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.