Have I Mentioned How Much I Love the Exist App?

One of the things I love about the Exist app is the way it shows you how your actions interact with each other:

An Exist screenshot informing me that I'm getting less active and more productive on Mondays.

Call it confirmation bias or what-have-you, but it seems like every life/balance/habits newsletter I follow has hit the same point over the last week: to do more of one thing, you have to do less of something else.

Or, conversely: if you want to stop doing something, what will you choose to do instead?

Because if we don’t make a choice, we default to—wait, let me look it up—social media. (I don’t know if that’s actually true or not, but enough people are writing about it, and it ties in with my own anecdotal experience, so it must be!)

But I’m not here to write about how our choices limit our choices (and why that’s a good thing). I already wrote that piece.*

I’m here to complain about Fitbit.

Here’s what my Fitbit app told me yesterday, in a bright red GET WORRIED ABOUT THIS NOW notification:

Fitbit informing me that I get fewer steps on weekdays than weekends and should try to "incorporate some of your weekend activity habits into the rest of the week."

First of all—I mean, there are SO MANY OF THEM ALL, but this one will be first:

This recommendation is not associated with any baseline. Fitbit knows how many steps I’m getting. (They’re fine.) It knows how many active minutes I’m getting. (Also fine.) But since I’m getting more steps on weekends, I should be able to get more steps during the week too. Never mind priorities or commitments or any of that.

Second of all, you can’t incorporate an hour-long Les Mills BodyAttack class into the rest of the week. You’re not supposed to. Les Mills doesn’t even want you to. It is unhealthy to exercise as hard every day as I do on Sunday morning, where I get nearly double the number of steps that I get the rest of the week, and yet that is what Fitbit is advising I consider.

Here are my daily and weekly step/active averages, according to Exist:

A chart showing that my active minutes remain constant throughout the week but my steps rocket up on Saturdays and Sundays.

Fitbit takes these numbers out of context, sending me nagging reminders that I should be getting more exercise every day because I get more exercise on two days.

Exist shows me what I prioritize, illustrates how my choices and priorities affect each other, and invites me to reflect on whether I’m happy with that.

Another Exist chart showing my weekly productivity. It inversely correlates with my physical activity.

Of course, Exist gets all of my exercise and heart rate and sleep data from Fitbit, just like it gets my productivity data from RescueTime (and other data from other apps), so it’s not like I’m going to stop wearing my Fitbit Charge 3 or anything.

I just wish Fitbit would present my data without commentary, because it so often gets it wrong. When I get up early for a plane flight, for example, Fitbit sends me this “you need to maintain a consistent bedtime and wake up time” message even though it has a perfectly good GPS and can tell that I am currently in an airport.

Exist, on the other hand, has helped me adapt several habits for the better**. Without ever once instructing me to change. ❤️

*I also already wrote a piece about how much I love the Exist app, although that post described a totally different reason for loving it. Then guest poster Francine Carrel gave Exist a shout-out in her post on writing with ADHD. Go Exist!

**I am realllll hesitant to write the “I gave up refined sugar” post because we’re all making different and valid dietary choices for different reasons and I do not want to imply that THIS IS THE ONE TRUE WAY, but Exist helped convince me to stop eating refined sugar.

When Prioritizing Means Giving Up Something You Like

We all know the deal. Your choices limit your choices (and that’s a good thing). Figure out what needs to get cut so you can spend more time on the stuff you want to do.

But what if the thing that gets cut is also something you want to do?

It’s easy to give up the stuff you don’t really like. (The TV show that you’re only watching because it was good two seasons ago, for example.)

It’s harder to give up something you enjoy, either because you’ve found something else you enjoy more, because you want to put that time towards a long-term priority or goal, or because the thing is preventing you from achieving something you think is more important, such as “a good night’s sleep.”

In some cases, of course, certain life priorities become so important that you don’t have the time, energy, or space to make other choices—and at that point, even though you may regret having to let other aspects of your life go (and/or feel angry that your choices are currently limited), the prioritization is obvious.

But that’s not quite what I’m referring to here.

I’m specifically thinking about a social activity that I really enjoyed last summer but am electing not to do this summer because I’ve made both social and creative commitments that are more important to me long-term.

Yes, I know, what an enviable situation in which to find oneself.

And sure, I could just DO ALL THE THINGS—like, none of the events conflict—but that would limit my free time to the point where I’d probably feel a little overwhelmed.

I think it’s really that, after a year-and-a-half of living in Cedar Rapids, I’ve had the opportunity to try a bunch of stuff and figure out what I like and where I fit in.

Now I have to transition from the “try everything on” stage to the “decide what I want to keep in my life” stage, and that means letting some things go.

Which, again, means things are going well.

But that doesn’t make the choices any easier.

Well, that’s not quite true. The choice of which activity to say yes to and which activity to say no to was very easy.

Feeling bad about not sticking with something I enjoyed, simply because I wanted to spend my time in different ways—that was the hard part.

Curious if it’s the same for you. ❤️

The Importance of Scheduling Unscheduled Time

The two most important blocks of time on my calendar are 6:30-9:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

I call these blocks whim time. They represent the time between when I wake up and when it’s time to get ready for my Les Mills class at the YMCA (I take BodyFlow on Saturday and BodyAttack on Sunday*).

They also represent my best time. If you had a chance to read my Lifehacker article about how I schedule my day as a freelancer, you might remember me writing “I solve more problems between 6:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. than I do the entire rest of the day.”

So, during whim time, I can sit comfortably on my sofa with my cup of tea and think about things.

Or put harebrained schemes into action, e.g. “what would happen if I started doing Saturday Open Threads?” (I now prep my Saturday Open Threads on Friday, to keep my Saturday whim time free of obligations like writing blog posts.)

Or read everything the internet has to offer on a particular topic, such as “how to rope drop Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World**.”

Or immerse myself in a book, though I usually end up saving reading for the afternoons because those mornings are just so beautifully wonderful for thinking and digging and journaling and processing and creating.

Anyway, I knew I was going to write about whim time at some point, and then Lifehacker ran an article titled Give Yourself the Gift of Time This Week and I thought yep, I agree with all of this.

To quote Lifehacker’s Alicia Adamczyk:

One of the greatest pleasures of my new-ish morning routine is that I start many of my days by doing nothing. I lay around for a bit, before getting ready and then sitting with a cup of coffee for a few minutes.

My resting cup of coffee never takes me more than 20 minutes to finish—and it’s usually far less than that—and yet when I skip I can feel how much tenser I am, and more prone to stress during my morning commute.

What I’m missing is the benefit of doing nothing, of enjoying a bit of alone time before I venture out into the world and the daily grind begins.

I start all of my weekdays with yoga practice, which is my way of enjoying a bit of alone time before the daily grind begins, but I give my weekends an extra-long chunk of doing nothing time, which is to say time to do whatever I want. To go where the whims take me.

This is where I have to remind new readers that I am single and have no children and have the privilege of a freelance career that fits within a 9-5 schedule. In case you’re wondering how I manage to carve so much time out of my weekends for whim.

On that note: I had an absolutely beautiful whim day last Sunday. No plans (besides BodyAttack, which I wouldn’t miss for the world), no obligations, nothing but whatever I felt like doing, for a full day.

I played the piano and played video games and went for a walk and did some excellent sitting and thinking and did two loads of laundry and watched an entire movie without pausing it except to use the toilet, which is something I rarely have time for on non-whim days. (When I do decide to watch a movie, I tend to break it up into two or three 40-minute chunks because that’s the only way I can fit it into a typical evening.)

If I don’t get a full whim day at least once a month — and it’s nicer to get two — I start to feel cramped and worn out and overwhelmed.

Which means I have to plan for these days in my calendar, just like I plan my whim time on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

And then say no to anything that might conflict with those plans — or if something comes up that I can’t (or don’t want to) say no to, rearrange my schedule to find another whim day.

Because they’re that important.

Is this an introvert thing? I don’t know. It’s something I’ve always sought out, ever since college when I had the ability to start setting my own schedule.

I’m curious if you carve out similar unscheduled chunks of time for yourself, and how you keep those times sacred — and if you don’t, whether you wish you could. ❤️

*I also take BodyPump on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and BodyAttack Express on Wednesday evenings.

**More on this later — but yes, I might be rope-dropping Animal Kingdom soon. (And the other three Walt Disney World parks.)