I was at the doctor's office last week and picked up a magazine while I waited for my turn. It was the July 6th issue of Maclean's. In bold print on the front page it said: "Canadians Do It Better". Jonathon Gatehouse who scoured international opinion surveys, census statistics, think tank reports and consumer databases to research this article claims that:
"We're healthier than the Americans, live longer than the Swedes and eat better than the French. We even have more lovers than the Italians - and of course we're more caring"
The typical Canadian family is doing better than the typical family in America. We spend just 19% of our annual household budgets on shelter as opposed to Americans who spend 34% of their budget to get a roof over their heads. Canada is number two among the top industrialized countries in the world for financial net worth per household (behind the US). We have a higher level of house ownership (and more spacious houses to boot) than the USA, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, France and Germany! A recent Goldman Sachs report predicts that Canada along with Australia and Britain will the among the first countries to recover from the recession.
Canada is eighth in the world for life expectancy (81.23 years) and tied for fourth place with France, Norway and Singapore for quality of life according to the World Health Organization. We are the third highest consumers of fruits and vegetables and also ranked third for the least number of daily smokers and,... we eat less processed food than the French!
We are no slouch in the love department either. Canadians spend more time romancing their partners in the bedroom and we claim having more sexual partners than the French and Italians!
We've got a lot going for us. I am very proud to be a Canadian.
But then I got a wake up call. I flipped the page to another article written by Nancy MacDonald. Apparently Canadians need a break. We are the fourth-hardest workers in the world. We even beat out the USA, Germany, Sweden and Japan and most of the rest of Europe. Hard to believe huh?
No wonder I feel so tired. I blamed the fatigue on my advancing age but it would seem that I have been punching in more hours at work. In fact, over three decades, from the 1950's to the 1980's, the time Canadians spent working decreased progressively. However in the late 1990's this trend reversed dramatically obliterating the gains we had made in claiming back some "me time" from our work week.
Like our cousins the Australians, Canadians now work a 33 hour work week (when you account for both full time and part time workers). The length of our work week surpasses the number of hours that our neighbours in the south punch in as well as the Brits work week. European countries seem to have a better sense of balance: French work 29 hours weeks, the Norwegians, 28 and the Dutch 27. How would you like to live in France and have 7.6 weeks of paid vacation time a year? Residents of Spain enjoy 30 days of paid holidays, Germans have 27 days and the British, known for their strong work ethic, have 26 days. We, in comparison, have on average only 19 days of paid vacation time.
What happened in the late 1990's to cause such a reversal in leisure time? Do you remember? Communication technology is what happened. It started with emails. Instead of picking up the phone or dropping a note in the mailbox, we let our fingers to the talking. We don't even get up from our office chair to chat with our cubicle neighbour. We prefer typing a short "what's up" email and pressing the "send" button.
Then there was the advent of the Blackberry which in essence means that instead of leaving our computer on our desk at the end of the work day we can now carry it with us everywhere we go: at the grocery store, at the restaurant, at the gym even! And people know that you carry your B-berry with you all the time so they email you at all times, very early morning, evenings and weekends. Speedy response is expected. "Hey I sent you an email 15 minutes ago and you haven't replied yet!"
The vast majority of homes now have a computer and many have several (we have 4 computers at home not counting I-Phones and Blackberry). Internet is "de rigueur" especially if you have teenagers. How else are they going to "talk" to their friends without MSN and Facebook? Sad but true, many of us even have computers and Internet connections at the cottage!
Yes, you say, that is all well and good but other countries have access to the same techno gizmos as us Canadians. How come we are putting in so much more hours at work compared to them? Experts are saying that we see downtime as non-productive time. We have become a culture obsessed with results.
What is distressing though is that by curtailing leisure time in favor of work we risk suffering the consequences mentally and physically. Research makes a strong case for taking vacations and giving ourselves some downtime. People who take regular holidays are 25% (women) to 32% (men) less likely to die of heart attacks. Vacations also help reduce a vast array of aches and pains like persistent headaches, rashes, colds and flues. The likelihood of burnout and depression is diminished when you dedicate time to exercise, yoga and meditation to recharge our batteries on a regular basis.
Since there are no more boundaries between work time and personal time we have to create our own "no work" time zones. That takes some self-discipline. You need a plan:
- Go back to a 9 to 5 work day: What will be your Blackberry blackout time zones? What will be your protocols for replying to emails? How fast? Will you answer emails in the evening? On weekends?
- Dream up your next vacation: How will you use up all your vacation days this year? Will you use that time to get your house renovations done or to truly disconnect and relax?
- Move your body: What kind of exercise gives you pleasure and satisfaction? Fitness classes? (if you sign up for classes you are more likely to get fit than just relying on the exercising bike that serves as a clothes hanger in your bedroom) Join a foursome for regular golf games? Put on that short white skirt and go play tennis?
- Feed your body: Because you are always out of time so you often grab a quick bite to eat at the take out. Not a great way to get all your fruits and veggies and watch your calorie intake... Maybe it is time to rediscover the "joy of cooking". If you are an environmentalist there are even more reasons to go back to basic and explore the world of organic cooking and the 100 miles diet.
- Quiet time: What helps you regain balance? Sitting on the dock at the cottage watching the clouds roll by? Escaping into another world with a good book? Deep breathing exercises sitting in the lotus position?
- Be a model: Your kids are watching you. Your friends and colleagues are watching you. It just takes one person to start a movement. A movement for well-being. Your courage and determination will inspire others to do the same and soon enough people will have joined the movement to reclaim our leisure time. Soon there will be a Tipping Point and what is now counter-culture will become the new way - true balance between work and play.
I challenge you to do this little exercise.
Draw a circle on a sheet of paper.
Revisit what you did this weekend.
Determine what portions of the pie to give to downtime, office work, house work, social activities, family time, and... ME TIME.
What do you observe?
Are you happy with the results?
Do you want to change anything?
What will you do starting today to start redistributing leisure time and work time more equitably in your life?