Saturday was Earth Day (don´t worry, I didn´t get you a card, either). Leading up to the day, I received an e-mail newsletter from a group called Take Back Your Time. They are a North American organization that "challenges the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health, or families and relationships, our communities and our environment´. They were suggesting that we celebrate Earth Day by slowing down. Obviously, I´m writing about this too late for that, and I´m not in any way suggesting that this group has all the answers. Some of their ideas are intriguing, though.
To set the stage, they throw out some statistics — we are working more now than we did in the "50´s, we are working more than medieval peasants did (of course, we have electricity, so we don´t have to go to bed at sundown, either), and Americans work, on average, 350 hours per year more than people in Western Europe do. Any statement as broad ranging and generic as those are need to be taken with a grain of salt the size of a boulder, but the sentiment is almost certainly correct. We are working more, we´re blurring the lines between work and non-work, and our work is often getting in the way of things like family, fun and a life.
From there, the group defines a list of effects of the stress that is caused by the lack of time. Time stress, in their minds, threatens our health by leading to accidents and injuries, and causing us to neglect our diet. It threatens our relationships, weakens our communities and reduces employment. Time stress leaves people with less time to be informed, or to have time for ourselves or for personal development. It leads to neglect and abuse of pets and it even, in their minds, leads to the destruction of the environment because we are drawn to convenient products which don´t necessarily have the smallest impact on the earth.
Finally, the group suggests a public policy agenda that could solve some of the problems they identify, which include guaranteeing holidays and limiting overtime.
Whether you agree with what they say or not isn´t important to me. I think they are more right in some cases than they are in others. What I do take from what they say, though, is that time decisions are a conscious choice. Some things that affect our lives and our time are beyond our control, but many more are the result of decisions we make (or ones we fail to make) and the priorities we set. If you have too little time and feel time stress, the first step to making a difference and improving the situation is to consciously decide to make a difference and improve the situation. That´s a concept simultaneously very simple and unbelievably complex. It´s also a concept that is very easy to dismiss as nice, but not applicable in your particular circumstance. You´d be wrong, though.