Saturday, July 12, 2008

Take Back Your Time, John de Graaf, Ed

Jo Hunter Adams

This book consists of a series of chapters by participants in the Take Back Your Time movement. Each chapter stands alone, there's a tremendous amount of information to be gleaned from each individual's perspective on time poverty, particularly in the United States.

When I first arrived in Boston, after growing up in South Africa and having spent two years in Wales, UK, my greatest adjustment was undoubtedly in changing the way I spent my time. I felt tremendous time pressure, and came to value time completely differently. I chose to read this book because I think it is extremely relevant for understanding the challenges facing westerners who would like to live more simply, more affordably, and with more free time.

Americans work more than any other nation in the industrialized world. Although, as a nation, work has become far more productive, it has done so without a corresponding decrease in work hours or increase in vacation time. Interestingly, where jobs have switched from an hourly-based work week to a productivity-based work week, people have actually gotten MORE done.

Although the U.S. in particular has this problem, it is surely a theme that resonates globally-- rather than decreasing work hours, people choose to continuously increase their standard of living. And this is definitely not always a choice-- decreasing work hours has not traditionally been an option.

There are many, many consequences to increased work and decreased leisure and vacation time.
1) Decreased time with children. Take Back your Time described a study that found that the greatest determinant of a child's success was not the number/breadth/depth of activities they took part in, but the number of dinners the child ate together with their family.

2) No time to exercise.

3) Increased time in front of the television. Time spent in front of the television actually increases with time spent at work, rather than being a measure of leisure time, it is a measure of how brain dead one is when one arrives home at the end of the day.

4) No time to cook. One article described how families with less time had a far greater environmental impact-- they ate out more, threw away a lot more packaging/etc, and didn't even feel they had time to recycle.
There is enough land on earth for each person (excluding all the natural habitat that we share with other species) to have an impact of about 5 acres. The average American uses up the resources of the equivalent of 25 acres. This book thus becomes extremely relevant for those of us who are thinking of how to-- individually and collectively-- tread more lightly on the earth.

The list goes on.

My take home message was this: It is possible to be less dependent on a salary by decreasing my standard of living, and one can be as productive with fewer hours-- it seems very positive for American companies to switch from model that rewards hours to a model that rewards certain results that improve the quality of service, management, or product.

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