"It has been left to our generation to discover that you can move heaven and earth to save five minutes and then not have the faintest idea what to do with them when you have saved them." (C.E.M. Joad)
I'm writing this on Saturday, but it's one of the oddest Saturdays of the year -- the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This week is weird. Any week with a four-day-weekend feels a little tipsy to me. Yesterday -- the day known as Black Friday -- felt like Saturday. Today feels like a second Saturday inserted into the week, and I don't know what to do with it.
It's got me thinking about our increasingly strange sense of time. For some -- especially folks in the restaurant business -- Thursday nights have become the new Friday. I guess that makes sense. Black Friday has crept into Thanksgiving night. Sunday nights have kind of become the new Monday morning for a lot of businesses -- especially those doing business with people in foreign countries.
So, Thursdays are the new Friday. Sundays are the new Monday. School starts in August. And Christmas starts in October.
What in the world is going on?
We have microwave ovens and high-efficiency appliances. We have laptops and smartphones. We have more time-saving devices than ever before, but we don't have any more time to show for it.
This is not how it was supposed to work.
Back in the 1950s -- when the economy (and the population) was booming, when housing was cheap and jobs were plentiful -- time-management experts predicted a golden age for Americans. We would be able to devote more time to things that would better society. We'd have extra time to volunteer at schools and churches. We'd be able to read more and write more and think more. People would paint and cultivate community gardens. These were supposed to be the kinds of things we'd do with all of our extra time.
As late as 1967, "expert" testimony was given before as subcommittee in the United States Senate predicting that advances in technology would make the American worker so much more productive that we would be able to choose between working 22 hours a week, working 27 weeks a year, or retiring at the age of 38.
Nope. Nope. And nope.
Instead, we got so productive on Monday that we started working on Tuesday's stuff. We do Friday stuff on Thursdays. We do Monday stuff on Sunday. We reduce the summer break for kids, and we go ahead and put up Christmas lights in October.
We can't wait for what's next. We can't wait for the seasons to change. We can't wait for the calendar to flip.
We can't wait.
And it's killing us.
We suffer from a disease known as "Hurry Sickness". Meyer Friedman defines it as "above all, a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time, frequently in the face of opposition, real or imagined, from other persons."
According to Harvard Economics Professor Juliet B. Schor, compared to the 1960s Americans spend an extra 160 hours at work per year. That's four additional 40-hour weeks. It's like we're working 13 months per year now. Most people I know readily admit to checking in with work even while they're on vacation. I read recently about couples who check their phones while they're in bed...together...supposedly otherwise occupied....
One of the worst decisions I ever made was when I allowed myself to be talked into installing work email on my phone. I was told it would allow me to do more work while I'm traveling or away from WiFi. I failed to stop and ask myself, "Is that what I really want? Do I need to do more work while I'm traveling or away from WiFi? What if the point of traveling and being away from WiFi is to take a break from work?"
The last year-and-a-half has been a time of tremendous change for me in both my personal and my professional life. I've had to rethink everything from my health to my relationships and consider what I want to do with the second half of my life. It's cliche but true to say that, at my age, days are often long but months are short. I'm unwilling to spend what time I have left in a small, windowless office or staring at an electronic device instead of staring at the face of a loved one -- or a sunset -- or a tree -- or a painting.
I used to ask myself, "How can I make more money? How can I increase my Klout score? How can I reach a bigger audience?"
I'm asking different questions now. Questions like, "How can I slow down? How can I enjoy life more? How can I be more enjoyable and present when I'm with others?"
The truth is, no one is going to give you permission to do this. You have to give yourself permission. You have to decide it's okay to do less. You have to decide to go home. You have to decide to close your laptop.
Of course, I want to pay my bills and take care of my kids. But for me...it's okay to not make $100,000 next year. It's okay to not write two books in 2016. It's okay if I don't make Platinum Status on Delta Airlines. It's okay if I'm not the busiest person I know -- as long as I get to spend more time with people I love...and people who know me well enough to love me in return. I'll be fine if I don't make more...as long as I laugh and love and live more.
The next few weeks are going to be crazy for a lot of us. I get it. There are gifts to buy and wrap, parties to attend, meals to prepare. Malls will be visited. Trips will be made. Traffic will be endured. And all of that will happen on top of the normal workload we all bear.
But I'm adding something to the very top of my To Do List for the foreseeable future: