Talk About Time

by Vicky Dickson

I’ve never liked clothes shopping, mostly because too many of the clothes I pick out don’t look good on me. For a long time I blamed my body for that – the thighs that are too big, feet that are too wide, etc., etc. It was only recently that I began to suspect that the clothes themselves might be to blame, that they might be poorly designed, or designed for a tiny minority of women.

I think something similar confronts us when we find ourselves unable to fit the demands of our lives into the time we have available. People increasingly feel frustrated and guilty over their failure to “get it all done” and blame themselves for their own lack of efficiency. But they should, in fact, be blaming the culture that tells them to aspire to professional jobs, raise high-achieving children, eat healthily, exercise regularly, contribute to the community, spend time with friends and stay well informed – simultaneously. Nobody has that much time and energy, and yet we continue to pretend that it’s all possible. We continue to berate ourselves because we don’t measure up.

We should, instead, realize that the fault lies with the culture rather than with us. Julia Scatliff O’Grady describes the problem this way: “We think it’s a personal failing, but it’s that we live in a world of expectations we don’t fully understand.”

Julia Scatliff O’Grady hopes her book, Good Busy: Productivity, Procrastination, and the Endless Pursuit of Balance, will help readers with their struggles to spend their time meaningfully. Photo courtesy of Julia Scatliff O’Grady

So the UNC communications studies doctoral candidate and mother of two children has written a book, Good Busy: Productivity, Procrastination, and the Endless Pursuit of Balance, that she hopes will give readers tools to help them with what she’s dubbed “time rehab.”
O’Grady’s been interested in the subject of time for years, maybe due in part to family lore about her great aunts and great uncles who worked for Elgin Watch in the early days of the wristwatch. She says she “attended more time-management seminars than anyone I know,” but she increasingly became frustrated with the emphasis on productivity – the “more-is-better” approach she always encountered there. She knew there had to be a better way to look at time and its meaning in our lives.

In her quest for that better way, O’Grady began searching out men and women of different races and backgrounds to talk with about time. She conducted interviews with about 40 such men and women, and then winnowed the group to 10 “stellar people” who she thought could best “articulate a practice.”

The result is Good Busy, a slim volume that’s chock-full of useful techniques and perspectives to help us all shape our days.

Kari Andrade, a globetrotting businesswoman, keeps chaos at bay by “buffering” – scheduling in more time than she thinks she’ll need for a task – throughout her day. Bus driver Debra Westenskow favors being “in her mirrors,” by which she means keeping her attention tuned to everything that’s going on around her.

And history professor Alexander Byrd lives by “geological time”: “What matters is the whole span of your life, not the one or two things you do or don’t do now.”

O’Grady hopes that these perspectives, and those of the seven other people profiled in her book, can inspire groups of readers to talk about their own struggles with spending time meaningfully. Maybe such conversations can lead to others about the time and achievement pressures we shouldn’t have to struggle under – and in that way, start to change the culture that’s chafing so many of us.
O’Grady herself is soon going to be quite busy with local appearances and book signings. On Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. she’ll be at The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University for an interview with Duncan Murrell, writer-in-residence, and CDS director Tom Rankin (who is one of the people she profiled in Good Busy).

On Sept. 15 at 2 p.m., O’Grady and Kari Andrade will come to McIntyre’s Books for a conversation. On Thursday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m., O’Grady will be accompanied at Flyleaf Books by Dennis Mumby, chair of the department of communication studies at UNC.

If you miss all those events, you can still catch O’Grady on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. at The Regulator in Durham, where her guest will be another person profiled in her book, Sandy Dang.

All events are free and open to the public.