Outdoor Diary: This Time Management Hack Gives Me More Outdoor Time

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Humans outside 289 making time to go outside

When it comes to balancing a desire to spend time outside with indoor obligations that keep your job and life running, a little bit of organization goes a long way.

I’ve realized that powering through one simple planning task every one of us faces is the difference between living in harried chaos and feeling like everything is under control with plenty of time for everything I want to do, including heading into nature.

So what is it? Menu planning.

(Yes, seriously.)

But I have figured out a way to make it as painless as possible (while still hating it). Listen now to find out what works for me, why it has such a major impact and how it could help you, too.

Some of the good stuff:

[:35] The major problem of this time of year

[1:00] Here comes the chaos

[2:07] The impact of time management

[2:30] I hate this, I really do

[3:06] Here’s why I do it anyway

[3:21] My system for tackling this

[4:30] The next step: food prep

[4:45] Why this matters for going outside

[5:31] Yup, I’m still learning.

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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

As the sun shines more and more each day and the air gets warmer, I start to have a major problem: I want to spend more time outside playing than my schedule allows.

I have seen this play out for me before, so I know how it goes. It starts with everything feeling frenzied because my winter schedule and habit patterns were built around the idea that it was cold and I didn’t really want to be outside that much. Sure, I went on long adventures or lingered in the snow, but I definitely didn’t do that every day. And now that it’s bright and sunny and I really want to be outside more, I start putting off the inside stuff to make way for an extra hour running, skiing or hiking. The more I put off, the more the chaos and undone to-dos pile up. Suddenly I feel behind on everything and I’m chucking frozen nuggets at my kids again because I forgot to thaw chicken for dinner or even plan to serve anything for dinner.

Not that anything is wrong with nuggets. But maybe they shouldn’t eat them every night.

And then there are weeks that are so crazy with obligations that I just can’t get out of or shake off — things that are just part of adulting like taking kids to medical appointments, or meeting work deadlines, or making sure everyone not only has clean underwear but that it fits or isn’t full of holes. I sneak in my outdoor time, but it isn’t what I want it to be. It doesn’t feel great because I know what it looks like when I don’t feel rushed. I jam it in because I have gone outside every day for more than 2,000 days in a row and today will not be the day that I quit. But if I didn’t have this outdoor habit going, maybe I’d just skip it.

Any of that sound relatable?

When things get really crazy like they have been for me recently, I remember that a little bit of time management goes a long way. Understanding how to use my time helps me get done what I need to do every single day of the year, no matter how crazy or sunny those days are.

But it’s on those days that I want to do things outside that don’t quite fit in the schedule I’ve created for a season that’s ending that I remember how important it is to lean into good time management habits. And I want to share with you one simple thing that has had a big impact on my energy level and time for outside stuff.

Now, before I tell you about this I must warn to you. I hate this. I find it deeply irritating. I have to MAKE myself do it. And the only way I get through ot is to remind myself that when I do these iot life is so much better. Powering through is worth it for the lowered chaos on the other side.

It’s menu planning and food prep. I hate menu planning and I hate food prep only slightly less. And the only reason I do it is the incredible relief I feel every time I realize that I do not have to decide what is for dinner tonight and I am not going to discover that I am out of the ingredients for whatever it is I want to make. Using the AnyList app which shares with my husband, I create dinner menu plans for three to four weeks at a time. I do that amount of planning at once because it means I only have to do it every three to four weeks, not every weekend. And when you hate sometimes, doing it less often is a good thing. If plans change over that period and we miss a certain meal, I bump that bad boy down to the next open day. And I only do dinner — we keep breakfast and lunch stuff around and figure that out as we go.

I sync what I’m going to make with things I know are on the calendar. Instant pot meals for days that I know I won’t be home for the hours before we want to eat, for example. As I plan meals for each night, I add the shelf-stable or ingredients I can buy well in advance to a shopping list. I check my pantry to make sure that we do have the items I think we have. And then I go shopping for the three to four weeks of groceries all at once.

At the beginning of each week, usually on Sunday, I write the week’s menu on a white board on our refrigerator and then make a short grocery list with the fresh items I’m missing – fruits, veggies, dairy, eggs, you know the stuff — or any things that I suddenly find we’re out of after all. I hit the grocery store for 15 minutes for that stuff. I move any frozen meat for the week from the garage deep freezer to the kitchen freezer or into the fridge to thaw.

The final thing I do with this is any food prep. Right now I’ve got some chicken bones making a broth for tomorrow night’s pumpkin soup. Putting things in the fridge to thaw is a type of food prep. I like to food prep for my own lunches, so later today I’ll cube some sweet potatoes and cook them in the air fryer so I can eat them over the week.

This stuff might sound like just basic household maintenance. But by lumping the planning and shopping together, I don’t only free up extra time driving to and from the grocery store, I free up extra energy and brain space. And I am here to tell you time management is less about actual time and more about the energy and brainpower it takes to navigate what happens when you’re living in chaos.

And why does that matter for going outside? Because if I can collect all of the time and energy I spend trying to figure out what to feed me and my people and then having to pivot when I dont have what I need to make it happen, and instead spend that sitting on my porch in the sun reading a good book or hitting the ski slope? Well, I’m outside more. And I like that.

I know it’s crazy that such a thing so unrelated to going outside makes such a big difference for me being there, but it does.

As I mentioned I’ve been having a crazy few weeks, and a lot of my outdoor time has been spent as a late lunch break bundled up on my porch. Now that it’s nicer out, I want to be outside more, and I need to find a way to shift my schedule to make it happen. Even 2,000-plus days in, this whole thing is still a learning process for me. So thanks for joining me for the ride. And in case you’re wondering, tonight we’re eating baked chicken drumsticks and some frozen veggies. The meat is thawing. The bag of veggies is ready.

You can see photos of way too many porch lunchtimes plus a few adventures on Humans Outside Facebook and Instagram. And I want to see your outdoor time, too. Share it with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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