Archive for the ‘Work-family choices’ Category

168 hours

Monday, September 13th, 2010

I recently read 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam and was thinking about blogging about it.    Then I saw that she’s running a challenge this week to actually do a time use diary for a week and to share the results.  So I decided to bite the bullet and do it.

Vanderkam says that there’s no point in waiting for a “typical week” because there are no typical weeks.  But here are some of the reasons that this week is not typical:

  • Big event tomorrow night for work.  I almost never have to attend evening events for work.
  • No day this week when it makes sense to work from home, which I try to do once a week.
  • I’m taking Friday off, and we’re heading up to NYC for Yom Kippur.

But, here goes anyway.

So, today’s report:

  • 6:45 hours of sleep (since midnight)
  • 15 minutes of yoga
  • 1:30 hour of personal email and messages, online shopping, social games
  • 1 hour shower/dress/breakfast/pack lunch/try to convince boys not to kill each other while I eat breakfast, or at least to go downstairs if they have to
  • 2 hours of commuting (sigh; but that probably includes at least 30 minutes of walking on a nice day, and listening to a good chunk of NPR and some of this week’s This American Life Podcast)
  • 1 hour of meetings
  • 3:30 hours of responding to work emails and calls, reviewing documents, negotiating times for later meetings, etc.
  • 2 hours of preparing for a couple of a webinars I’m doing — which I always underestimate how long it will take to prep
  • 1 hour of working on a report that is hanging over my head — it really needs more focused attention, and I don’t know when I’m going to find it.
  • 30 minutes of talking to coworkers
  • 15 minutes of eating lunch
  • 15 minutes of walking around the block for some fresh air
  • 1 hour of setting up my new iPod and clearing my settings from my old one so D could buy it from me
  • 20 minutes of walking/running after the boys while they rode their bikes
  • 20 minutes of eating dinner (leftovers, so pretty much zero cook time)
  • 20 minutes of reading to N (The Silver Chair; D is officially not listening, but somewhat managed to drift in while I was reading…)
  • 15 minutes of blogging.

Note that I left work probably 30 minutes earlier than usual, trying to follow Vanderkam’s notion of preserving evening hours for family time even if you have to get back to work after the kids are in bed.  And I did spend 15 minutes or so responding to messages tonight. But I’m too braindead at this point to work on the report, which is what I was hoping to do.  That said, I was pretty fried at 5.15 too, so I wouldn’t have been terribly productive even if I had stayed in the office.

I have to confess that when I picked up 168 Hours, I thought it was by the same person who had written this Washington Post magazine article about time use and how working mothers have more leisure than they admit. A lot boils down to your definition of leisure — I think I officially had almost 4 hours of leisure today.  But it’s broken down into tiny bits, and it doesn’t necessarily feel like leisure.

snow and the working parent

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

The current prediction in the DC area is now for 16-26 inches of snow.  Given that this is a place that freaks out over snow  in general — the schools here in Fairfax shut down for about 4 inches on Wednesday — you can imagine the level of hysteria.  And it’s not all that misplaced — after the December storm, it was a good 3 days before there was any hope of getting a car safely in or out of our hilly street.

The federal government went ahead and declared an “unscheduled leave” policy, which means that employees can stay home if they want, but it uses up a day of their annual leave.  My office follows the feds, but we also have a pretty flexible policy about telecommuting, so I’ll be able to work from home.  Fairfax went ahead and announced this afternoon that they’re closing the schools tomorrow.  (We’ve already burned through all the slack in the school schedule, so this is going to eat into spring break or extend the year.) Based on my facebook feed, I’d say most of the stay-at-home and work-at-home parents are pissed that they’re losing their last chance to get anything done without the kids underfoot.  The work-in-an-office parents seem to be more sympathetic, probably because the early dismissal scenario is such a nightmare if getting home midday would take you an hour or more.  Of course, if you’re a work-in-a-store or other such inflexible job, you’re probably screwed in any case.

I’m tossing the comments here open for reports of the snow, the response, how you entertain the kids and try to get work done from home,  soup recipes, whatever else is on y0ur mind.

The New Breadwinners

Friday, October 16th, 2009

From Heather Boushey, The New Breadwinners, in The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything, Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.

You read it here first

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

You knew this would pull me out of my blog hiatus, right?  The Washington Post has a front page story today that highlights the new Census findings that "stay-at-home moms" are typically younger and in less affluent families.  Thus, the media obsession with highly compensated professional women who drop out of the workforce to be full-time parents is "largely beside the point."

Except that, this isn't such a new point.  I pointed it out — based on Census data — oh, about four years ago.  It wasn't so neatly packaged then, but the underlying data has been available for years and doesn't look like it's changed very much.  (I'll be interested in seeing what the figures look like in a couple of years, when they're available for the recession period, but this is 2007 data, pre-recession.

There is some new info in the report from the American Community Survey, mostly about the geographic distribution of families — previous tables were only based on the Current Population Survey, which doesn't have representative samples of small stats.  Check out Figure 8, on page 15.  Overall, Northern and Eastern states have a higher percentage of two-income married parent families that average, Western states have a lower percentage.  But New York is lower than average.  I'd love to see the NY-specific data on income — New York is  a big enough state that it's probably possible to do the run without having huge margins of error.

work-life balance in bad times

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Jen said she liked my wonkish take on work-family issues, so here's a post for her.

On, I found this survival guide to keeping your job in a recession, which includes the following recommendation:

For now, forget about work-life balance. A major
preoccupation when the economy was humming along nicely, "having time
for outside interests has to go right out the window now," says Bright.
"You need to concentrate on doing whatever it takes to make yourself

I agree with the second half of this — being indispensable is definitely a good way to keep your job — but not necessarily the first.  If you're as productive in 8 hours as your colleagues are in 10 hours of sitting at their desks goofing off, you should be ok.  As long as your boss knows that you're productive, that is.  And if your boss doesn't know how productive you are, you've got problems, regardless of the economy.

That said, I suspect full-time telecommuters are somewhat more vulnerable to layoff than people who show up to an office, in part because it's a lot harder to tell someone you see every day that you don't need their services.

This blog post from the Sloan Work-Family Network suggests that people are pitching work-life flexibility as a way to reduce costs and boost productivity in a recession.  Juliet Bourke worries that this could cut both ways (e.g. employers might cut people's hours involuntarily — and BLS data supports that there's a lot of involuntary part-time work out there), but concludes that it's probably a positive thing if it gets more employers used to the idea of workplace flexibility.

I also think there's another argument to be made, that if companies can't afford to give workers raises, but want to reward them and keep their loyalty, things like flexible hours or telecommuting can be a cheap way to make workers happy.  The downside of that argument is that it reinforces the idea that workplace flexibility is a perk for your best workers, rather than something that should be generally available.

What are you all seeing in real life? I can't seem to find the specific post, but Laura at 11d has
said that she sees a lot more wall-street types catching the 5pm train
instead of the 7 or 9 pm one, and seeing more of their kids as a result.

Beggars in Spain

Monday, January 5th, 2009

What does it say about me (or modern life) that when I read Judith Warner's column last week about the use of brain-enhancing drugs my first reaction was to wonder how one goes about getting some Provigil?  (It's an anti-narcolepsy drug, which apparently allows one to maintain brain functionality in spite of sleep deprivation.  And for the record, the only drug I'm actually taking is claritin.)

I'm not a scientist, and I don't know what the side effects of these drugs are.  But a few months ago, after being up most of the night with one of the boys, I went to work, and was pretty fuzzy around the edges.  And then I realized that I had spent a good two years or more in that kind of a fog every single day.  And if someone had offered me a drug to make it go away (other than caffeine), I'm pretty sure I'd have jumped for it.

If asprin were invented today, it would probably require a prescription — between its blood thinning action and the potential for Reye's syndrome, it's easy to make the case that it's too dangerous to be available without control.  Caffeine is ubiquitous, but I could argue that it's as much of a mind-altering substance as Provigil or Ritalin.  I think the editorial in Nature arguing for legalizing these drugs for people who aren't "ill" is pretty convincing.

*If you're wondering about the title, it's a reference to Nancy Kress' excellent sci-fi novel Beggars in Spain, where she explores what happens if some people are genetically engineered not to need sleep, and thus have an advantage over the rest of us.  Pills are certainly more egalitarian than genetic modification.


Sunday, September 7th, 2008

I spent about half of the weekend working — on a paper about work-life pressures on American workers.

Composition of the US Labor Force by Marriage and Parenting Status

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Here’s what I’ve been working on this week:


This is pretty different from the usual way these numbers are presented, which is based on families rather than workers.  (Remember, if half of the families with children have an at-home spouse and the other half is dual income, only 1/3 of the workers will have an at-home spouse.)

For what it’s worth, the furthest back I was able to come up with
roughly comparable numbers for is 1975, when 41.5 percent of the
workforce were parents, and 35 percent of the working parents had an
at-home spouse.


I’d love some feedback on these graphs — what interests you?  Surprises you?  Is the second one too many slices to be easily interpreted?

Update:  I’m responding in the comments. But I also want to register my fury that Microsoft in Excel 2007 has made it impossible to apply patterns to different slices on a pie chart so that you can tell them apart when you print them in black and white.

Update 2: Ok, here’s one that shows part-time vs. full-time.


Denting the glass ceiling

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

For all that I think Sarah Palin would be a terrible president, I do think her nomination puts another dent in the glass ceiling.  Specifically, while there are a few hardliners still arguing that women shouldn’t be in positions of authority, there’s no doubt that the world has changed when Phyllis Schlafly is going around saying that Palin’s experience as a mother will make her a better vice president.  I really do think that the next woman who runs will find it a little bit easier as a result.

Martin Manley comments on the historical nature of this election:

"On the other hand, Clinton, together with Obama and McCain, may have just killed the white male ticket. As
a country, we are having our 56th presidential election, meaning that
about 200 people in American history have had the honor of running for
President or Vice President at the head of a major party ticket (some
have run more than once, some years there have been more than two major
parties). So far as I know, all but one of these candidates has been a white man (the exception is Geraldine Ferraro in 1984). With the nomination of Palin, neither party has fielded a white male ticket. Indeed, thanks to the contestants in this year’s election and the odd way the US selects Vice Presidents, a white male ticket may now be politically untenable.


Paid sick days

Monday, July 14th, 2008

"Bless you."
"Damn it, you better not be getting sick."

Tomorrow evening, I’m attending a fundraiser in support of the Ohio Healthy Families Act, which would guarantee full-time workers 7 paid sick days a year (with part-timers eligible on a pro-rata basis).   The ability to take a paid sick day is something that professionals take for granted, but only about half of American workers have any paid sick days, and many of those that do, can only use them if they’re personally sick, not to care for a sick family member.

Paid sick days are good for workers, good for families, and good for public health.  Trust me, you don’t want restaurant workers coming to work sick, and you don’t want other families sending their kids to school sick because they can’t afford to keep them home.

I support federal legislation for paid sick days, but I also think it’s great that folks in Ohio are using the ballot initiative process to try to move the idea.  For one thing, it might well get passed before anything happens at the federal level.  For another, it helps mobilize low-income workers to vote in November.