Pushback against my last post -- Is organizing leisure time necessarily "neurotic"?

I've gotten some pushback from my last post.  I wrote about organizing leisure time, and pronounced my verdict on it: neurotic.  I heard someone talk about the topic, and thought of a woman I know who schedules every minute of her waking day.

If she could, I'm confident that she'd also schedule her sleep time to optimize the amount of she spends dreaming in REM sleep versus the time she spends in the mental emptiness of Slow Wave Sleep.  Unfortunately, her prefrontal cortex is off-line while she sleeps, and so she lacks the neural circuits needed to follow the plan and keep her sleep-time activities optimized and moving to the pace of a clock.

But when her daily workday is done, she pulls out her scheduler to see what's next.  Weekends? Miraculously planned down to the minute.  Vacations? Perfectly optimized for maximum activities.  She may not relax or have many spontaneous moments, but she's the most productive vacationer I know.  When I think about "organizing leisure time", I think of her.  In part, she motivated the last post. 

But here's the pushback I've received from some who read it:
Say you schedule a movie into your calendar. On the day of the show, you estimate how long it takes to get to the theater, and leave home early enough to get tickets and refreshments before the film begins. Isn't that organizing leisure time?  Yes.  Neurotic? No.

What if you block out an afternoon in your schedule to enjoy some down time.  Next Sunday, maybe next Friday afternoon as well. Don't schedule any appointments during those periods; that time will be yours annd yours alone. Isn't that using organization and planning to protect and enhance your leisure time? Yes.  Seem neurotic? Nope.

Can organization and planning sometimes be worthwhile tools to bring to bear on leisure time?

Say "Uncle."

Organizing leisure time, an exercise in neurosis


I heard someone talking about organizing leisure time. I understand the impulse. But I also think it's a little nuts.

"If I don't schedule specific leisure activities for specific times, I won't get the most out of my week. And I may never get around to doing anything fun."  Really?  After you've gotten yourself so organized, time-conscious, and bursting at the seams with scheduled activities that you have no time to relax, is the answer to apply your hard-won neurosis to leisure time as well? 

Read, listen to music, take a walk, maybe a hot bath. Turn off the timer.

Is this is a uniquely American neurosis? I'm imagining that some of my fellow Americans will read this post, see the irony in organizing their leisure time, but also think 'Maybe it's not a bad idea'.  They'll Google the topic as soon as they're done reading this post, if they haven't done so already.  Or perhaps they'll add "Look into organizing leisure time" to their weekly planner just under "walk 4 blocks and look at the trees".

Honesty forces me to admit that the idea of over-organizing bugs me because I'm an occasional over organizer.  Scatter-brained by nature, I get a kick out of organizing like a lethargic personality gets a kick out of amphetamines. Collecting, organizing, ordering can be satisfying. But, like other extreme ways of being, it can be addicting.

When it comes to our leisure time, let's give ourselves permission to disconnect, really disconnect. Shall we?

Learning can be fun!

They were an unconventional group of students in an institution designed for them. I was hired to teach them statistics, and was determined to make it fun for them. They didn't learn anything, and had a great time doing it.

Waiting for the bus to City College, my mind reaches back to the time I was teaching students at a place called Union Institute. It was one of my first teaching experiences, and the students were working toward their PhD in Clinical Psychology.  It wasn't your typical university.  The students would ask a teacher for their CV, send it to the school's central headquarters for approval, and then arrange for the class in any way that the teacher chose. The structure was very loose and relaxed.

Union, I'd soon learn, was great for students who didn't fit into a traditional university environment. One of the students I taught had narcolepsy, and Union allowed him to schedule classes at a time when he was least likely to have a sleep attack. Another student, who became a close friend of mine, had ADHD.  With Union's flexible format she could work at her own pace and in a way that fit her learning style. Her research interest, motivated by her own past, was about whether Ritalin use in childhood predisposes you to stimulant drug addiction in the future.  

In a typical 'class', I'd assign a student a chapter from a textbook in Biological Psychology, and at the end of the week we'd meet and discuss it.  Too unstructured? Not enough oversight regarding standards? Could be. But I didn't worry about it.  All my experiences with the Union students were great. It would be several years before I started teaching at Columbia.  At the time, I was doing postdoctoral research and had almost no teaching experience. So I was glad for the opportunity to teach, and also happy to make some extra cash.   Besides, the flexible Union approach fit my own preference for a relaxed learning environment.

In the last class I taught for Union, several of the students whom I'd taught individually asked me to give them a group class in statistics, one of Union's required courses.  I knew that they were not big fans of math and were approaching this class with trepidation. So I decided to make it as fun as possible.  I'd come up with games, they'd pull numbers from a hat, roll dice, and somehow we'd use those experiences to talk about statistics. We'd start with the basics - means, medians, variance; then we'd talk about sample distributions and population distributions.  But always with fun, hands-on examples.

Toward the end of the class, they told me "Jon, I never knew statistics could be fun!"  When it was all over, they all applauded. It was a great experience.

When I graded their exams, I found out that they hadn't learned very much at all!  But they had a great time doing it.

The Hi-tech World that Discovered Paper Books


In a planet similar to our own, people had been reading electronic books for thousands of years. They read them on e-readers and smart phones. Their versions of those devices were not very different than ours. That's how books were read on that planet. That's how it had always been.

Until last year.

Someone made the discovery that words could be printed on paper. Books could be physical. You didn't need to read them on the small screen of the phone, you didn't need to carry around a tablet device or read on a computer. You could physically turn the pages! And that felt good. The book had substance, a cover, it weighed something.

The older generations felt disoriented when they'd see, every day, more and more kids, teenagers, and young adults with paper books as they were called. Parents would ask their kids: "Why do you want to read a book made of paper? On your e-reader you can carry tens of thousands of books at once!" "But I don't read tens of thousands of books at once, Mom!" came the typical reply. "You should try a paper book, Mom. I think you'd really like it."

The parents imagined and hoped that this was just a passing trend. They had fond memories from years ago sipping coffee or hot chocolate, cuddled up in the dark with their loved one, reading from the same brightly illuminated screen.

But sure enough, towns became filled with stores for books. Physical stores, with entrance doors, books displayed on tables, books lined up on shelves. Physical shelves made of wood or metal. The young people, and even some of the more mature crowd, were beginning to congregate in these so-called book stores. Sometimes there were 'readings' by authors. With e-books, the identity of the author had almost vanished into nothingness. There was no physicality to the book, and you imagined the author to be a kind of disembodied spirit. But now, as the books and bookstores were becoming physical, you could meet your favorite author. And it turns out that she is physical too: two eyes, a nose and a mouth.

There was something intriguing about this 'physicalization' of books, even the older crowd had to agree. One morning, a man sitting on the subway spied a boy reading a physical book, gently turning a physical page with his physical fingers every few minutes. If you listened closely, you could hear the man say softly to himself: "What a world we live in."