No Time for R&R

by Lydia Saad, Senior Gallup Poll Editor

Last week, Gallup reported on the time constraints and stress levels that American adults face. The basic finding was that in general, nearly half of Americans feel they lack the time to do what they want in life. But how do they feel about the amount of time they have available to devote to specific activities?

As part of Gallup's annual Lifestyle poll*, conducted last December, respondents were asked to say whether they spend too much time, about the right amount of time, or too little time on each of 11 activities.

Overall, a majority of Americans seem generally satisfied with the amount of time they spend with family, with friends, sleeping, doing chores, using the Internet, and if employed, working at their jobs. Many wish they had more time for these pursuits -- all except work, that is. Whereas only 4% of Americans think they spend too much time with family, friends, or sleeping, and 17% say they spend too much time on chores and using the Internet (based on Internet users), 41% of working Americans say they spend too much time on the job. But more than 50% say they spend the right amount of time on each of these.

The real problem areas seem to be in the R&R realm: relaxation, hobbies, reading, and recreation. Less than half of Americans say they spend as much time as they would like to on these activities. Except for relaxing, the majority of Americans say they spend too little time on these. Most of those dissatisfied with their relaxation time say they have too little of it, but a sizable minority of Americans (11%) say they spend too much time "relaxing or doing nothing."

It's highly doubtful that anyone's dying words were ever: "I should have watched more television." Indeed, television ranks second only to working as the activity Americans think they spend too much time on. But there is a sizable minority out there -- 16% -- that thinks they spend too little time watching television. Overall, this leaves Americans roughly split in their satisfaction with TV time.

The Time "Haves" and "Have Nots"

So, back to Americans' general evaluations of time: The December survey found that 52% of Americans have enough time to do what they want in their lives, while 48% feel they lack sufficient time.

What, specifically, would the latter group like to be doing more of? Again, the answer is R&R. Nearly two-thirds of those who don't feel they have enough time, generally, say they spend too little time on exercise, hobbies, relaxing, and reading. A slight majority of them also say they spend too little time on sleep.

The biggest gaps in ratings of time spent on activities between those who have enough time, generally, and those who don't are seen for relaxing, hobbies, sleep, and friendships. For instance, 64% of those with too little time, generally, say they spend too little time relaxing or doing nothing, versus only 26% of those with enough time, generally, who say this -- yielding a 38-point gap. The smallest gaps are seen for watching television, household chores, and using the Internet.

Why the Golden Years Are Golden

Due largely to younger and middle-aged Americans' likelihood to be employed (rather than retired) and to have children who are minors, the survey finds that those in that age group -- particularly those 18 to 49 -- are much more pressed for time than those aged 65 and older.

This finding carries over to Americans' time assessments on specific activities. This age pattern is most pronounced with respect to exercise, hobbies, sleep, relaxing, and friendships. Few seniors relative to younger adults say they have too little time for these pursuits.

Bottom Line

"Art is long and time is fleeting;" "O, call back yesterday, bid time return!" "Time rolls his ceaseless course." From Shakespeare to Longfellow, time is the stuff of poetic lamentation.

The limits of time weigh especially heavily on working Americans and parents of minor children, and thus particularly on younger and middle-aged adults. Only seniors seem to enjoy a respite from the racing clock, but surely they have had their time.

But time is not the only enemy. It is interesting to note that even half of those who say they have enough time to do what they want, generally, say they spend too little time on recreation and exercise (53%) and reading (46%).

And while stress and time are related, not everyone who is short on time is stressed, and not everyone who is stressed is short on time. Only 30% of those who say they have sufficient time in life to do what they want say they rarely or never feel stressed. Half of those in this group (49%) say they occasionally experience stress, while 21% frequently do.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,011 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 11-14, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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