Monday, December 1, 2008

Where does our free time go?

Once upon a time, if you wanted butter, you had to get the milk from a cow and churn it. Any dish used had to be washed by hand; any clothes worn had to be scrubbed on a washboard. The industrial revolution changed some of this, but also introduced incredibly long work days -- the 40 hour workweek is a relatively modern invention. Furthermore, people in all industrialized countries have far fewer children than they did 100 years ago. Fewer children require less care and upkeep. It begs the question: if we have a lot more free time these days (and there's no question that we do), why do we feel so rushed?

I've been checking out some research from Geoff Godbey, a professor of leisure studies, and others, and have been finding some interesting things. Americans estimate that they only have about 18 hours of free time each week, but in reality, time diaries reveal they have twice as much. This is consistent with my calculations; with 168 hours per week, even if you sleep 8 hours a night, that leaves 112 hours for other things. The average woman with a full-time job only puts in 36 hours per week on the clock. So where do the other 76 hours go?

The problem, Godbey and others say, is that we use many of these free hours to watch television. Indeed, almost all the additional leisure time gained over the past generation has been spent on the couch in front of the tube. Television is easy and ubiquitous. It's possibly addictive. On the other hand, it does not in any way help us advance toward our life goals, and in fact, isn't even all that relaxing or pleasurable. We definitely think sex is more pleasurable than television, but how many couples stay up late to watch Letterman or the Daily Show, and then don't have sex because they're too tired?

Second, this free time gets lost in transitions and small chunks that don't seem big enough for anything else. You know how this goes -- you grab the mail on the way in, then spend 15 minutes looking through a catalog that you know full well you are never going to order from. While checking your email, you click on an article that then takes you 15 minutes to read, but doesn't exactly improve your life in that 15 minutes. You heat something up in the microwave, and stand in front of it the whole time. You try on different outfits in the morning.

Being a Core Competency Mom requires spending lots of time at work (enough to truly be the best at what you do). It also requires a lot of thoughtful interaction with your family. Within a 168 hour week, there is plenty of time for both. But there isn't time to watch the 30 hours of TV the average American puts in, nor is there time to waste on things that don't matter. Turning off the TV is easy, but filling the other small chunks with productive things is a bit harder. That's one of the topics I'll be exploring in later posts.

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