Time for more time off

SEATTLE – Some baby boomers who have struggled for years to try to balance workloads and family responsibilities are advocating a new solution: working less.

Americans traditionally have sought to get better organized by buying day planners and personal digital assistants, or by hiring time management consultants. But there’s a boomer-led movement now toward cutting work hours – even if it means collecting a reduced salary – to free more time for family, friends and volunteer activities.

John de Graaf, 57, a Seattle freelance television producer and writer, is among the organizers of Take Back Your Time Day today. He calls it a national consciousness-raising event to discuss ways to balance work and life.

Americans may be richer, de Graaf says, “but they’re overworked, overscheduled and overwhelmed – in short, stressed out.”

There are some baby boomers who have made big changes in their lives to try to create more balance.

Don Silver, 54, gave up his law practice in Los Angeles four years ago to become an author and financial writer.

He and his wife, Susan, a 52-year-old management consultant, now work from home so they can concentrate on projects they enjoy, set their own hours and home-school their son Charlie.

“I thought we would take a big hit in income, but I was willing to take that chance,” Silver said. “It may have been that I lucked out, getting dot-com work in 1999 and 2000 when I was starting out. Now I’m able to work in many venues – online, hard copy, creating computer manuals, evergreen content for financial sites.”

Silver says that even people who work at home can get overwhelmed by it “unless you put up barriers.”

He encourages others to try to understand that life is about choices.

For Diane Wood, 52, getting more time to spend with her teenage daughters meant cutting her work hours and earning less.

She moved earlier this year from a management position at a national environmental group that required long hours and a lot of travel to her current job as executive director of the Center for a New American Dream in Takoma Park, Md.

The center operates Monday through Thursday and pays its employees for a 32-hour workweek. They may earn less, but they have Fridays off for walks in the woods or baking cookies with their children, Wood said.

“I made a conscious decision for a balanced life,” Wood said.

Benjamin Hunnicutt, a professor of leisure studies at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, agrees that many Americans are “time hungry.” But he’s not convinced most people will change their habits anytime soon.

“Work is the central value of our culture, and that’s especially true for boomers,” Hunnicutt said. “Work has become something like a modern religion, a way we establish our identity and find meaning and purpose.”

While some countries, including France and Germany, have chosen to work less and play more, “Americans have chosen luxuries rather than leisure.”

Still, Hunnicutt supports Take Back Your Time Day activities “if only to raise the notion that there are trade-offs.”

Copyright ©2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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