Take Back Your Time | John De Graaf

Summary of: Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America
By: John De Graaf


In ‘Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America,’ John De Graaf details the staggering reality of overworked Americans and the adverse consequences on their well-being, relationships, and society as a whole. Despite having advanced technology meant to save time and labor, Americans continue to work significantly longer hours than their European counterparts. The book explores factors contributing to this overwork, including the endless pursuit of consumerism, and offers various strategies to achieve a better balance in our lives, both personally and professionally. Insights into workplace solutions, policy changes, and adopting a simpler lifestyle provide readers with practical ways to reclaim their time, health, and happiness.

Work Less, Live More

Americans work approximately nine weeks more every year than their European counterparts. This has led to the development of the “Take Back Your Time” movement, which aims to raise awareness about time poverty and overwork in America. Working long hours can have a detrimental effect on health, relationships, and even society. However, Europe provides various models to increase leisure time while maintaining productivity. This is a widespread issue that affects every aspect of life, and taking steps to address it can lead to benefits for individuals, workplaces, and communities across America.

Overworking America

Long hours in American workplaces lead to physical and emotional exhaustion that threatens the individual, families, and communities, as well as limiting innovation. Through overworking and reducing vacation time, Americans have sacrificed productivity gains, with little time left for leisure.

The United States is known as a workaholic nation, with a greater proportion of the population employed than any other developed country. Since the 1980s, the number of working hours has increased by 0.5% each year, along with an increase in the days and weeks worked. While overworking creates stress and insufficient family time, people work more to buy more, although this cycle has become self-perpetuating, with people sacrificing their leisure for work.

The typical family now depends on dual incomes, with men averaging almost 50 hours and women averaging about 42 hours a week, although both would like to work about 11 hours less each week. Long work hours are especially difficult for the growing number of single-parent families, 22% of which are headed by mothers and 5% by fathers.

Vacation times have also been shrinking. The average American worker has seven careers and even more jobs over the course of their work life. Each time an employee moves from one job to another, they lose vacation time and have to begin accruing it again. Contrast this with the European average of three to five weeks of vacation a year. Such vacation time is “the engine of creativity, energy, and innovation,” and supports the well-being of individuals. Employers can plan ahead to substitute workers on vacation by using cross-training, so employees can fill in for each other.

Overworking and joblessness are often two sides of the same coin, as employers choose to limit the number of employees hired while requiring those already in their positions to work extended hours. Legally, employers can require employees to stay on a shift without notice, or discipline workers who don’t want to work extra hours.

The cycle of long working hours generates many problems, including stress and insufficient family time. People who can’t balance their home and work responsibilities become emotionally exhausted and may suffer from repetitive strain injuries. Overworking, overscheduling, and time poverty threaten the health, marriages, families and friendships, community and civic life, environment, and even security of Americans. In response, people must begin to cut down on consumption and dedicate more time to leisure activities.

In conclusion, through overworking and reduced vacation time, Americans have sacrificed productivity gains, with little time left for leisure and innovation. Employers need to find ways of allowing people to disconnect and recharge to foster creativity and productivity while supporting the individual’s wellbeing.

The Social and Personal Costs of Overworking

Overworking has taken a toll on society and families, leading to social issues like reduced civic engagement and increased crime rates. Pets are also affected due to neglect, while health problems among overworked individuals continue to rise. In addition, the pursuit of speed in transportation has led to larger and farther away shopping centers, causing a decline in neighborhood markets. The solution to these problems lies in implementing policies that promote shorter-hour options and curb involuntary overtime. Despite advancements in technology, preindustrial people had more leisure time than we do today.

Simplify Your Life

Thousands of Americans are adopting a voluntary simplicity lifestyle to reduce spending, debt, and stress. The founder of Voluntary Simplicity Study Circles, Cecile Andrews, helps participants learn how to build community, live more balanced lives, and gain more time by buying less “stuff.” Renting, bartering, borrowing or buying second-hand quality goods are some ways to achieve a simpler life. Owning fewer belongings leads to less clutter and less time spent on maintenance, providing ample time for rest, reflection, family and community building.

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