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The Time Challenge: Find your 30 hours of leisure


This week, The Dr. Phil Show is airing a segment based on an article I wrote for the Washington Post Magazine on a working mother's (fruitless?!) search for the 30 hours of leisure that experts say I have every week.

Many readers wrote me saying they wondered what they'd find if they tracked their own time.

So, herewith are links to blank time diary formats. (You'll see I goosed one to capture multi-tasking, adding my own category: "Doing Anything Else?")

These are the traditional forms that time researchers have been using since the 1960s and that the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses today for its American Time Use Survey. For those truly time-starved, just capture one 24-hour period. (That's all many researchers do, and then they extrapolate that information out over seven days. I thought that was nuts, as my Wednesdays are usually never the same from week to week and Tuesday is nothing like Sunday, usually... but they swear the 24-hour system works...)

If you want, a second school of time research has sprung up to try to better capture how we perceive time, called the Experience Sampling Method, which tracks not only what we're doing, but how we're feeling at the time. For instance, you may be engaged in an activity that looks like leisure, on a bike ride with your family, say, but if you're worrying about which accounts you're going to have to steal money from in order to pay the mortgage and how on earth you're going to get your daughter to a 4 pm ballet class every Wednesday in the middle of your work day, well, then your time will feel a whole lot different.

In my time journals, I used a hybrid of the traditional 24-hour activity diary and ESM by tracking what I did, how long it took and how I felt at the time. (Who knew it took 45 minutes to fold four overflowing baskets of laundry?)

It read a little stream of conscious-y - "10/8/ 9 pm. "Who I envy - because isn't time really about the way we live our lives? the small choices of this 10 minutes, that half hour that add up to meaning, happiness, legacy - mothers walking with their children in the middle of the day that aren't in a hurry to get somewhere. People who are reading at Starbucks in the middle of the afternoon."

The social scientists didn't like it: my time was messy, chopped up in little pieces and it didn't fit into neat categories with straight lines. But whose time does?

Track your own time, what you do and how it feels and tell me what you find. Did you get your 30 hours of leisure?

By Brigid Schulte  | March 31, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  More on the story, The inside story  
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