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TV time outstrips family time, Canadian survey finds

Family watching television, children facing away from television

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If we had our way, we would on average spend about seven fewer hours a week at work, four fewer hours a week watching television, and two fewer hours a week commuting. We yearn to spend three additional hours a week with our family, another three hours with our spouse, and about three extra hours involved with our community. We also want four extra hours of "me time," and about two more hours of sleep.

That's the finding of a unique study by Toronto-based consultant Mark Ellwood, of Pace Productivity. It's based on responses from 22,797 visitors to his productivity website who identified themselves as employed and filled out a tabulator on how they spent their time and how they wished they could spend their time. Sixty-two per cent of respondents were female, leading him to suggest women are more interested in their use of time than men.

On average, men worked 48 hours a week while women worked 43.5 hours. Women work fewer hours because they face greater pressure at home to attend to child care and domestic responsibilities, and they often tend to be employed in more clerical jobs that require fewer hours.

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Hours worked stretched from part-timers to a group he labelled as "danger time" – 2 per cent of the male respondents and 1 per cent of the female respondents – who were working about 85 hours a week. From there, it scaled back for men to an "extreme" designation if their work was around 72 hours a week, "excess" time at about 60 hours, "over time" at about 50 hours, "extra time" at about 45 hours, and "full time" at 40 hours. For women it was similar, although the group working dangerous hours were averaging 89.6 hours a week, four hours more than their male counterparts.

Beyond work, the biggest allocation of time was for sleep, on average 47.5 hours a week, about the same for men and women. Contrary to belief, sleep was largely unaffected by hours worked, except for those at the top end working more than 80 hours a week, who could only manage 39.5 hours a week of sleep for men and 35.1 hours for women.

The next three biggest expenditures of time were for television, family time, and me time respectively. Men in the study watched slightly more television than women, 12 hours to 11 hours. As men increase their working hours, television saw the biggest reduction after me time, decreasing by 7 hours a week. For women, it's a five-hour decrease – the third biggest decline, after me time and family time.

Family time is counted separately from time with a spouse. Men spent, on average, 10.8 hours of family time, almost two hours less than women's 12.7 hours, while time with a spouse was essentially indistinguishable, at 7.8 hours and 7.6 hours respectively. When people work longer, they cut their family time. As work hours for men rise about 10 hours from the full-time to the overtime category, family time drops by 1.2 hours; for women, the drop is double, at 2.4 hours.

"The advent of children has an even larger impact on family time than do work hours. Among all employed women, mothers without children spend just 7 hours per week on family, while those with children spent 21 hours on family time. The increase, once children arrive, comes at the expense of me time, spouse and sleep," he notes.

Me time is for reading, hobbies, fitness, socializing, entertainment, and the Internet – a separate category from personal care time spent on bathroom, dressing and make-up. Me time is the most affected by increases in overtime hours, dropping as much as 8 to 9 hours a week. By contrast, personal care time is only marginally affected by changes in work hours and commuting time only slightly, as people working long hours find themselves going to and from work when the roads are empty.

Mr. Ellwood notes the oddity that when asked how they would ideally spend their time, the second biggest change envisioned is cutting back television time, with both sexes wanting to spend four fewer hours a week. "Some of the categories could be considered as ones where there is little choice. Yet television is arguably an activity that affords the largest possible choice, and is the easiest one to cut down on," he says.

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Not surprisingly, those who work longer have a greater tendency to feel rushed. As well, more women feel rushed than men. Interestingly, folks who work longer hours do not gain a greater sense of accomplishment. But Mr. Ellwood notes this growing sense of not having accomplished what they set out to do as they work longer hours may not be entirely related to work, and may reflect the cuts to other areas of life, as chores and other important activities remain undone.

All those figures might stir up a feeling of dissatisfaction as you are reminded of the daily struggle for time. But 57 per cent of the male respondents were very or fairly satisfied with their lives, while 64 per cent of women report such satisfaction. Still, with longer hours of work, satisfaction levels decline, something to consider as the pressure to work longer hours seems to be increasing.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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