I’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile now. Way back in April when I was on Spring Break with the kids down in South Carolina, I actually took the time to read some of my favorite magazines, including Real Simple. While reading the April issue I came across a fantastic series of articles all surrounding the topic of Women and Time. Where are we spending our time? Do we feel that we have “enough time”? And why do so many of us think of time (and the lack thereof) as this constant pressure on ourselves? I suppose this series called to me…. because I AM that Mom who feels that she has almost “no free time”. So I read each of the articles in this series pretty intently- looking for some confirmation that I am not the only Mom who feels this way (I’m not), and looking for solutions that address my on-going battle against the clock (and what I found were insights, more than solutions).
Exactly what the heck IS “free time”?
“In the Real Simple/Families and Work Institute (FWI) survey “Women and Time: Setting a New Agenda,” we found that 49 percent of women say they don’t have enough free time (defined as “time that you spend on yourself, where you can choose to do things that you enjoy”). While nearly half of women manage to find 1½ or more hours of free time a day, 25 percent have less than 45 minutes a day, and 4 percent say they have zero hours of free time. (Please, someone send those ladies a spa gift certificate.)”*
Yeah- I would say I am falling somewhere in between the 25% of women who say they have less than 45 minutes a day and the 4% of women that say they have zero hours of free time. But if I truly reflect on the concept of free time…. I really need to re-think exactly what activities I would categorize as spent during my “free time”…. because perhaps I am defining them too narrowly. The survey defines free time as “time that you spend on yourself, where you can choose to do things that you enjoy.”. Well, certainly any time that I spend on my blog writing new posts would qualify under that definition. But somehow I’ve been operating under my own personal definition of free time as “anything that I am doing for fun…. without a goal, an end-game, or something to check off as completed”. And since I have a goal to write a new blog post every day… suddenly that feels a bit less like “free time” and more like “accomplishing something”. But at its core- it is still an activity that I am enjoying. So perhaps I should define and embrace the idea of free time differently.
Stop running the marathon, and start thinking about it as lifting weights!
“For a while now, we have had a ‘running the marathon’ definition of time, where we think we have to keep going-going-going at work and at home because there is just too much to do, instead of a weight-lifting approach, in which you have a period of rest and recovery before you lift a heavy weight again,” says Ellen Galinsky, the president and a cofounder of FWI. As a result, women are losing the opportunity to use their free time to reenergize and bring real benefit to their lives.”*
Light BULB! I have noticed that with my own work…. if I sit at a desk for several hours in a row and keep moving onto the next task and the next task because I need to get them done…. it’s hard to keep that stamina going (this my “marathon approach”). But if I rest those muscles and get up and go something else, even as boring (and task-driven) as folding a load of laundry…. I feel as if I am resting one set of muscles (my brain) which allows it to recharge for a bit. And you know what? Tonight I found that taking 30 minutes to “Just Dance” with my kids helped me reach the same end! I like this idea of lifting a heavy weight and then resting those muscles for a bit!
Women’s Free Time is More Fragmented Than Mens
“But it’s not just what we choose to do with our free time or even the amount of free time that matters. Sociologists Liana Sayer at Ohio State University in Columbus, Marybeth Mattingly at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, and Suzanne Bianchi at the University of California, Los Angeles, have all found that women’s free time is more likely to be contaminated, fragmented, and interrupted than men’s. “Contaminated time” refers to leisure activities that are combined with something else, frequently housework or child care.”*
This is a biggie for me. I complain to Steve fairly often that I am jealous of how he can just focus on what he needs to do without paying attention to the clock (like “hey-it’s noon already, the kids are probably hungry for lunch!”) and I don’t have that ability to turn off the internal monitor of everything-else-that-needs-to-happen. So I need to ASK FOR IT! All it would take is me saying “Hey Steve- I need to work for a few hours uninterrupted, so can you pay attention to the time and make sure the kids get lunch at noon?” I’ll admit that I do find it annoying at times that I have to spell it out for him….. but the fact is- we are all wired differently- and instead of being frustrated by it- I just need to know it and work within it!
Don’t Put Off Free Time “Until the Chores Are Done!”
“Even when we know how we wish to spend our free time, we often force ourselves to complete various tasks first—58 percent of women in the survey postpone free time until they finish their chores. “Too many women rush around to accommodate leisure. They might tell themselves something like ‘If I do the laundry and answer my e-mails, then I can read for an hour,’ ” says Mattingly.”*
GUILTY as CHARGED! I am constantly defining when I will take a break or find time to read for a 1/2 hour on the porch based on whatever is and isn’t done. As if I am being graded on my daily to-do list or something. I need to start remembering that the only one keeping score is me!
*All excerpts quoted in this post come from this Real Simple series: “Time Management Techniques for the Modern Woman” by Ruth Davis Konigsberg
So where do you fall in this spectrum of free time? Do you have any advice or tips that you can share with me?
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