by Mary Jane Butters

What would you do with an extra ten hours a week? That's a question many of us may never get to answer but would love the opportunity to figure out. Ten hours to spend on absolutely anything. Make your list. Write it down. Do possibilities abound?

Are you tightly scheduled and overworked, with much of your day at work, getting ready to go to work, traveling to and from the office, and putting in those extra hours trying and get one more thing finished before you go home to eat? Is the evening gone before you know it, and then you sleep (or not)? The National Sleep Foundation reports that "a third of all Americans work more than FIFTY hours each week."

April marked the 70th anniversary of the 30-Hour Workweek Bill, a little-known proposal that would have made anything over 30 hours per week overtime. Imagine the possibilities if a 30-hour work week was the standard by which we all lived.

Living in balance. Time to spend with family and friends. Time to read. Time to plant seeds. Time to fold the clothes. Time to help children with homework. Time for conversation with a friend. Time to simmer split pea soup for dinner. Time to mix up a batch of granola or take a walk in the woods. Time to volunteer.

Take Back Your Time day is a nationwide initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health, our families, our communities and our environment. Here are some facts and figures from

* We're putting in longer hours on the job now than we did in the 1950s, despite promises of a coming Age of Leisure before the year 2000.

* In fact, we're working more than medieval peasants did, and more than do the citizens of any other industrial country.

* Mandatory overtime is at near-record levels, in spite of a recession.

* On average, we work 350 hours per year ---- nearly nine full weeks ---- longer than our peers in western Europe do.

* Working Americans average a little over two weeks of vacation per year, while Europeans average five to six weeks.

The national campaign to take back your time is looking for other like-minded people interested in living balanced lives to help plan activities for the first ever Take Back Your Time Day on Friday, October 24, 2003. The idea is to hold hundreds of activities on that day "to initiate a much-needed national conversation about work/life balance and how we can reclaim it." Can't afford to work less? You need full-time hours to qualify for health benefits? Organize an event in your community to talk about these issues and look for solutions.

The date falls nine weeks before the end of the year, making the point that we Americans now work nine weeks more each year than Western Europeans do. To borrow again from

* Overwork threatens our health. It leads to fatigue, accidents and injuries. It reduces time for exercise and encourages consumption of calorie-laden fast foods. Job stress and burnout costs our economy more than $200 billion a year.

* Overwork threatens our marriages, families and relationships as we find less time for each other, less time to care for our children and elders, less time to just hang out.

* It weakens our communities. We have less time to know our neighbors, supervise our young people, and volunteer.

* It reduces employment as fewer people are hired and then required to work longer hours, or are hired for poor part-time jobs without benefits.

* It leaves many of us with little time to vote, much less be informed, active citizens.

* It leaves us little time for ourselves, for self-development, or for spiritual growth.

* It leads to growing neglect and abuse of pets.

* It even contributes to the destruction of our environment. Studies show that lack of time encourages use of convenience and throwaway items and reduces recycling.

Do you remember the first-ever Earth Day? A friend of mine remembers riding her bicycle to high school wearing an army surplus gas mask. She still remembers how it felt to make a public statement about the state of the environment, and she wonders how the impact of her simple act, joined with many others across the nation, affected people's awareness and the national conscience to protect the environment.

Imagine yourself being part of something equally significant -- a historical event that, according to Jerome Segal, author of Graceful Simplicity, "could do for our overworked, over-scheduled, overstressed lives what Earth Day did for the planet."

You too, can be part of planning how to take back your time. Contact the official Web site for more information:

Publication date: 04/24/03

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