THE BLOG
11/06/2014 04:56 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2015

Why We're All Failing at Life (and a List of Everything You're Supposed to Be Doing to Succeed at It)

samxmeg via Getty Images

A few years ago there was a NY Times article about how busy we all are. The author wrote an accurate indictment of how we so value booking ourselves up that we're all complaining, but really bragging, about how we don't have time to do anything anymore: We've booked ourselves and our kids up through the rest of our lives.

The article really struck a chord with me, and I vowed to try not to elevate the mundanities of my life into a boastful complaint. But it didn't take long before I felt overwhelmed by how busy I was, again, and not talking about it hadn't seemed to free up anytime. And seeing as everyone else I knew seemed overwhelmed with how busy they were too, I started to wonder if maybe the reason wasn't that we were choosing to be busy. Maybe life has come to ask too much from us.

Maybe the reason we're all failing at life comes down to the fundamental question of what it means to be alive today. As science and technology and medicine have advanced, there are more and more things that a person, and especially a woman, is "supposed" to do. All I want to do is what I'm supposed to do, no more, no less. But the long list of what a woman is supposed to do has gotten out of control. For instance, I complain to my girlfriends that my nails break easily, so one friend says to take a calcium supplement, one friend says to get manicures more often, one friend says to use a nail bonding agent, and I'm thinking to myself, You know what? Maybe I'll just fail at having strong nails because really who has time to do all this? But then I see my friend's nails and feel bad about how mine usually look like the nails of a teenager and resolve to "take better care of myself" because everyone can agree that we're all supposed to be doing everything we should be doing to take good care of ourselves, right?

But it just feels like there really isn't enough time in our calendar to just do the minimum of what I'm supposed to be doing to take care of myself. So I tried to put the actual list together of what I'm supposed to do -- the things people tell us we should be doing for our skin, our hygiene, our health, our well-being, all of it. Because nobody seems to be adding it all up. People just keep telling me to do more -- my dentist wants me to use a mouth rinse in addition to flossing, my dermatologist wants me to exfoliate, my yoga teacher tells me to do cardio, etc. And I don't even have any kids yet, so lord knows what my schedule will look like then. But I had to start somewhere, so I wondered what a baseline list would look like, of what we all should be doing -- a list of how to be alive today, if you will.

So here's my list of what a woman is supposed to do minus the basics; I assume to be alive, we all brush our teeth, use deodorant and women wear maybe mascara and maybe concealer, do the laundry, the obvious unmentionables, etc. So I'm not including any of that -- just the extra things we might not be doing already that someone tells us to do at some point. And then I guessed how much time it would all take to gauge how much of my fleeting life is being consumed by just maintenance of what a woman is supposed to do to be alive.

This is a list of what a female human being is "supposed" to do just to be alive:

Body
  • Cardio Exercise - The CDC recommends at least 75 minutes of an aerobic activity. Lately, I've been doing at least two spinning classes a week = 90 minutes.
  • Muscle Strengthening Exercise - CDC says at least two days a week. I personally do yoga which is 90 minutes = 120 minutes
  • Wipe down my yoga mat - Before and after you practice (I've also been told to use baby wipes on my feet before and after I practice, but I can't even list that) (if you don't do yoga, I'm sure there's something you're supposed to be doing at the gym like this) = 5 minutes.
  • Exfoliate skin/scrub body in shower - Two to Three times a week, I should be using a loofah to scrub myself everywhere = 6 minutes/week.
  • Shave your legs/bikini line the proper way (if you wax, because this takes more time but less often, I'm going to estimate it at about even) - Going slowly, using proper products, and being in CA with our drought this now means turning the water off and sitting in a bath = 15 minutes/week
  • Moisturize body after shower with lotion -- Slather on moisturizer after every shower to keep skin soft = 10 minutes a week.
  • Put on bronzing lotion because real tanning will give you cancer - To look healthy and less pale, I should be putting on bronzing lotion. I have to admit, I never do this, but I definitely have a bottle of it and just keep it on my list of things I know I should be doing to look better that I don't do. But if I did = 10 minutes a week.
  • Hand lotion - Because hands are one of the first places to show aging and you wouldn't wash your face without putting on moisturizer = 5 minutes a week.
  • Scar cream to visible scars - Massage and apply cream to scars for 15 to 30 seconds a day because I need to stop trying to climb things and because I bought it at CVS and it will feel like a waste if I don't use it = 3 minutes a week
  • Care for your nails - Because WebMD and the Mayo Clinic have pages that tell you to push back your cuticles instead of cutting them and trim them when necessary. And moisturize cuticles to keep manicures lasting longer. And/or get manis/pedis = 15 minutes a week assuming you go once every 2 weeks.
  • Apply foot cream - to keep from having cracked heels. Also one I never do and then feel guilty when I get a pedicure but if I did = 3 minutes a week.
  • Ear wax removal - Apply homeopathic oil to prevent ear wax build-up because you should never stick q-tips in your ears = 3 minutes a week
  • Pickout clothes for the next day - One of the habits of highly successful people is planning ahead so I should pick out my clothes the night before instead of frantically trying things and leaving huge piles of clothes in my wake in the mornings = this would probably take about 15 minutes a week but because I take longer now to figure out my clothes at the last minute, I'm going to leave it at a net zero minutes per week.
  • Sit up straight - Not slouching can increase self-control and is better for your health ad can prevent back pain later on = 2 minutes a week.
Food Teeth
  • Brushing teeth two minutes with an electric tooth brush - Just brushing wouldn't make the list but once you have to do it for two minutes with an electric toothbrush it got put on = aprox 15 minutes a week.
  • Flossing - Once a day = 7 minutes a week
  • Drink coffee and red wine with a straw - prevent staining your teeth (I happen to love straws, but do you know how annoying it is to find a straw at a cocktail party) = 2 minutes a week
  • Use prescription mouthwash - once a day but you also have to measure it out and mix with water = 2 minutes daily = aprox. 15 minutes a week.
  • Wash nightguard - I wear one for teeth grinding at night and I don't clean as often as I should but I'm not going to let it get gross either = 4 minutes a week
  • Scrape my tongue with a tongue scraper - I have one but have never used it. I know I should though and if I did = 2 minutes a week.
Face
  • Wash face - twice a day rubbing cleanser in a circular motion with lots of other rules you can read about gently on face (If you have a clarisonic, you get to add bonus life points but also time) = 4 minutes a day = almost 30 minutes a week
  • Exfoliate - three times a week (does anyone really exfoliate as much as you should?) = 8 minutes a week
  • Face Mask - once a week (I do this once a year but if I did) = 10 minutes a week
  • Moisturizer/toner/sunscreen - Wear it daily for skin care and to prevent cancer/aging = 8 minutes a week
  • Wear eye cream - I don't know why but everyone says to do it = 5 minutes a week
  • Put on concealer by tapping - I know I said I wasn't going to include make-up but once someone told me to put on my concealer by light taps instead of rubbing it in it got moved from every day thing to thing I'm supposed to be doing = 3 minutes a week
  • Tweeze eyebrows - Every few days after shower or get them waxed every few weeks = 8 minutes a week
  • Take off your make-up - every single night = 7 minutes a week
  • Anti-aging serum/night cream - Use daily to preempt adding botox to my schedule later on = 7 minutes a week
  • Put on chapstick - because I'm addicted to this a few times a day = 5 minutes a week
  • Put primer on before makeup - to protect skin and make make-up stay on longer = 3 minutes a week
  • Clean make-up brushes - at least once a week = 3 minutes a week
Hair
  • Shampoo - If you want to grow your hair longer, use a scalp massage to stimulate hair growth = 1 minute extra per shower = 5 minutes a week
  • Conditioner - Leave in conditioner for two minutes (or longer if you have time), end with cool rinse to close hair follicles = 2 minutes per shower = 10 minutes per week.
  • Add leave-in conditioner - after showering, to eliminate split ends = 5 minutes.
  • Don't put hair in pony tail - because it breaks your hair and I have split ends = 5 minutes a week to pin it back.
  • Put in hair bonding cream - overnight to help split ends = 3 minutes a week.
For Your Brain
  • Meditate - As the New Yorker points out, this is really just exercise for your brain to stay sane = 20 minutes a day = 140 minutes a week.
  • Sleep 8 hours - or more at least to increase productivity and be happier = 8hrs x 7days = 56 hours or 14 hours extra assuming you were getting 6 hours before trying to live healthfully, but this was excluded from my initial summation below.
  • Read more - it keeps your brain alive = 10 minutes a night x 5 nights = 50 minutes a week.
  • Read more not on a screen - Looking at a screen with its artificial light just before makes it harder to get to sleep = 0 time extra because I'm assuming the reading more for my brain can be accomplished together/See above = 0.
  • Be in nature - Time magazine says you seriously underestimate how important this is and that it reduces, stress, increases your memory, makes you more creative and a better person = 10 minute walk a day = 70 minutes.
For Your Relationships
  • Call my Grandmothers weekly (I'm terrible about this, sorry Grandmas) = in an ideal world 10 minutes a week.
  • Call my parents weekly (even though my mother would probably want me to call daily) = 10 minutes a week.
  • Text people who text me because apparently they all expect an immediate response back which allows for interruptions in my work which probably puts me back about 15 minutes a week.
  • Say hi to your neighbors - because you're not a jerk = 2 minutes a week.
  • Talk to your partner - you're supposed to have time to connect every day and that means more than just sitting next to each other watching tv together. This can include the oft repeated say something nice to your partner every day = 5 minutes a day = 35 minutes a week.
  • Touch your partner every day - it's an easy one to forget when you get super busy but it creates tenderness and intimacy so quickly and touching someone can also help reduce stress = 2 minutes a day = 15 minutes a week.
  • Being grateful - Neuroscience suggests you can increase your own happiness by simply showing gratitude for the people in your live = 2 minutes a day = 15 minutes a week.
  • Have sex - Happily married couples seem to have sex about twice a week and for a minimum of about 30 minutes a session. = 1 hour a week
  • Kiss your partner - before he goes to work. It reduces stress and on average he might even live five years longer = 1 minute a week.
  • Massage your partner - Cheap and easy way to connect and it's medically beneficial to your body = 30 minutes a week (15 for him, 15 for you).
So You Don't Die or Get Sick
  • Don't leave dirty clothes/shoes on your floor - it's an earthquake/fire hazard to have messy floors = 5 minutes a week.
  • Clean off your cell phone - It's shockingly dirty so try to clean it at least once a week = 2 minutes a week.
  • Clean your lap top - it's also very dirty and could benefit from a good cleaning = 5 minutes a week.
  • Wash your hands - more often and do it better than you're doing it = 15 minutes a week.
  • Use only 1 paper towel to dry hands - because it could save the planet but this requires shaking your hands out first = 5 minutes a week.
  • Use a Nedi Pot - to keep your sinuses clear and prevent yourself from getting sick = 10 minutes a week.
Miscellaneous
  • Clean jewelry once a week - This used to not matter till I got engaged but ideally I'd be taking care of my jewelry once a week = 5 minutes a week.
Kitchen Miscellaneous
  • Wash your dishwasher with vinegar - It doesn't clean itself. I've never done this but apparently I really should = 5 minutes a week.
  • Don't use soap on cast iron - Use a paste of soap and wash by hand = 5 minutes a week.
  • Don't use silverware in your non-stick pans - you'll scratch off the coating = 2 minutes a week.
  • Rinse out cartoons before recycling - Your recycling is worth more if you clean it = 5 minutes a week.
  • Wear gloves - To protect your manicure when doing the dishes = 2 minutes a week.
Sometimes extras (Not going to count these in my total time calculations because they don't happen enough but some of them definitely suck your time at some point)
  • When your clothes tell you to hand wash them - Really?! Who has time to hand wash your clothes on a washboard - maybe when I get my next job as a waternymph!
  • Teeth whitening - If you're vain or have a wedding coming up.
  • Not overspending - Getting a good deal takes time. You know you could get something you need on Amazon, but you wonder if Target has it for cheaper or if you should search on Google shopping or if someone has a promo code for 10 percent off or freeshipping. Even paying attention to prices at the grocery store. Spending less money takes time.
  • Car wash - If you wait for a layer of filth to develop on your car before you wash, you can strip away your paint.
  • Come to a complete stop before shifting because it's ruining your car.
  • Wash pillows - because of dust mites once a week.
  • Back up your files because we've all lost something that was preventable.
  • See your Dr, dentist, gyno yearly or biyearly.
  • Have emergency supplies (in my case it's an earthquake kit, in yours it's probably for a hurricane or tornado - either way, it's doubtful you've gotten to it)
  • Heal your injuries (I sprained my ankle this year so I had exercises I was supposed to be doing to strengthen it.)
  • RICE - rest, ice, compression, elevate for when you get injured

So not including the last section of extras and not including sleep time, the total time it takes to do what you're supposed to do is 1291 minutes per week which means 21 and a half hours per week spent just taking basic care of your body and mind. So how much time is that really? The average work week is 47 hours and assuming we're getting 56 hours of time for sleeping (eight hours x seven days a week), we spend 103 hours of the week on just sleep and work. There are 168 hours in the week which means that you only get 65 hours a week of free time for everything else -- errands, restaurants, watching TV, getting drinks, movies, hobbies, seeing friends. So if 21.5 hours are spent on basic life maintenance, that's 1/3 of your free time (not at work and not sleeping) gone to life's little annoyances. That means when I'm planning my schedule for life, I really have 1/3 less time for everything I'd like to be spending time on. And since I'm loathe to budget a third of my life to stupid things I should be doing, I guess I'm doomed to fail. My only consolation is you probably are, too.