The Rhythm of Our Days

Rhythm does not come naturally to me.  I flunked my rhythm test in freshman college physical education. It was hard for me to learn to type, or to dance.  I have good pitch but lousy rhythm when it comes to music.  My husband was the opposite, and fortunately our daughter the musician got her mother’s ear and her father’s rhythm!

I recently read an article about how one should structure one’s day so as to be productive.  Get up early and start right away with work , the writer insisted. Followed by exercise.  Hmm, I thought, that exactly doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t quite mesh with my circadian rhythm. Of course, it also doesn’t work for the millions of people whose  daily lives are structured by others, especially schoolchildren and people with 8 to 5 jobs (or other regular scheduled hours).  But for college students, retirees, the self-employed, and the non-employed, there is the privilege and challenge of structuring one’s time.

My #3 granddaughter felt liberated when she went off to college because she didn’t have to be in school at her desk at 8:10 am.  Not a morning person.  I was married for 53 years to a dear man who was also not a morning person, and my middle daughter and I have such opposite rhythms that the times when we are both awake together are about nine of the day’s 24 hours. Like her father, she wakes up reluctantly and late in the morning, gains in energy throughout the day, does her best work in the evening, and has trouble falling asleep.  That’s a body rhythm that works well for a music teacher and musician! In contraast, I wake up very early (usually between five and six), eager to engage the day, and find myself fading by about four or five in the afternoon, annoyed by evenings meetings or events, and often in bed at nine, rarely later than 10.

When people retire, they often find themselves searching for structure to replace the required times that had governed their days from kindergarten through working (and parenting) years. It can be a bit of a shock to wake up to face 16 waking hours of unstructured time.  Some retirees create structure by taking on volunteer responsibilities, returning to work part-time, playing a lot of golf or bridge on a regular schedule. Others turn to new interests or expand old interests.  Still others complain of boredom or loneliness. Whatever you decide to do with more leisure, it can be a chance to find and make the best use of your circadian rhythm—your  natural sleeping and waking patterns, periods of high and low energy, times when you can concentrate on challenging tasks and other times when you need to give your mind a rest through exercise, socializing, or other less mentally demanding activities.

So, like the writer of that article, I embrace my rhythm rather than fighting it.  I get up early, have breakfast, read the newspaper, write in my journal, and plan my day. I check my email, do some writing (sunrise seems to start that engine), which may include blogs, books, sermons, op-eds, policy pieces (I am an economist) and class preparations for short courses at church and at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  I take care of tasks for my volunteer activities, such as meeting agendas and newsletter articles. then get dressed and go off to exercise and errands, including aerobics class and walking the dog. Then there is time for house and yard chores. I usually have a project of some kind going on—housecleaning, gardening, painting (walls, not art), batch cooking, sewing–that I tackle after lunch. I also try to schedule meetings and classes in the afternoon if at all possible, often preceded by a lunch date or followed with wine and conversation with a friend.  I have some regularly scheduled social activities—a weekly Monday night book discussion, a monthly academic dinner meeting, a monthly book group, a covenant group at church. As I start to fade, I turn my attention to reading, television and sometimes quilting or sewing. And the occasional 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. The number of scheduled events varies from week to week, but to the extent possible I try to avoid having to get up and hit the floor running at dawn to go to a meeting in Columbia as the co-president of the state League of Women Voters.

It’s a busy enough life, one that is rich in people and useful activities and time to be creative, to relax and to match my activities to my circadian rhythm.  Unlike the author who prescribed his schedule as best for everyone, I had to listen to my body and mind to discern the rhythm of my day and adapt the structure of my time to fit it. I encourage you to go and do likewise.

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