How Busy Are We?

Too busy to exercise. 

A third of all Americans fail to exercise for at least 2.5 hours per week. 

Too busy to go to church. 

Only 40 percent of Americans claim to attend religious services on Sunday. Experts guesstimate, however, that the real number is closer to 20 percent. 

Too busy to read. 

Only half of all adult Americans have read a novel, short story, poem or play in the past year.  

Too busy to play with our children. 

Depending on whether they work full time, part time or at home, parents average a mere 11 to 30 minutes of playtime with their children each day. 

Too busy to sleep.  

The average American adult claims to sleep less than seven hours per night. The average working mother claims to sleep less than six hours. 

Too busy to leave the office. 

About a third of Americans report working more than 50 hours per week. Twelve percent claim to work more than 60. 

Sources: Statistics are featured in Laura Vanderkam’s “168 Hours: You have More Time Than You Think,” and originally compiled by the National Sleep Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pew Forum, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Keeping It Simple

In her book “Smart Martha’s Catholic Guide for Busy Moms” (OSV, $14.95), Tami Kiser shares the following general principles to help families decide which activities they need to keep or kiss goodbye:  

1. Pray. Don’t overlook this simple start to your solution. Ask God for wisdom and some clear insight. He will give it to you. Just don’t be afraid to listen.  

2. Write out your schedule. See if it is physically possible to do it. Next, judge if you can psychologically do it. Just because you can physically fit it on your calendar doesn’t mean you actually have time for it. Both children and parents need downtime and completely schedule-free time.  

3. Compare your schedule to your family mission statement or your values. “But we don’t have one of these.” Neither do I — nothing written down, anyway. But as a family, we have an unwritten family mission that both my husband and I have agreed upon. Writing a family mission statement is a great tool for families to do together. (Google it! There are great sites about this.) It can be the measure that you will use for all of your decisions. For us, God is the first priority. The second is one another. This already gives me some indication of what should come first. If basketball games are always on Sunday, and that is the time our family goes to church and hangs out as a family, then maybe I should look into soccer instead. If basketball is really important to us, then our family time might have to change to another day, which may mean that the ballet class has to go away. If God is first, are we involved in the parish or youth group or other activities that show this? Some other aspects of your mission statement may include service, intellect, health, the arts and music, and just plain fun. With this, you can see that school and homework take a high priority. Also, you can see how piano lessons and soccer may fit in here as well.  

4. Set a standard. When we had all young children, we set this standard: One art (like dance, music or drawing) and one sport per season. We have pretty much followed this as the kids have grown. And it has kept us pretty busy! Our kids have excelled in music, and we have experienced a great variety of sports. For us, to keep this standard, and to avoid not overloading our schedules, we have said no to traveling teams. We also choose not to be involved in year-round swimming, gymnastics, or a ballet company that involves a sacrifice of time and financial commitment. These work for some families, and are a great source of fun and together time, but not for us. The great variety of sports that our children have experienced — usually four different ones a year — has helped them to zone in on one or two in high school.  

5. Stick to your commitments. I know this is difficult to do when you feel so overwhelmed and may have made a bad decision. But unless you are really desperate, try to stick it out. It teaches our children what it means to make a commitment, and what it means to be on a team. It also teaches children the virtue of fortitude. Finish those piano lessons this year (maybe you don’t have to do it next year), and finish up the football season, even if you are taking a beating.

Nine Time-Saving Tips

Looking to get your schedule under control? Then try putting these nine tips from time-management experts David Chodorowski, Marshall Cook and Laura Vanderkam into practice. 

Plan your day the night before. Every night, before hitting the sack, set aside 30 minutes to plan out the next day: Arrange your schedule, make a reasonable “to-do” list, lay out the kids’ clothes, and gather up any papers or items that will play a part in the next day’s errands and tasks.  

Do your most important work off-line. If your job is all about browsing and surfing this may not work for you, but for the rest of us, staying off the Internet creates a sacred space that allows us to better focus on our primary tasks. Even if your Internet fast lasts only an hour, it will still make a significant difference in how quickly and effectively you work. 

Stop checking your email like a monkey addicted to crack. Seriously. It’s not going anywhere. So unless your job requires you to answer every email as it comes in, turn off that pesky “ping” and check it only at designated times — preferably no more than two to four times daily.  

Schedule your Facebook time … or your Drudge Report time or your Wall Street Journal time or your EW.com time. Whatever your online reading preferences are, reserve a slot on your calendar to indulge them. When that allotted time is up, step away from the computer … quickly. 

Move some furniture. If possible, rearrange your office so that during the workday, you face away from distractions. Position your desk so that you no longer look toward co-workers or passersby. Put items that distract you (books, papers, etc.) out of sight. And keep clutter to a minimum so that only the task at hand is in front of you.

Take a vacation (or four) during the workday. Experts recommend up to four “mini-breaks” daily in order to reduce stress and heighten productivity. So read a book for 15 minutes over lunch, take a walk around the building in the afternoon, or simply close your eyes and pray a chaplet at 3 p.m. Then, return to work.  

Be realistic. When most of us plan our days, we plan them as we want them to be. But when things don’t go according to plan (which they rarely do), tasks pile up and leave us feeling frustrated and frazzled. To avoid that problem, allot more time to each planned task or project than you think you need. If you get done early, all the better. 

Stop hitting the snooze button. Every morning, get up when the alarm goes off. No excuses. No delays. Every nine minutes you sleep past the alarm is nine minutes you’ll be scrambling to make up for later in the day. 

Give God the first fruits. Don’t try and find time for God as the day goes on. Give him the first moments of your day. Say a Rosary over coffee. Pray the Morning Office. Head directly out the door and make your way to daily Mass. And while you’re talking to God, give him the day. Ask him what he wants you to do, and then ask him for the grace (and time) to do it. He’ll come through.  

Looking for more tips? Then visit LifeBalanceExperts.com and My168hours.com.

To read more from this week's In Focus section:  "Putting prayer first in the midst of busy lives".