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Working Parents Have Plenty of Free Time

As any parent knows, when kids arrive on the scene, free time seems to disappear. Add a full time job and you figure you're measuring total leisure time in minutes -- right?
Well, not so fast.

Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a data set called the American Time Use Survey. Thousands of Americans keep track of their time for 24 hours and talk through the results with researchers. This "time diary” method of tracking time is widely considered the most accurate method of showing how we actually spend our hours, as opposed to how we think we do.

The 2011 results show that, sure enough, adults without kids under age 18 at home have quite a bit of leisure time. The average employed American without kids in the house has 4.5 hours of leisure time per day.

But guess what the number is for parents with jobs and kids under age 6?

Would you believe it's more than 3.6 hours per day?

So yes, there is a leisure gap of just shy of 1 hour per day between people without kids and parents of preschoolers. But that's only one hour. And 3.6 hours per day doesn't sound half bad. That's 25.2 hours per week.

Of course, an average can still mean that plenty of people in the working parents category have less free time. But whenever I track my time, I'm always amazed by how much of it I spend puttering around, checking personal email, surfing the web, reading magazine stories I'm not even all that interested in, and so forth. That probably comes out to at least 25.2 hours out of a 168 hour week.

The key to making the most of that leisure time is to recognize that it is happening. Leisure time can show up when:

  • The kids have gone to bed
  • The carpool is 15 minutes late bringing your kids home
  • The rest of the family is watching a movie
  • You're up before everyone else
Instead of using that time to watch TV, check email or putter around the house, learn to recognize that it is leisure time, and think through (ahead of time) what you could do with it. The after-bedtime hours can be used to cook a special dessert with your partner. A late carpool is a chance to read. If everyone else is watching a movie, go for a walk or a bike ride. If you're up before everyone else, use the time to stretch or meditate, rather than check your Blackberry.
If you do those things, you'll start to seize those 3.6 hours and make the most of them -- probably doing more with them than people who have more time!
How much free time do you think you have?


Photo courtesy flickr user, brianna.lehman
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