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Test of time: How to find 30 hours of leisure a week

Since I wrote about the challenge of finding the 30 hours of leisure each week that experts say I and other working mothers have, I've received hundreds of emails and messages from people. Some called me a whiny idiot. But most wrote long, heartfelt, insightful and often hilarious notes saying the article resonated with them and their busy lives as they try to live up to higher-than-ever standards of what it takes to be a good mother and at the same time, do fulfilling work outside the home, or at least not get fired...and keep the clothes washed, kitty litter box emptied, Girl Scout forms filled out on time, PTA dues turned in and dishes done.

(For those of you I haven't responded to yet - Please be patient. This is a photo my friend Jane took of me last week in my back yard, looking chagrined at the stack of unanswered mail that's piled up.

And for those of you skeptics: A. Yes, this gathering in my backyard was leisure time. but B. True to modern working family life, this was a gathering of both parents and their kids after the kids performed in a Battle of the Bands. I had just as many cans of root beer on hand for the kids as bottles of wine for the adults. OK, maybe more root beer.)


Dr. Phil took on the challenge on a show that aired Tuesday. Some readers have been giving me advice for getting my scattered life under control:

-Make one doctor's appointment a month. (hard to do with a recently broken tooth, a suspicious cyst and skin cancer follow ups)
-Read "First Things First" - (it's now on the teetering pile of books I need to get to on my bedside table.)
-Make your husband do more (please tell me how)
-Give your kids chores (they have them already)
-Watch Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture" on Youtube. (I did. It/he was brilliant. I try to keep my email inbox to one page, as he suggests, which is why I'm hyperventilating over the unopened stack I worry will purge before I can read them.)
-Breathe deeply at red lights.
-Get a talking to from someone's Aunt Deb.

Christine Louise Hohlbaum sent me her book, The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World. (I read chapter 5 first, on Procrastination: studies she found showed that only 5 percent of Americans considered themselves procrastinators in 1978, but by 2007, that number had grown to 26 percent. "It is a noticeable shift in the way people perceive themselves and their relationship with time," she wrote.)

I met Hohlbaum for coffee at Buzz Bakery in Alexandria one morning when she was in town to meet with Marriott executives to show them her work on multi-tasking - how it requires more effort to shift from task to task than concentrated focus on one thing and is therefore less productive in the long run.

She said that she could talk about living fast and about multi-tasking overload because that's the way she used to live. Then, one day when she was standing in front of the ice cream counter with her three year old daughter, increasingly frustrated at how long the little one was taking to decide which flavor she wanted. Hohlbaum snapped and ordered the little girl vanilla with chocolate sprinkles. It hit her, one of those Road to Damascus moments that changed her life forever, she said. "I thought, 'Why am I rushing? What am I rushing toward? Why are we going so fast? What do we think we're missing?'"

Circumstances conspired to force her to choose a different way of life. She'd dropped out of corporate America when the hours and commute got to be too demanding. Then her husband, a scientist, was laid off. He was unemployed for six months. They'd just finished a massive remodel on their Massachusetts home and were in deep debt.

She took a job as a secretary to help the family make ends meet. But, she said, they also took time to think about choosing the kind of life they really wanted.

They ended up in Germany, where her husband is originally from. He has work he loves. She sets her own hours doing public relations work, writing and occasionally acting in movies in bit parts. She has time to get to the gym every day, have a quiet breakfast with her husband, and, most days, be home when her children arrive home from school. And on days she's not there, she said, it's an opportunity for her children to learn independence.

What has struck her most upon returning to the United States, she said, is that people here not only do not value free time, seeing it as unproductive, but that they feel they need permission before they can enjoy it.

"Leisure is productive time," she said. "We need to redefine the way we think about it. We're filling up the tank so we have more to give. We don't blame the car for needing to stop for gas. But we blame ourselves for having the same need."

Do you have or allow yourself to have leisure time? How do you juggle everything you need and want to do? Share you strategies in the comments below or send them to me and I'll post a list of your most creative solutions.

By Brigid Schulte  | April 1, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Blowback  
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When the kids were growing up, we had a family rule of two activities above & beyond what you did (job, school), and if you wanted to take something else on, you had to decide what to give up. This meant that the kids had adequate time for homework, playing with their friends, and just hanging out; it meant that I wasn't pulled in too many directions trying to chauffeur kids to too many activities. Both kids are grown, and still practice the two activity rule. Overscheduling is counterproductive, IMO.

Posted by: johnsondeb | April 1, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

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