How’s life going these days? Are we having fun yet? The name of this column is “Quality of Life.” How would you assess the quality of your life? By what measure do you evaluate it? Often, in order to determine how we feel about our lives, we have to examine our expectations.
How you spend your time impacts your life satisfaction in a big way. I have run into many, many people who feel that their lives lack organization — that they should be able to do more — and if they could only use time more efficiently, they would have a better quality of life. It is an interesting assumption, so let’s take a look at it.
Generally speaking, people divide their time into four areas: work, family, community service (broadly defined) and maintenance. Work, of course, is your job and anything that you do that is related to it. (Involvement in professional organizations or time spent commuting to work or related functions, etc., would fall into this category.) Family obligations include efforts that you expend in support of your spouse, children, parents, relatives, pets, close friends — any relationships that you value and are meaningful to you. Community service could mean anything from volunteering for a nonprofit organization to serving your church or religious entity. Finally, the category of maintenance would include anything that it takes to stay afloat — upkeep on your home, yard work, paying bills, cleaning, doctor visits, grocery shopping, vehicle maintenance. All are time consuming and often are overlooked when a person considers how they spend time.
So, let’s consider an average person and how that person spends his/her time. Just as a refresher, remember that there are 24 hours in a day. (Sometimes people forget this.)
Let’s say that you work an average of 10 hours per day. This obviously will vary, depending upon the type of practice you have and what you are working on at any given time. Sometimes it will be more like 12-14 hours per day; sometimes it will be fewer than that. Now, let’s add in the daily commute — we’ll use a “during-rush-hour” average commute time of 45 minutes, each way, bringing work time to 11.5 hours.
Do you eat? Do you do it while you are working? Most people do, I think, or they skip meals entirely for lack of time. Let’s say you aren’t one of those people, though, and you take 30 minutes combined for breakfast/lunch (15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes sometime around noon). You have now accounted for 12 hours of your 24-hour day.
Let’s say that one of your kids has an after-school event that you want to attend. Add an hour for that. When you leave the school, you go straight to a committee meeting for a nonprofit that you support. On your way, you call your mom to set up a time to help write checks for her bills. The meeting and commute will take about an hour and a half. Then you go home and cook dinner. Let’s say it takes 30 minutes to get from your committee meeting to home and 30 minutes to throw together something to eat. You can probably wolf that down in about 30 minutes. Dinner clean up is another 30 minutes.
Now you have time to sort laundry and throw in a load of towels while you call the chair of the church committee to discuss Sunday’s pitch-in dinner. The sorting of the laundry takes about 20 minutes, the phone call, including exchanging pleasantries with your committee chair, 10 minutes.
If I have calculated correctly, you have now used about 17 hours of your day, which means if you fall into bed now, and go right to sleep, you will get seven hours of sleep before you do it all over again. But you won’t go right to bed. You will read for a while, or you may watch TV. But most likely, you will check your work email, which may get you all riled up such that it will be hard to fall asleep. You will sleep for about five or six hours.
When you start to believe that you are a failure because you can’t squeeze more into your day, stop it. You are actually doing some pretty amazing things by juggling all of life’s obligations. I have found, quite often, that people tend to underestimate the amount of time they spend on life’s necessities. They forget that it takes time to go to the grocery or to clean up after dinner. They don’t consciously account for those “invisible moments” that take up time every day.
Of course, you could hire someone to do your laundry, or your cooking, or to care for your mom. You could forgo the committee, or you could miss your child’s program or game. It is true that you do have to pick and choose your priorities. On the other hand, you may not be able to afford to pay other people to do some of those chores, and the volunteer work and family time give meaning to your life. Please, don’t beat yourself up for not doing more than you are already. Self-flagellation never improved anyone’s quality of life as far as I can tell.
Keep in mind that even though you spend many hours at work, hopefully, it is work that you find fulfilling and adds a positive element to your day. Your kids will always be grateful that you were there to see the game or watch the dance recital. And if you are paying mom’s bills, at least you know where her money is going. All of that is a plus. If you want to try to do more, maybe the best thing you can do is to cultivate an acceptance that you already do quite enough for one person. That may be your biggest accomplishment.•
Jonna Kane MacDougall is assistant dean for external affairs and alumni relations at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law. A professional career/life coach, MacDougall can be contacted at 317-775-1804 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.