Work today: longer hours + more time with kids = burn-out

Update: Wanna be less busy? There’s still time!

No “Skype Walk-in” this Thursday or Saturday, but there are still openings for the upcoming “Skype Workshop.”

Would another day work for “Skype Walk-in”? Let me know!

Sighting yesterday: Black woman walking in Central Park. Pink cell phone under bra. On top of left breast.

Symptom of busyness. Sign of vanity.

In her essay entitled “Family” (1996) from her collection The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, the writer Marilynne Robinson observes,

An employed American today works substantially longer hours than he or she did twenty-five years ago [around 1970], when only one adult in an average household was employed and many more households had two adults. The recent absence of parents from the home has first of all to do with how much time people spend at work. Some of them are ambitious businesspeople or professionals, but many more patch together a living out of two or three part-time jobs, or work overtime as an employer’s hedge against new hiring. Statistically the long hours simply indicate an unfavorable change in the circumstances of those who work. If an average household today produces more than twice as much labor in hours as an average household did twenty-five years ago, and receives only a fraction more in real income, then obviously the value of labor has fallen–even while the productivity of labor in the same period has risen sharply. So, male and female, we sell ourselves cheap, with the result that work can demand always more of our time, and our families can claim always less of it. (91-2)

What was true in 1996 is even more so in 2011. And yet, what Robinson could not have foreseen was the paradoxical result that parents today are spending more time, not less, with their children. According to a USC study reported on in The New York Times, over the period from 1965 to 2007, “the amount of child care time spent by parents at all income levels–and especially those with a college education–has risen ‘dramatically’ since the mid-1990s.”

So many demands, so little time, not much relief. Hence, professionals are in a “time-crunch”: too busy, quite often depressed, and self-reportedly burnt-out. Can we blame them?

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Good-bye, cell phone; hello, birdies

Update: Wanna be less busy? There’s still time!

No “Skype Walk-in” this Thursday or Saturday, but there are still openings for the upcoming “Skype Workshop.”

Would another day work for “Skype Walk-in”? Let me know!

So you got rid of your cell phone?

Yeah.

What are you going to do now?

Eat, pray, and love.

Oh, come on, sensei. Seriously.

OK, seriously: I’ll listen to the church bells, to the birdsong, to voices. Give clearer instructions. Take responsibility for my words. Learn patience. Love chance.

And what if there’s an emergency?

I’ll cry for help…. “Help! Help! Save me, Popeye, saaaaave me!”

Fine: I’ll use my wits. That’s it.

But why do you seem to think that you can have an insurance policy for everything life throws your way? Has it ever occurred to you that we live with Black Swans? Rumsfeldianly: It’s not the known knowns or the known unknowns that’ll bite you in the ass. It’s the unknown unknowns. For them, cell phones are a faint cry in the dark. Woof.

So you’d rather be helpless? Is that it?

No, I’d rather look at the situation and think on my toes. Be reasonable and rely on my judgment.

Frankly, here’s what I don’t get about the whole cell phone culture. How can you build a life based on the idea of catastrophe? It’s as though you were advocating building a police state based on 911. Really. Or as if you were building a parenting model based on the ungrounded fear that your child could be harmed by a pedaphile.

You’re totally weird. You know that, right? I mean cell phones are convenient. They make my life so much easier.

Oh? Consider all the texting you do to set up appointments that are then canceled at the last minute. That’s convenient. Or all the time spent consulting a smart phone in lieu of using your reason. All the hang-ups and the break-ups and the disputes rattled off in these lonely tete-a-tetes. All the half-chewed-on thoughts in need of instant expression. All the checking and re-checking and anxiety and anticipation. All the minutes and the hours. Oh, yes, how convenient. God forbid we should have to listen to each other and commit ourselves to something. Yes, God actually forbid this.

Come on, the truth is that you’re free-riding. All this florid talk is only covering up your irresponsibility. After all, you’re taking advantage of everyone else having a cell. So you can get rid of your cell and then expect everyone else to bend to your will. You’re strong-arming, and you won’t admit it.

I can’t put it to you any more simply than this: If you’ve got your life in order, then the idea of having a cell will no longer make sense to you. We think that it’s  a solution to being so busy when in reality it’s a symptom of a busy life that’s making us unhappy and leaving us depleted.

I’d be happy if everyone else also got rid of their cell phones. Forget about time management, attend to your soul, and life will go well.

So intoneth the Zen Master… Koan me!

Busyness is not absorption

Update: Wanna be less busy? There’s still time!

No “Skype Walk-in” this Thursday, but there’s still room this Saturday. Also, there are still openings for the upcoming “Skype Workshop.”

Would another day work for “Skype Walk-in”? Let me know!

At our peril, we confuse being busy with being absorbed. The first is abuzz with activity, the second at peace in calmness. To be busy is to eye  the clock and turn things out. To be absorbed is to feel whole, losing oneself and loving one’s life.

What’s the matter with being so busy? 2 invitations to Skype

The Question

Why are we so busy all the time, and why do we valorize busyness in some cases despite feeling overwhelmed by it in others?

The Proposal

Two proposals, as a matter of fact, both of which are centered on the problem of busyness.

1st Proposal: “Skype Walk-ins.” I’d like to try setting aside ~1 hour a week when someone can “walk-in,” have a philosophical conversation with me over Skype, and feel as though he/she has gotten some philosophical clarity. I’d like to start off, though, with sign-ups. I’m setting the fee at $25 per session.

Interested? Scroll down to the “Logistics” section below.

2nd Proposal: “Skype Workshop.” I’d like to try running a roughly 1.5 hr. workshop with 5 people over Skype. I’ll start off with a roughly 30 min. talk about busyness and then we’ll have a 30-45 min. discussion (who knows how long?) afterward. I’m setting the fee at $10/person.

Interested? Scroll down to the “Logistics” section below.

The Occasion

I read 2 items in the news recently that were very disturbing. Journalists at Mother Jones report that many employees are going through a “great speedup”: they’re being asked to be more productive per unit of time and to work longer hours throughout the week. In effect, they’re being asked (told!) to do the job of 2-3 people. As you might expect, workers at these companies report to being very busy: too much work, no more pay, and too little time for life otherwise (family, leisure, reading, contemplation, etc.).

The second item is just as disheartening. In The New York Times this past weekend, there was a feature about mid-20-somethings and 30-somethings who were working 3 or 4 part-time jobs in order to make ends meet. The problem was that, together, the part-time jobs added up to 80 hours a week (so more than a full-time job actually), did not amount to that much pay, and (obviously) didn’t come with any benefits. More frightening, young persons’ solution to the problem of a collapsing job market is only making it more difficult for them to think about what a more genuine, more sustainable solution could look like. And oh are they busy!

The Puzzle

We seem to be very confused about the nature of good work.

On the one hand, we often describe good work in terms of being busy. We say that we were “productive,” that we “got a lot of work done today,” and we feel a sense of pride when we say this. But is good work the same thing as being productive? And is the experience of meaningful work the same thing as the experience of being busy? I doubt it.

On the other hand, we also describe being overworked in terms of being busy. Overwhelmed and stressed out, we make our excuses and cancel our plans. We go to therapy and complain to friends. We get nasty with our kids.

How can it be that peaks and valleys of work seem to be conceptualized in the language of busyness? Something ain’t right. Is it possible to get off this conceptual seesaw? I think so. And can we take time for ourselves in order to think seriously about our lives? I hope so.

My Reasons

Why try out “Skype Walk-ins” and “Skype Workshops?” For many reasons, the foremost being that I’m trying to bring philosophy back into the public sphere and into our homes. Second, I’m saddened by our current forms of education, and I’m committed to creating macro- and micro-forms of alternative education. Third, I’m looking for meaningful ways to work with more people and to express my gratitude for my life, a life that feels blessed. And, fourth, I’m trying to see whether emergent forms of technology can actually create tactile, face-to-face, intimate experiences rather than the outsourced, thinned-out ones we’ve come to expect from social media and online forums.

Like much in life, this is an experiment, a conjecture, an invitation. Care to join me?

Logistics

If you’re interested in trying things out, then please fill in the Contact Form with the following:

  • Name, contact info, & Skype Name.
  • A thing or two about yourself and about the bugbear of busyness.
  • Preference for “Walk-in” or “Workshop” or both.
  • If “Walk-in,” indicate whether you’re free this Thursday evening (6/30) or this Saturday afternoon/evening (7/2). **Let’s see whether we can schedule something during these busy times!**
  • If “Workshop,”  indicate your general availability, i.e., the days when you’re generally free.

A note about the “Workshop”: It will only run provided that 1) 5 people sign-up & 2) the July 11 deadline sign-up (2 weeks from now) is met. If 1) and 2) are met, then the Skype Workshop will run some time after July 11, hopefully mid-July.

Requirements

  1. That you have a Skype account. Very easy to set one up if you don’t have one already.
  2. That you have a PayPal account. Also easy to set up.

I’ll have a header running at the top of my daily blog to keep you posted about availability and such. Feel free to forward this post to friends and neighbors who might also be interested.

Finally, I want to thank all those who’ve been reading regularly and who’ve told me, in so many ways, how much my writing has meant to them. It means a lot.

Simplify, simplify

Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify.

Thoreau, Walden

To simplify life
I left my cell.
Now I listen
think & skype.