One Powerful Idea to Help You Conquer "Time Poverty"
To conquer “time-poverty” there’s just one thing you need to know - that no matter how busy, stretched or stressed you are – you’re not time poor.
“Time-poor” and “time poverty” are phrases that are creeping into wider use (although personally, I’d like to see them disappear from usage, immediately!).
For example, this month a (good) Sunday Times article urging schools to offer working parents more flexibility, used the banner “Time-Poor Mums” to headline a statistic on working mothers. And in the Summer many UK newspapers and magazines carried details from a study done for Kelly’s Ice Cream that suggested how “time-poor” our lives are today.
Now I know, and I understand, that it’s very, very tough being a working Mum or a working Dad. Working parents are frequently stressed, worried, tired, hard pressed, constantly juggling conflicting priorities, and short of time for their partners and themselves - in short, “frazzled”.
I know because my partner and I have been there too.
The challenges faced by working parents are very real, and sadly it would appear, becoming more common. Last month the ONS (Office for National Statistics) reported a step change in the employment rate of working mothers from 3.7m in 1996 to 4.9m in 2017, whilst 74% of women with dependent children are in Full Time or Part Time employment.
And it is by no means just Mums that face the challenge, dual-earner households are now the norm in the UK, in 2014 in more than 68% of couple families both parents were working (ONS, Families in the labour market, 2014).
No surprise then, that the Kelly’s study revealed that 75% of people surveyed want more time to relax, and 54% wish there was more time in the day – with the average adult needing an extra 3 hours per day.
But this does not mean anyone is “time-poor”.
Why not? Because you can’t be.
Let me explain…
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “time-poor” as “not having enough time to do things”. This carries an underlying assumption that time is like money, and so in the same way that we can “lack sufficient money to live a normal life” (which we call poor) or “have a great deal of money” (which we call rich), we can somehow lack sufficient time and so be “time-poor” or (presumably) have a great deal of time and be “time-rich”.
Ever since the clock was first used in the 18th century to synchronise labour, time has been thought of in relation to money. And as we’ve moved through the 19th, 20th and into the 21st century and seen society develop an increasingly individualistic and materialistic culture, this notion of “time is money” has strengthened.
But time is not like money (or other material resources). You cannot be “time-poor” (or “time-rich” for that matter) because time is the most equitably distributed resource that I can think of. Everybody on the planet, irrespective of gender, race, belief, sexuality, class, wealth or location has the same amount of time available each week. It is a truly inclusive resource. Whatever our personal circumstances, we all have 168 hours a week in which to plan and carry out our lives.
So, if we can see that our time is fixed, what’s is the point of “wishing” for any extra time – let alone an extra 3 hours a day? (Come on guys that’s 12.5% of the day!) What’s the point of vaguely hoping that one day we’ll “find time” to do something? Where are we going to “find” time? Under a rock? Down the side of the sofa along with those now out of date pound coins? On Amazon?
And now that you’ve started to think, think about 168 hours. That’s a lot of time - let’s do some basic maths. Assume that on average, you spend 8 hours a day asleep (and in the bathroom for a variety of reasons…) that’s 56 hours a week. If you then work for 60 hours a week (and that’s a lot of work, getting on for 9 hours a day every day, including weekends …) you still have 52 hours a week available – that’s almost seven and a half hours every day, every week available to you. Sure, there’s a lot to fit in, but that’s a good chunk of time available.
That’s why I think changing our perception of time is so important; from a perception of scarcity based on an incorrect basic assumption(“time-poor”), to a perception of opportunity – and this is important, because it centres responsibility for our success – or failure – firmly with us; shaped by the choices we make – what will we choose to do with our allotted 168 hours each week?
So, what can the busy, stressed working parent do?
To get started here are three tips, based on my experience as a working Dad, Husband and Coach. Three things I’d encourage working parents who are finding themselves stressed, fraught and over-tired to do now.
1. Track Your Time – if you go to a weight loss clinic or organisation or a dietitian almost certainly the first thing you will be asked to do is to complete a “food diary” and record exactly what you eat for a period of time.
I recommend a similar discipline with your time. For a period of time record in 15-minute sections what you do with your time each day – I promise you the results will surprise – and possibly astonish - you. When you sit down to look at the results you will very quickly begin to see what is absorbing your 168 hours; see where you “lose” time (we all do, and hint, technology is a frequent gobbler of our time; TV, Phone, PC or Tablet – how much time is spent on those 3 gadgets? And how much of that is productive?); you’ll start to see who at work and at home take up your time, and the results aren’t just negative – you’ll also see what in your week is productive, what brings you joy, what fulfills you.
Now I’m not going to kid you here, to do this for a week requires a lot of application, but I promise you the results will be more than worth the effort and will astonish and enlighten you. If you really cannot manage to do it for a week, then try and do it for three days – spanning a weekend and work, I’d suggest Sun – Mon – Tues, it will give you a good insight, but there is no substitute for understanding what your week looks like in its entirety.
And you don’t need any complex technology to do this, a simple piece of paper or a cheap notebook will do or if you want there’s a simple template How to Find Out Where the Time Goes here on my website that you can download and you’re ready to go, and you can read an earlier blog I wrote on the on the subject We Have All the Time in the World here.
2. Ask Yourself What You Want – there’s a time with all my clients when I sound like a Spice Girl! This is when I say to them “tell me what you want, what you really, really want…”. This is a question you need to get used to asking yourself, and your partner repeatedly and in relation to every role in your life. As a parent. As a partner. As an employer. As an employee. As a manager. As a colleague. As a friend. As a daughter or son (these days many working parents also find themselves supporting elderly parents). As a volunteer. As a neighbour. And don’t forget yourself as an individual – what do you want or need to do to relax and look after your wellbeing – even if it is only for 40 minutes a week?
Take time to think about every role you play in life, to imagine what good looks like, to jot your ideas down and then to come back to them a day or two later and look at them afresh – how realistic are they? Are you simply trying to do too much? For example, are you still trying to do the volunteering roles you did before the kids came along? Is that realistic?
“You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want” is a conversation I also have had with virtually every one of my clients to date. Currently with so many opportunities - activities, holidays, entertainments and information - available, it is easy to end up like kids in a sweet shop, trying everything, and spreading ourselves thinner and thinner – but, the consequences of trying to be “all things to all people”, of trying to do everything, are more painful, longer lasting and have much more serious implications than the indigestion and occasional sickness we may have experienced in our younger days…
3. Be Honest…you must make some tough decisions about what you want, and you cannot do that without being brutally honest with (at least) three key people in your life:
Yourself – you know if you’re doing too much. You know if you feel like you’re surviving life rather than living it…if every day is “ultra-busy” but at the end of each day it doesn’t feel that you’ve done anything significant…if you have too much to do and not enough time then admit it to yourself -it’s OK, and admit it without feeling any guilt whatsoever.
As we’ve seen time is not flexible, expandable or variable – everyone has 168 hours a week, and so you must be realistic about what your aspirations are.
Which is why at least two other honest conversations are critical - with your partner and your boss. (You can have more honest conversations, and having an appropriate discussion with the children is very powerful too) I’m just saying these are the minimum – and the ones to start with.
Your Partner – be honest with each other about how you feel, about what you do and what you’d like to do. Ask how they feel – it’s quite likely they’ll be feeling similar – and agree between you what you want to achieve as parents, partners and as individuals, and what it is realistic to achieve in the short term.
Your Boss – don’t be afraid to raise the subject of working hours, flexible working arrangements and expectations about e-mails and out of hours contact and availability with your employer. If you think about it, this conversation makes sense from an employer’s perspective too because if your personal life is in turmoil, you’ll never going to be at your best at work. That way, if your boss typically calls or emails after hours, you can decide whether you’re available or not.
Above all remember why you and your partner had children, and make sure family life gets priority, sometimes with one or other of you, sometimes with both of you, but always up there as a priority.
And don’t forget life commitments and job demands will ebb and flow, so be sure to revisit the conversations with everyone periodically to re-establish realistic expectations.
This is a huge subject and even in a lengthy post, I‘ve barely scratched the surface, and I don’t pretend that any of these things are easy, they’re not.
But it’s a subject that I care deeply about. If you’d like to join in the discussion follow me on social media. Please, have your say in the discussion and share any tips that have worked for you with other working parents. Forget this notion of “time-poverty”, you can achieve success at home and in your career, based on the choices you make.