Our Schedules, Our Selves

Are you more important than your appointment book?

| January / February 2003

Clocks are now ubiquitous. Strapped to our wrists, hanging on walls, glowing on ovens, VCRs, dashboards, computer screens, and cell phones everywhere, we’re plum clock-crazy. It’s no wonder we’ve become appointment-driven, overscheduled, and overwhelmed. Clocks and calendars ought to be tools to help us plan our lives, not instruments that run our lives. But many people are starting to rebel against the tyranny of the schedule. In the following pages you’ll find ideas for expanding time, for resisting the urge to overschedule, and for returning to more natural rhythms in order to let life, not the clock, rule. 

—The Editors 

DAMN! You’re 20 minutes—no, more like half an hour—late for your breakfast meeting, which you were hoping to scoot out of early to make an 8:30 seminar across town. And, somewhere in there, there’s that conference call. Now, at the last minute, you have to be at a 9:40 meeting. No way you can miss it. Let’s see, the afternoon is totally booked, but you can probably push back your 10:15 appointment and work through lunch. That would do it. Whew! The day has barely begun and already you are counting the hours until evening, when you can finally go home and happily, gloriously, triumphantly, do nothing. You’ll skip yoga class, blow off the neighborhood meeting, ignore the piles of laundry and just relax. Yes! . . . No! Tonight’s the night of the concert. You promised Nathan and Mara weeks ago that you would go. DAMN!

Welcome to daily grind circa 2003—a grueling 24-7 competition against the clock that leaves even the winners wondering what happened to their lives. Determined and sternly focused, we march through each day obeying the orders of our calendars. The idle moment, the reflective pause, serendipity of any sort have no place in our plans. Stopping to talk to someone or slowing down to appreciate a sunny afternoon will only make you late for your next round of activities. From the minute we rise in the morning, most of us have our day charted out. The only surprise is if we actually get everything done that we had planned before collapsing into bed at night.

On the job, in school, at home, increasing numbers of North Americans are virtual slaves to their schedules. Some of what fills our days are onerous obligations, some are wonderful opportunities, and most fall in between, but taken together they add up to too much. Too much to do, too many places to be, too many things happening too fast, all mapped out for us in precise quarter-hour allotments on our palm pilots or day planners. We are not leading our lives, but merely following a dizzying timetable of duties, commitments, demands, and options. How did this happen? Where’s the luxurious leisure that decades of technological progress was supposed to bestow upon us?

The acceleration of the globalized economy, and the accompanying decline of people having any kind of a say over wages and working conditions, is a chief culprit. Folks at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder feel the pain most sharply. Holding down two or three jobs, struggling to pay the bills, working weekends, no vacation time, little social safety net, they often feel out of control about everything happening to them. But even successful professionals, people who seem fully in charge of their destinies, feel the pinch. Doctors, for example, working impossibly crowded schedules under the command of HMOs, feel overwhelmed. Many of them are now seeking union representation, traditionally the recourse of low-pay workers.

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