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Close-up of a clock.

Take back your time

A national movement celebrates October 24

By William Doherty

From Brief, October 20, 2004

U.S. workers now work an average of nine full weeks more than European workers do. Sociologist Juliet Schor calculated that, from 1973 to 2000, the average U.S. worker added 199 hours to his or her annual work schedule. Americans have the shortest paid vacations in the world, and, in 2002, they gave back 175 million days of paid vacation to employers--time they already had coming. We work more hours than medieval peasants did.

Interestingly, two disparate groups are hit the hardest: managers, who are forced to be married to their jobs, and the working poor, who often have to work two or more jobs to make ends meet. In between are the millions of workers who are forced to work overtime hours that they did not choose to contribute to their employer.

Take Back Your Time Day
October 24

Take Back Your Time is a major U.S. and Canadian initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork, overscheduling, and time famine that threatens health, families, relationships, communities, and the environment.

The movement is not anti-work but seeks balance. Remedies include reclaiming vacation time and family meals, finding like-minded people in your community, and many more changes, large and small. The movement also has a legislative agenda.

Learn more about Take Back Your Time Day. Find even a small way to observe it--maybe just talking to someone else about it--this October 24. Start to take back your time.

More about Take Back Your Time Day.

When we are not working, we are more hurried than ever before. According to a University of Michigan study, our children have lost large amounts of play time and unstructured outdoor time in the past few decades. Their structured sports time has doubled, but their meals at home have declined. Parents are spending more time shuffling kids to soccer and music lessons. And yet big increases in homework time have not been accompanied by improvements in learning.

Even adults who are not raising children report a chronic sense of hurry, according to time use researchers. We've turned being "busy" into a benign, expected experience--as witnessed by the jolly greeting, "Keeping busy?" The correct answer is, "Yes, of course."

This is deeper and broader than out-of-whack individual lifestyles or over-the-top individual sports programs, just as our national obesity epidemic is not just a matter of individuals eating too much. There are broad institutional and cultural forces at work. We are being pressured by competitive forces in business to work too many hours, either so we can keep our jobs or because one job does not pay a living wage, and we are voluntarily enrolling our children in their own version of the adult rat race. There's a saying worth keeping in mind: Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat.

"Over-Scheduled Kids, Under-Connected Families"
October 26

William Doherty, presenter
Noon to 1 p.m.
215 Donhowe Building
U of M, East Bank

Children have lost large amounts of free time since the early 1980s. They play less and their unstructured time has declined significantly, while their structured sports time has doubled. Children spend 50 percent more time studying than 20 years ago with little to show in overall academic gains. Household conversations have declined, from infrequent to none. What does this mean for children and their families? And what can we do about it? Register at the Work/Life Web site.

As a family therapist I am especially concerned that we have allowed the adult world of marketplace values and hyper-competition to invade the family. Parents, of course, love their children and try to do what is best for them. But we are raising our children in a culture that defines a good parent as an opportunity provider in a competitive world. Parenting becomes like product development, with insecure parents never knowing when they've done enough and when their children are falling behind. Keeping our children busy at least means they are in the game. (I know six-month-old babies who take three different classes per week.) We are training our children to become workaholics when they grow up, in order to compete in the global economy. And parenting has become a competitive sport, with the trophies going to the busiest.

Fortunately, the counter-revolution has begun in the form of the Take Back Your Time movement. It started in 2003 with Take Back Your Time Day on October 24, which is becoming an annual national event. The organization is committed to counteracting the forces of overwork, overscheduling, and chronic sense of hurry. The movement is examining the forces of economic insecurity, consumerism, hyper-competition, invasive technology, out-of-control sports, and our failure to buffer our children and families from these toxic forces.

William Doherty is a professor of family social science and a member of the national steering committee for Take Back Your Time Day. He has helped to organize three local communities in Minnesota around the problem of overscheduled kids and underconnected families.

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