Most Americans today are so desperate for relief from their harried lives they would strike a new bargain: They'll trade away part of their paychecks for an extra day off work.
This is true, researchers say, because people are feeling more frazzled than ever, almost frantic for more time in the day. So acute is this craving that two-thirds of those polled in a recent survey said they would give up a chunk of their income if they could have more time to spend with their families or for themselves.
Take my money and give me more time?
"I would say it immediately" if given the option, said Tammie Grice, a Germantown, Md., mother of three boys and a full-time worker. She loves to take half-hour "time outs" just to stare out the bedroom window and check the stress. But even that gets squeezed out.
"I wouldn't work full-time (if possible). I think that's the craziest thing for someone to do," said Grice, 33, who helps organize conferences for the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. "People just have to get along with fewer things."
The matter of how Americans spend their time has risen to the forefront in recent days with the release of a study and book arguing that the annual time spent on the job by an average adult in this country rose by 86 hours between 1969 and 1989.
Economists Laura Leete-Guy and Juliet B. Schor also contend that paid time off for vacations, sick leave, personal days and holidays declined by 15% during the 1980s. Schor has recently published a book on the same subject.
When housework, commuting and the decrease in paid time off are included in the calculation, the authors say Americans are putting in an extra month of work per year.
"Americans are starved for time," Leete-Guy and Schor wrote in a report commissioned by the Economic Policy Institute. "The growth of work hours and the decline of leisure have affected a wide spectrum of Americans--across income classes, occupations and industries, demographic groups and genders."
The report has prompted criticism from other experts who dispute the findings, saying that leisure time in this country actually has increased and that time on the job for the average worker has remained flat over recent decades.
But even the critics agree Americans feel more pressed for time, more scheduled, more hassled.
Grice, whose husband, Kevin, is a car salesman with 11-hour workdays, leaves her office each evening to launch into a second full schedule of basketball, school events and Bible study.
The weekends are jammed with more sports activities, errands and birthday parties. "I don't have restful weekends," Grice said. "I may have fun, but they're not restful."
About once a month the Grices and their children get together with friends, and the women always plan to take their own night out. But, Grice said, "we have yet to do that."
John Robinson, a University of Maryland sociologist who conducts time-use studies, argues that Americans have more leisure time than in the past but that they still feel more frenzied.
When asked how often they feel rushed, the slice of the population that answered "almost always" has increased from 25% in 1965 to 32% in 1985, Robinson said.
Frank Stafford, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan who also has criticized the recent study, suggested people may feel that they have less leisure time because two-earner families are forced to schedule their time carefully, including their free time.
They may have enough time to fit in exercise, but only by leaving the office precisely on schedule to make it to an aerobics class, he said.
"People feel they're programmed," he said. "Even if they have totally more free time, they tend to be scheduling their time more."
For Sheppard Ranbom, a public relations consultant in Washington, there is not enough time for exercise. He has parked his exercise bag next to his desk, but it just sits there, he said, "as a reminder of some of the things I'm not doing for myself."
Ranbom's time famine is created by what he admits is his own driven personality, which keeps him working long days and long weeks. He's writing a book in his odd hours off.
He and his girlfriend had to promise each other that they would make time to have dinner together, even if it is at 10:30 at night.
"I've lost touch with many of my friends, and I feel some sadness about that," he said. Ranbom says if he could get his work done in less time, he would readily give up pay for days off. "Sometimes I just need time to vegetate."
In a society that has always coveted wealth, the finding that time has become more valuable than money is a telling signal that Americans feel besieged.
In a survey Robinson conducted for Hilton Hotels Corp., he found that half of those polled would give up a day's pay every week for an additional day off. The sentiment cut across regions, age groups, education and income categories.