remove oneself from suffering (samsara) by learning to relinquish attachment to the world of form and to reduce ego clinging (judging everything as either good or bad, which is the root of suffering), to say it's not ok to use the word Zen as an adjective is kind of missing the point, because that is a judgment of the ego, and thus something that is to be let go, so the irony tickles me.

    People understand Zen often enough as referring to a sense of peace and calm associated with enlightened beings that is difficult to obtain, and that is pretty much correct, so I personally have never seen a problem with the usage of "Zen" as an adjective, but that's just me.
    I would point out that Thich Naht Hahn is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist, (for those who are familiar with any of his teachings), and the Dalai Lama (who is fond of referring to himself as only a monk)is a Tibetan Buddhist of the Gelug tradition. Somewhat different practice but with the same goals. Neither man takes himself seriously, and both men have great traditions resting on their shoulders and yet they radiate a lightness of being and a joy that is the most amazing energy I have ever felt, they fill whole venues with their light and the most amazing sense of peace.

    So I look at lines and stuff that throws my day off track with as much equanimity as I can muster with the tools I have learned in my Buddhist studies. I can choose to suffer when things go differently that what I wanted (ego judgment) or I can choose not to suffer, to maintain my equanimity, which then turns it all into practice in letting go of the ego-self and it's resultant clinging. It really is a choice we make, but we have to begin with the awareness that we do actually have a choice, and that we do subconsciously make it. If I can see that it's not personal, that it just is (whatever "it" is), it's easier to subdue the ego that wants to fume and fuss, and find someone to blame. For example, when there are two checkers and 25 people in line and I was supposed to have dinner on the table in 20 minutes, I can choose to let my blood pressure climb and be a shit about it, or to instead have compassion for the clerk stuck there with 15 fuming people in line, and he's going as fast as he can, or not because he's freezing up in fear. When I have compassion then I am practicing. The more I practice, the more easily I attain equanimity. It's so much less stressful to choose to not have a tantrum.

    I hope that makes sense.
    However, I will also add that for long lines, I find a book is very helpful. If you have one, the line will perversely be very small or move very quickly, even if you don't try to read it!

  38. Well put, TK.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky, influenced by several yoga teachers who were practicing Buddhists, but not exactly Buddhist herself


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