The Other Eight (or Possibly 24) Hours

Once upon an afternoon, I was sitting in my friendly neighborhood rolfer’s waiting room, and I picked up a copy of Men’s Health. I’m told women read this publication more than men, but it’s guys telling me that…

In any case, one of articles was a review of the book, “The Other Eight Hours,” wherein the author points out the following:

You need to sleep about eight hours out of every 24.

You need to work about eight hours out of every 24.

That leaves eight hours a day to deal with the rest of what’s important to you—your relationships, your continuing education, your recreation, your faith, your physical health, and so forth. If you’re going to make changes in your life, it’s in those “other” eight hours that you have the most room to maneuver.

The book goes on to suggest all kinds of nifty ways to a) use that “other” eight hours efficiently, and b) nudge the “other” eight hours up, and the “work for somebody else doing something just to pay the bills” down.

I’m on board with the basic premise of the book: The more I control my time, minute by minute, the happier I am, generally. Unstructured time, to me, is an important measure of personal wealth and well being.

And yet, I knew that by the time I was sitting in a first grade classroom, staring at the clock on the wall, and wondering if 3:10 pm would ever, ever roll around. I wanted to be the boss of me, and I wanted what I spent my time on to have intrinsic meaning, not the “if I do this I won’t flunk/be homeless/hear from the IRS” meaning.

As I read the article, my first reaction was, “Hey, yeah! I went to law school at night, I got my master’s through a limited residency program, I did my parenting before and after hours, and those other eight hours are where my life happens…”

Except, that’s silly. My life happens twenty-four hours a day, and rather than throwing away eight waking hours a day as non-negotiably under the control of my day job, I’m more inclined to insist the day job coincide at as many points as possible with what’s important to me.

In the child welfare realm, I do work that’s meaningful and honorable, and I enjoy much of what it entails. Same with writing. In both arenas, I’ve found middle-distance relationships and even friendships that I enjoy tremendously. If the weather’s nice, I’ll take a walk in the park not far from my office, and I sure as heck hope I don’t check my spiritual practices at the office door.

Maybe this is a feminine approach to life, maybe it’s me, but I don’t think I’ll optimize my goals and values by relegating them to the “other” eight hours of my life. If the working eight hours of the day are considered mostly hamster wheeling, is it any wonder so many of us retire and fall ill, or die, shortly thereafter?

So what is the day job to you? Is it your identity, your stay out of jail card? Something in between, and for those of us who make parenting our full time job (blessing upon you), what would make you resume a place in the monetarily reimbursed work force?

To one commenter below, I’ll send a signed ARC of “Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight.”



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31 comments on “The Other Eight (or Possibly 24) Hours

    • Myrna, that’s where I’d start too, but there are jobs I left, where the boss called me in for the exit interview and asked, “how much would it take to make you stay?” To me, the only honorable answer at that point is “no amount of money will make me stay where I’m unhappy.” It’s probably a measure of how easy and self-centered my life has been that I’ve been able to say that.

  1. Well.. I do customer service, I love working with people and helping them resolve their problems. It’s just who I am. 🙂 I am so also a Full Time mommy to 3 beautiful daughters. I love reading it takes me away from all of this and makes me very happy.

    can’t wait for the next books to come out! Especially Percival and Esther’s courtship and marriage!!!

    • Vanetta, I can see you thriving in customer service, you have that kind of energy. Add three kids on top of that, though, and you have a challenge I can only admire you for taking on.

  2. I´m working shifts as a operating technician, monitoring computer systems and communication, so it´s hard having a routine with my life since i work nights one week, the weekend and days the next week. Having seven dogs at home also makes it feel like i´m taking a break when i go to work =D
    My advice would be to try and live in the moment, why would only 8 hours count of your day? Try to make the best of everyday even if it´s just taking a nap.

    best wishes, Linda xo

    • Linda, I guess it’s also a measure of wealth if you can nap when you’re tired. For a lot of years as a single working mom, I couldn’t. I also couldn’t sleep when I was tired, but that’s another problem.

      And yes, why would only eight hours of the day count? What’s wrong with the other sixteen hours?

  3. I enjoy my job but it does not define me. I like to think the people I work with and the clients I see every day enlighten my life. My job is not difficult but I see different people most every day I work and I learn something new from each one. I don’t have children unless you count my husband as a big child. I spend those extra 8 hours doing things that make my life easier and more enjoyable (cleaning, cooking taking care of my animals and reading). Lets not forget reading, that is one of the most enjoyable things I do.
    [email protected]

    • Lori, I feel for the people who work in bookstores. They’re supposed to be people who love books, but in the big stores they’re not allowed to be seen reading on premises, not even on their break. I guess the employee discount is some consolation, though.

  4. Foe me, work was something I loved, that I thought made a difference I believe your work should be something you can love to do, and if it doesn’t, find something that does. Life is too important, and too short, to be lived in ‘the other eight hours’. That said, I believe that ‘work’ should also be left at work, so that home and family and personal time are foremost in your thoughts and actions when you are there. Now that I am retired, I find there is more time for other important things, and I am not missing my work, even though it was important at the time. It did not consume me.

    • I absolutely agree. I tell Beloved Offspring, “Do the thing you’d do whether you get paid for it or not because it’s what you love, and the money will follow.”
      She thinks I’m nuts, but she’s headed for a career that fits her to a T.

  5. I really have eight hours an day to do with as I wish. I think not. Maybe men do.

    Ah, the day job. Sometimes the day job is just a that thing I do just so I don’t have to live under an overpass. Luckily, there are that handful of students who keep it from being a soul-sucking job. As much as I moan and groan about my job, I do enjoy helping students get to that post-secondary goal.

    But I do my best not to let the day job become my entire life. I was digging around some old blogs the other day and found one that addressed this very thing. I think letting your job become your entire life is not healthy in the long run. In my job, you send them out the door and rarely know how it it turns out and even more rarely get any remembered for what you may have done. I’m not saying I only want to help students when there is something in it for me, but I can’t let my ENTIRE life become completely wrapped up in other people.

    • You raise an interesting point, Sabrina: The job is one of you relational identities. A special ed teacher has students, a lawyer has clients, a daughter has parents, and so forth. In later life, I’ve enjoyed exploring the non-relationship identities. I’m a writer, whether anybody reads my stories or not. I can be a musician whether anybody hears me play or not. You can be a runner without ever entering a race.
      I think these non-relational identities give us ballast when the other stuff is in flux or not working so well, and they’re an important item on the self-nurturing agenda (as is chocolate turtle praline cake).

      • Ah, the need for non-relational (because everybody needs a bit of that) are why I’ve learned to knit and embroider and why I love to bake. I can do all those things with or without others, but I still get to share them with the people important to me.
        I’ve got the cake ingredients on my grocery list. Hope you get a chance to make it or travel to the Nashville area and I’ll bring it to you. Yep, I think you need to go on a book tour that hits Nashville. You know, Ann Patchett opened a bookstore in Nashville last year.

  6. my job is staff administration and the most i love with this job because i can wide my connection with people out there 🙂

  7. well im a legal staf. its been 11years, before im merried and from now i have son and hubby.. well i love bein a mom and a legal staf. it means a lot to me.

  8. Lanny, I do not love being a legal staff much of the time, but not because of the clients. It’s the other lawyers and professionals who frost my cookie much of the time, and even then, I know the work makes a meaningful contribution.

  9. I loved my career/job, it was a tremendous part of my identity and self esteem, and would often spend 12 hours a day on it, even as it was slowly killing me. Or more aptly as my stubbornness to change was killing me.

    Now my health is my primary job and I continue to be pleasantly surprised that my quality of life is often better than when I was doing all the things that were supposed to define success/a good life! How my career is easily slipping into the distant past, a dream difficult to recall upon waking. Others are leading the charge, and the world has not crashed to a halt without my efforts. The career skills have transferred nicely to making my life/health a success. There is mental space and energy to be creative.

    My life is radically different – no more rushing, no more out and about. In many ways I’ve turned into my Grandma: a happy homebody enjoying the “small” pleasures found in reading a good book while baking something after tending my containers of flowers. Watching the sunlight on the clouds. Everything I was usually too busy and too tired to do, never mind appreciate. Also time for introspection, to realize all the people who declined the Puritan work-always & modern “Busy-ness is a Virtue” have a wisdom that I’m just beginning to grasp.

    Mostly I miss being able to ride – that intimate relationship with a horse or three – travel anywhere/anytime (not into a good book), and season tickets to the regional theater company. But those all can, and will, reenter my life in a new way over time.

    • Larisa, I commend thee. We’ve all heard it: When you get to the pearly gates, will you wish you’d spent another year chained to the professional oar, or will you wish you’d pet just one more velvety equine nose? I go into a decline if I can’t be around a horse from time to time, and yet, I haven’t ridden for a year. I thought it was the riding I couldn’t do without, but I was wrong. Sometimes, it’s wonderful to be wrong.
      And yes, I think you will have those things back, and you will enjoy them more than ever when you do.

  10. I do not have an outside the home job. I have never had a steady one. So technically, I have 16 hours a day! Dont I? At least according to that articles logic.

    • I love that old essay by Judy Syfers, “I Want a Wife,” which can be found here: Forget the cabana boys and trophy husband, I surely could use me wife like this, one who does “nothing” all day. Right. My mother raised seven kids doing “nothing” all day, and I have few memories of that woman even sitting down, unless it was at a family meal she prepared.
      My guess, Lisa, is that you have fewer unstructured hours than those of us with the out of home jobs. I’d put money it.

  11. Most of my life I spent being a wife and stay-at-home mother of 5. I really enjoyed it and raised 5 wonderful children that I can be proud of. But time to myself…that was hard to come by. I wouldn’t have changed the job for any other. I now have 6 grandchildren that I enjoy nearly as much but they are growing up too fast and haven’t as much time for “ole grandma” any more.

    • Mary, when my daughter left home at seventeen, my sister pulled me aside and said not to worry, “They always come back.” It has been seven years, and Herself hasn’t come back, nor do I think she ever will. One of the hardest things about watching her strike out on her own is that I felt like she’d just gotten me broken in as a parent, had just gotten me to the place where I knew some useful lessons, and then–boom–my turn was over.
      Whether they have time for old grandma or not, that you love your children and their children makes a tremendous difference. Never doubt that.

  12. I never went back after working full time for 15 yrs. before having kids although I worked out of my home for 3 and am now working a bit to help out my daughter who has an art shop with her boyfriend. Of course we do without a lot of things but I was never one for having to have everything. Just books lol.

    • Cats, my mom worked as registered nurse for a couple years, “took off” forty years to raise seven children, then went back to work when most people are retiring. I think she proved to all and sundry she still had the ability to pull a full shift, and after a couple years of that hung up her stethoscope with a sigh of relief–and a lot more sympathy for her working daughters.
      Quality of life is not the same thing as quantity of cash.

  13. My job in some ways is a “non-relationship” part of my life. I’m a graphic designer for the local library. So, it provides a creative outlet, a way to feel productive without feeling “obligated,” and I provide a meaningful contribution to my community. Plus, I LOVE working in a building full of books. 🙂 But, it gets 40 hours a week from me, and very rarely comes home (except for February when we’re putting together our gala and all bets are off).

    I’ve been a full-time mom, and that was the most difficult job I’ve ever had because there’s very little chance for solitude or solitary-ness. (dear heavens … you can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself!!) It’s rewarding in a different way that has to do with sticky fingers and small discoveries.

    With my Other Eight Hours, though, I try to maintain a balance between family needs and my needs. So, some grocery shopping and housework, some exercise and losing myself in a book or a crossword puzzle, and some together time to go to church, go to a museum, or whatever we do for fun as a family.

    • Learning to balance I think is the best preparation for when the kid’s fly from the next. It’s just another adjustment, and you handle enough of those, you get confident in your ability to handle one more.

      Send me your library’s snail mail addy, and I’ll send them some GB books, Kristen.

  14. Thanks!!! We do already carry your books … which is how I first read The Soldier, although I own them all myself now.

    Howard County Library System
    6600 Cradlerock Way
    Columbia, MD 20145

    Send them to my attention, and I’ll pass them along to Selectors. Or, they may become summer reading prizes. ; )


    and yes, I’ve got one leaving for college this fall…so the empty nest is in my near future.

  15. I really enjoy my job and co-workers, but when my day is over, I don’t worry about what didn’t get done or will need to be done tomorrow. For me, I like to have a line between work and home and not have it work bleed into the “other 8 hours”

    • Moriah, holy cow, so do I. I NEVER work on my books in my legal office, and I try to NEVER bring case materials home. Not ever. And I like that there’s a twenty plus mile commute between the two, because I need that time and distance to change gears.