On Sunday, January 17th, I was quoted in the Washington Post Magazine’s cover story, The Test of Time: A busy working mother tries to figure out where all her time is going by Brigid Schulte. Over the past week, I’ve been following the story, monitoring reactions and rebuttals and witnessing the discussion evolve — for the most part. And it did devolve here and there with some overly harsh judgments and commentary that just weren’t all that helpful in furthering the discussion. But that’s a different story in and of itself.
A little background
I’d talked and met with with Brigid on a couple of occasions as she worked on the piece and I identified with many of her challenges. As a working mom with three kids between 3 and 7 and a career that’s sliced three ways, on some days it feels like there’s not a moment to spare.
When she shared details of the time study in which she was engaged, with John Robinson a sociologist at the University of Maryland, who insists that moms have 30 hours of leisure time, I chuckled (hard, really hard!). According to Shulte, Robinson is widely known as the father of time-use studies in the United States codes. ‘He analyzes and makes pronouncements about how people spend their precious time on Earth’ and has made this highly contested determination about moms and leisure time.
Thirty hours?? A week?!? Initially, I just flat out dismissed it … Simply not possible. We were just a few weeks into the new school year, still adjusting to new schedules, establishing new routines and returning to a structured environment after a summer away. Time was feeling especially tight. To make up for a reduced workload while visiting with family over the summer, upon my return I jumped back into work in a way that was out of sync with how I really wanted to be spending my time. All of this left me feeling like there was barely time to eat, never mind engage in leisurely activities. Thirty hours to spare for leisure activities — not in my calendar.
But, in revisiting my own time study (more below), it’s really all in how you define it and choose to spend it. And as I reconnected with my own definitions and choices, I found I actually quite a bit more than I realized.
My own time study
The point in time at which I connected with Brigid was pretty significant for me. Just a few weeks before, I’d gone back to my own time study (though much less rigid and formal than the one in which she participated).
In her piece, Brigid references my work last spring with a productivity expert (Terry Monaghan of Organizing for Life) where Terry asked me to document my time and I froze, not wanting to see in black and white just how little time I had. While my resistance was quite strong, once I indulged Terry and scribbled (in pencil) entries based on how I’d spent my time in the previous week. We analyzed how I had been doing things, kept what was working and reworked what wasn’t based on how I really wanted to do things … based on what was most important to me.
I’m a coach, after all, and I know that planning time based on values is key … Even a coach sometimes needs guidance returning to her roots. We created a new time map, which was initially effective. But coming off of summer break, it was no longer working so I had revisited my time map and began tracking my time more closely.
When I compared my original map from the spring, with how I was spending my time in the fall, it became shockingly clear how misaligned the investment of my time was with my values. The demands of everyday life as we headed into back-to-school season had slowly chipped away, leaving in a time-challenged state.
With my new findings top of mind, I continued to ponder the concept and explore through conversations with friends, colleagues, Brigid and others. I reconnected with what I ultimately wanted and realigned my time with what I really valued. Throughout all of this, I realized a few things …
As a mom who enjoys being really engaged, active, and some might even say wired, how I spend my ‘leisure’ time is quite different than how many of those around me choose to spend theirs. I enjoy reading a good book or article, taking a thoughtful walk or just eating ice cream in the sun. But, as I discussed with Brigid, I also really enjoy activities that others may not see as leisurely at all and might even consider ‘work,’ but to me, are fulfilling in a way that ‘leisure’ activities might be for another.
Another difference for me is that my leisure time isn’t all about me or time on my own. I count much of the time I spent with my family, especially on the weekends as ‘my’ time. While there are definitely times when a trip to the Smithsonian seems like a ton of ‘work,’ there’s a huge chunk of it that feeds my soul, that’s purely for me.
When I look at time based on my own definitions and choices, I have far more flexibility and options than I thought at the outset. Thirty hours? I haven’t tracked that closely or consistently, but I suspect it’s much closer to it than further from it.
Taking Back My Time
For me, there are three main elements that have lead to an increased sense of control over my time and fulfillment in my life:
- Getting clear about how a view time and how I define things like work, leisure and family time, etc.
- Setting boundaries with myself and others who impact my time
- Making conscious choices about how I spend my time based on what’s most important to me
In my next posts, I’ll say more about each of these and things I’ve done to take back my time.
I’d love to hear about your relationship with time ..
- How much of it are you spending where you want to spend it?
- Who or what do you feel controls how you spend it?
- Have you done your own time study? If so, what did you find?
- What would be most helpful to you in taking back your time?