Becoming a “Time Realist” Was Annoying But Enlightening

time realism clocks stopwatch dali numbers

I’ve always thought of time like a gigantic wad of bubblegum — something malleable that stretches or squeezes based on how I’m feeling or what I happen to be doing. I let my moods dictate my productivity, forgoing steady intentionality in favor of fits and spurts of efficiency. Perhaps that is why I felt personally besieged while reading a recent article in The New York Times about time management. In it, productivity expert Julie Morgenstern explains that while most people think about time as “this ethereal, relative, slippery, conceptual thing. It’s not. It’s 24-hour cycles, seven days a week. You have 168 hours to work with every week.” Well when you put it that way, Julie…

Just kidding. I love Julie. Her quote was precisely the wakeup call I needed to reexamine my bad time habits (namely: only being productive when I feel like it), so I was grateful for the straightforward mathematical breakdown. Morgenstern divides people into two categories, time realists and time optimists. Time realists unpack the math of precisely how long it will take to complete any given task, and they use it as a rubric to plan their day. Time optimists are merely hopeful about what they would like to do, ultimately causing them to overbook themselves.

I think I fall somewhere in-between, but I’m all in favor of becoming even more realistic about how and when I spend my time. I decided to implement Morgenstern’s time realism guidelines over the course of 24 hours and keep track of the hours I had at my disposal (as if they were dollars in a bank account!) in hopes of accomplishing this goal. Below, my resulting time realism diary.


5 p.m.

I start my time realism diary at 5 p.m. the day before I really want to get things rolling because one of the core tenets of Julie Morgenstern’s productivity philosophy involves ending every day by planning tomorrow, plus two more days after that if you can swing it. I look at my calendar for the next day and happily observe that it isn’t especially nuts. Time-optimist me might take this as an excuse to spend too much time on too few things. Time-realist me sees it as an opportunity to efficiently work through my priority to-dos and then use my spare time to either tackle lower priority to-dos or chip away at some ongoing larger projects. Is time-realist me the more annoying me? Unclear, but I will probably ask my therapist to weigh in next week.

My schedule for the following day (and allotted time expenditures) is as follows:

+Workout from 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. (1 hour)
+Shower from 8:45 a.m. – 9 a.m. (15 minutes)
+Put on my bathrobe, make breakfast (eggs?) and eat it while catching up on emails and reading as much of the internet as I can for personal and journalistic awareness purposes from 9 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. (30 minutes)
+Get dressed and put on sunscreen and makeup if I feel like it from 9:30 a.m. – 9:55 a.m. (25 minutes)
+Walk to Greecologies from 9:55 a.m. – 10 a.m. (5 THRILLING minutes)
+ Have coffee with former MR intern Amy, Matt and Amelia from 10 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. (30 minutes)
+Walk home and record an hour-long phone interview for a story from 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. (1.5 hours)
+Walk to work from 12 p.m. – 12:05 p.m. (5 minutes)
+Work (!!!!) from 12:05 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. (6 hours and 40 minutes)
+Walk to dinner @ Freeman’s and eat from 6:45 p.m. – 9 p.m. (2 hours and 15 minutes)
+Walk home + free time to either catch up on any leftover work, hang out with my roommates and/or read articles on my computer for funzies if they’re not home from 9 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. (1 hour and 30 minutes)
+Get ready for bed from 10:30 p.m. – 11 p.m. (30 minutes)
+Read from 11:00 p.m. – however late it takes for my eyes to start to droop so maybe 12 a.m.? Hopefully earlier. (1 hour, just to play it safe)

5:45 p.m.

I can’t believe how long it takes me to map out an entire day with mathematical exactitude. In addition to planning in advance, one of Morgenstern’s other guidelines is “take a pause before committing to anything,” which makes me wonder if I should have “taken a pause” before committing to this time diary. I guess only time will tell (hehe).


7:30 a.m.

According to the plan I laid out yesterday I’m supposed to be at the gym but I am, in fact, still in bed as a result of snoozing my alarm. Bet you didn’t see that one coming! Only because I definitely didn’t!

7:45 a.m.

I finally extricate myself, get dressed and head out into the balmy October weather, which on this particular morning feels like walking around in the film that gathers at the top of a latte made with non-dairy milk.

8:45 a.m.

I cut my time at the gym shorter than I would have if I hadn’t snoozed my alarm and subsequently spent 15 extra minutes in bed thinking about how Julie Morgenstern’s name reminds me of Morgenstern’s ice cream and when I plan to go there next (ideally this weekend) and what flavor I plan to get (probably salted pretzel).

8:50 a.m.

I’m about to get into the shower when I glance in my bathroom mirror and realize the entire back of my hair is glommed into a treacherous knot thingy, at which point I remember that I have a shoot tomorrow wherein I would like to not have a treacherous knot thingy glommed in my hair and the only solution is to wash it this morning because if I wash it tomorrow morning it won’t dry in time for the shoot and don’t worry I’m about to stop talking about my hair but also read my hair diary if you want more where this is coming from and you haven’t sworn off diaries by yours truly after reading this run-on sentence.

9:15 a.m.

It takes me a 25 minutes to do my full curly hair wash routine, which means I’m off-schedule again. To make matters only very slightly more complicated, when I open my refrigerator to take out some eggs I spy a baked sweet potato that I should really consume today or else it might go bad, so I decide to eat it for lunch later. But I don’t have anything else to do with it, so I quickly preheat my oven so I can meal prep some tempeh to go with it. While that’s happening, I finally get around to making eggs for my breakfast (two, fried in coconut oil, if you’re interested).

9:30 a.m.

I speedily put on dab of sunscreen and a touch of makeup whilst the eggs cook because I’m a time-saving machine.

9:35 a.m.

I check the eggs and they still need a couple more minutes so I throw on my outfit for the day, which I put together on the spot, operating under the advisement of my weather app that it’s supposed to rain today. I am 60% satisfied with the resulting ensemble but it will have to do because time’s a ‘tickin.

9:38 a.m.

I eat the eggs and answer a few emails.

9:52 a.m.

Time to go to Greecologies, with three extra minutes to spare! How did that happen? I don’t have time to investigate.

10:43 a.m.

Coffee with former MR intern Amy & co. exceeded the time window I predicted by 13 minutes but that’s okay, it was delightful. We spent most of the time discussing a very special forthcoming Man Repeller launch that I won’t share too many details about here because I want it to debut with the awe and charisma of a celebrity baby. You know?

11:47 a.m.

My phone interview concludes EXACTLY 13 minutes early. Tell me I’m not the only one who has goosebumps!!!

12:02 p.m.

I’m at the office now, which initiates my 6-hour-and-45-minute long period of nebulous productivity. I left the contents of this window purposefully vague because a) I was getting bored of mapping out my day and b) I wanted to experiment with balancing my regular workload with Morgenstern-prescribed tasks i.e. putting activities in categories depending on my concentration threshold and cleaning up my email. Oh, and setting aside regular times to visit my inbox in general.

12:30 p.m.

I’ve bucketed my to-dos into concentration categories! Here’s what they look like:


-Writing this here time diary
-Writing Man Repeller’s Spring 2019 trend recap


-Creating an Instagram calendar for the next three weeks to share with the visuals team
-Chat with Amelia about copy needs for MR’s aforementioned celebrity-baby-but-not launch
-Finalize casting for upcoming shoot with Edith
-Preliminary market research for upcoming shoot


-Cleaning up my email
-Choosing shoppable products to include in next week’s newsletters

I decide to start with my medium concentration tasks since I prefer to do high-concentration stuff right after lunch when I’m freshly fed and invigorated by nutrients, and then save low-concentration stuff for the end of the day when I inevitably start to feel more like a slug.

3 p.m.

Hey look it’s already 3 p.m. and I’m not even done with my medium-concentration tasks, much less my high-concentration tasks, even though I’ve eaten lunch and I’m feeling invigorated by nutrients and everything. (The sweet potato and baked tempeh were delicious, thank you for asking. I also threw in some sauteed spinach for extra kick.) I’ve successfully conducted preliminary market research for my upcoming shoot but Edith and I haven’t finalized casting yet because we got interrupted by various distractions. I slack her and ask if she has a non-literal second to revisit our stimulating conversation. She says she does. We decide on our top choices and voila that task is officially checked. Time flies when you’re having fun.

3:30 p.m.

I budgeted five minutes for my chat with Amelia about copy needs but we’re now verging on 15. She’s sitting in my chair showing me something on my computer while I hover behind her until she tells me to sit down beside her. I cover my mouth and she asks me if her breath smells bad and I confess that, no, I just had to quietly burp. She looks relieved. I try to pay attention to what she’s showing me but I’m distracted by the open container of yogurt I brought to my desk and planned to eat but then five minutes turned into 15 and who knows how much longer that yogurt will sit there warming itself under the fluorescent ceiling lights? I discreetly pick it up and put it back in the office fridge. Then I go sit back down on (half of) my chair.

4 p.m.

I’m working on MR’s spring trend report but I keep getting distracted by my email. Why is checking email more addicting than, I don’t know, oat milk? I’m not abiding by Morgenstern’s instructions to set aside a regular time to look at my inbox. I decide to go full tunnel vision on the trend report and then devote a full hour to checking and cleaning out my email at 5:30 p.m. I set an alarm (another Morgenstern hack!) to remind me. I make the ringtone “By the Seaside” because I’m delightful.

5:30 p.m.

The dulcet tones of “By the Seaside” ring out right on schedule. I shut it off a little too quickly and Nora says, “Aw man!” I’ve never felt better about my career path.

6:30 p.m.

I had 139 emails in my inbox an hour ago and now I have 16. I can’t rest on my laurels for too long though because dinner is fast approaching and time is of the essence and great news time puns are always a slam dunk when you’re writing a time diary.

6:45 p.m.

I arrive at the restaurant Freeman’s for the dinner party I’m attending tonight — a celebratory gathering to commemorate a collaboration between stationery brand Papier and artist Luke Edward Hall. I’m relieved Edith is there too because small talk tends to fall into the high-concentration task bucket for me. I am much more excited about the prospect of looking someone straight in the eyeballs and asking them about their relationship with their mom than I am in weather-related chit chat, but unfortunately the former isn’t a typical entry point to getting to know people.

7:15 p.m.

We sit down for dinner (15 minutes late, since you know I’m keeping track). Everyone is super nice. I feel myself relaxing. I eat some table grapes while we wait for the food to come. I wish all tables came with grapes.

9:30 p.m.

I’m still at dinner! It’s a lot of fun (I’m really enjoying learning about my seatmate’s vintage jewelry collection) but also continuing longer than expected. I’m about to lose an hour in my time diary and I want to take a moment to mourn that, respectfully. I wash the moment down with a bite of chocolate tart.

10 p.m.

I’m home. I don’t have time to catch up on any leftover work (like writing this time diary, ahem), hang out with my roommates and/or read articles on my computer for funzies because I need to get ready for bed. I shower, put on my pajamas, climb under my covers, check my phone and realize I still need to respond to Austin’s texts from earlier that evening. I call him instead to save time. Sometimes talking is easier than typing. He sounds tired. I’m jealous.

11:30 p.m.

I’ve been reading for an hour but I’m still not tired AT ALL. I pop a melatonin and that does the trick. As I begin to drift off, I ponder whether I’ve successfully become more of a time realist over the course of the day. I’m definitely more aware of time and how impossible it is to control, I think. I’m also a newly minted fan of placing my to-dos in concentration buckets and arranging them around my consumption of lunch. I probably won’t be able to keep up with Morgenstern’s restrictions around checking email (it’s just too seductive), but if I do ever need to set a hard time limit on something, I’ll definitely make use of the old “By the Seaside” trick. As for planning my day out in advance the night before, I’ll be honest: I don’t know if I’m cut out for that lifestyle. Maybe it’s simply a matter of making it a habit and eventually getting faster at it as it becomes more second-nature, but the act of doing so just seems a little, I don’t know, soul-crushing to me. Maybe I like my time a little stretchy, even if it’s an illusion.

11:45 p.m.

Right before I fall asleep, I get an alert on my phone that I partook in 2 hours and 52 minutes of (unaccounted) screen time today. How timely.

Collage by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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