Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wide Margins

There is an interesting post on Laura Vanderkam's blog detailing the "ideal week" of an imaginary woman (Jane) that is balancing a family and a super-important job. Go skim the beginning, and then read in detail Jane's daily schedule. How do you feel after reading it?

I think the point was to make the reader feel inspired, because Look! Jane works 55 hours a week and still has lots of time for her kids, and exercise, and even date night! And I think the underlying message---that higher-level jobs offer the flexibility to allow for as much (if not more) family time than lower-level jobs. And the money to outsource the "non-priorities" that eat up a lot of women's time. So yes, lean in! Get a great job that affords you the ability to build your own schedule that fits your family's needs.

But honestly,  reading Jane's actual schedule exhausted me. So much packed into each day, with no downtime (and unrealistically, sometimes no commute or get-ready time---how does she stop running at 9:30 and get downtown to work by 10?). It would require meticulous scheduling and planning, not to mention endless reserves of physical and mental energy to stick to such a routine.

I can't live like that. I've tried. I know that there are many unused corners in my 168-hour week. If I work 45 hours and sleep 50 hours, that still leaves over SEVENTY hours in the week. I could be working out an hour a day, keeping my house immaculate, and spending loads of quality time with my husband and kids.

But it doesn't work like that, does it? All hours are not equal. I may have an hour from 9-10pm, but I can't fit work-outs there, I'm exhausted, its dark & unsafe outside, and it'd keep me from falling asleep. I also can't work out when L needs cuddles at 5:30 AM (we take turns providing the cuddles, so one of us can work out).

And maybe I COULD get out a spreadsheet and carefully add all the puzzle pieces so that my days are penciled with productive activities from 5:30 AM to 10:30 PM on weekdays and the weekends are equally scheduled with "fun". It could work in theory. But in reality, something will come up, and one activity will have to be pushed to another day. And suddenly the whole thing falls apart.

I realized I like my life to have wide margins. Time for down-time, to make up what didn't happen yesterday, to fit in an unexpected emergency without throwing off the entire day, week, month.
At home, it fits with my goal of creating more free time and relaxation for our family.  At work, it just keeps me from being a frazzled, anxious mess. I know people who schedule meetings back to back to back with no regard for a) travel time or b) needing downtime in between to eat/pee/check email. Invariably they just get later & later as the day wears on. I can't live like that.

When I was young and naive, I used to love to be busy. I adored looking at my calendar and seeing all the social activities, and volunteer work, and hobbies I had scheduled. Opportunities for living (because you know, my greatest fear was "not having a life").

But I've grown and I've changed, and now I love nothing more than a blank day. The expanse of white paper, and the possibilities it holds.


  1. I agree ... too much scheduling. It would make me completely stressed out ... too stressed to actually *enjoy* the time to be present with my family, because I'd be thinking about what I had to do next. As someone about to embark on a new job with a 1 hour commute each way, I'd love for this to be true, but "zipping home" for a story at my daughter's preschool is not a reality. There's a lot missing from the picture she presents.

  2. I also felt exhausted reading that weekly schedule and I also wondered... What happens when meetings run over or you find you've lingered at Target for much too long or there is traffic or you want to go to a staff party after work or all number of possible things that come up. What happens, basically, when life gets in the way?

    I also like wide margins in my life. I need that downtime. I need some time on my couch watching TV or on my bad reading a book. I NEED that. And yeah, as a teacher I basically have the LEAST flexible job available. The school day is rigid, you HAVE to be there when classes are in session (and then for IEP and 504 and staff meetings before and after school). It's true we get good vacations but during the 10 months when there are classes, you are bound to that bell schedule. It's brutal.

    I suppose seeing people accomplish that is helpful for some people but I will never have a life like that. Not unless I change everything. And frankly, I don't have the energy for that. ;)

  3. I totally agree - I need/like big blocks of "down time" (or, at least, unscheduled time) to catch up on things that piled up while in meetings or on days that are more scheduled. I don't like the idea of having every minute of every day planned for, because it doesn't work with the flexibility that life needs.

  4. I think that sort of pace works well for certain people (type As) who would also enjoy high-powered jobs. It doesn't work so well for regular workers who need that wide margin AND also want the flexibility. I've found ways to get my own flexibility within a normal white collar job though.

  5. I read the schedule on Sarah's blog and it made me want to punch her. So, at least your feelings about it were more mature than mine were.

  6. i am definitely a schedule-a-holic and am not as big on white space IN THEORY, but then i often find that i need it in the moment. that said, we have a pretty busy weekend coming up and i'm honestly looking forward to it more than if we had little planned. (although 'host bbq' and 'father's day breakfast' aren't exactly the most strenuous of activities).

    as with everything else in life, i suppose there has to be a balance. already so tired of the b-word, though.

    1. I do actually love some weekends like that---but they need to be balanced (sorry!) out by more low-key weekends. I need better synonyms for "balance"!

  7. I'm of two minds about that post.

    On the one hand, I have always been seriously irritated about LV's insistence that we schedule all our fun time. I need time when I don't have any mental load because I have so much mental load at work.

    On the other hand, I think it's important to show that some people who work these 55 hour weeks (the kind that include all the time wasted at work at the water cooler, because you have to do that) do get to see their children. If that schedule is based on a real person then that person exists and we should give her kudos. Even if we don't want her life, there's no reason to slam it.

    If I posted my 55 hour weeks (of which I used to have more, but now not so many), you'd see that I would add in a lot of work on Sunday, and a night class on Monday, and that I would spend a lot of time with my kid, and my exercise would be family time and my chore time would be family time. We had very regimented days those first few years on the job... essentially we'd come home, cook, eat, do some laundry, take a walk, read to the kid, and go to bed. On Sunday we'd trade off working. (When computers were slower I'd sometimes get up in the middle of the night to check on my regressions and maybe pump a little.) We don't do that anymore, but only because class prep no longer takes so long. But they were real weeks and we did do the stuff we considered priorities: work and family. We existed, enjoyed being together, and we didn't have a clean house and we didn't care.

    1. I actually do agree with you, I did appreciate the intent of the post. I don't mean to slam Jane's life, I think she's pretty amazing. And the message that you can indeed have a high-power job AND family time is extremely important.
      But reading made me learn something about myself---namely, that while I WANT to want that kind of life, I really don't.

  8. Thanks for posting that link. Blew my mind that somebody could actually prescribe that as a way of life to pursue. Yes, it's going to work wonders for some people, but for the vast majority, it just seems to be another way to blame women for, as you said, not wanting that kind of life. Ugh.

  9. I have to say, reading the post you linked to made me queasy. That's not how I want to live my life. I know plenty of women who do, and it works for them, at least on the outside. But it is NOT ME. And I agree with what you say about wide margins with every fiber of my being.

  10. I love your phrase "wide margins". That is exactly what I need as well (and thankfully am getting right now.)

    I think it's ok to not want those things.

  11. Thanks for linking to my post. I'm fascinated to see some of the responses (though the idea that someone wants to punch me is a wee bit disconcerting!)

    I'm most puzzled by the idea that there isn't down time in here. The reason Jane worked 2 very long days is to buy herself down time on other days. She's hanging out with her kids (who aren't babies in the example I gave) the entire late afternoon and evening several days per week. For all we know she's sitting on the couch with a beer while they all watch Sponge Bob Square Pants together. Her weekend featured nothing scheduled after 5 p.m. Friday beyond 2 work outs (let's say 1 hour each), a date night with her husband and then getting back to work on Sun night. She could have nothing going on from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

    While this is not my schedule, I've worked a number of 55-hour weeks in my life, and I don't feel like every second is planned. Some days it is. But there are 168 hours in a week and a lot of them aren't. I have time to catch fireflies at night, to read, to surf the web...My husband works pretty long hours too and he also seems to have reasonable amounts of down time.