Kimeldorf Library
Kimeldorf Library
Martin Kimeldorf

Balancing Your Work and Play Ethics
By Martin Kimeldorf

"Play Now Or Pay Later" is the essential message of my book Serious Play. As a bonafide workaholic I wrote the piece as therapy. I guess I felt guilty or at least unbalanced after having concentrated for so long on the topic of work. You know the story, always on fast forward and unable to find the play button.

I don't need to point out the benefits of attending to your leisure. However, it might be worth noting that taking your leisure more seriously will pay off in your professional life as well. Carl McDaniels stated it well when he observed that it is through play that we first discover our talents. Dick Bolles gave this concept a poetic lift when he wrote in the introduction to my book: "Leisure, then, is a mirror where our inner nature stands most revealed." The work-leisure connection is a vein worth exploring by both career counselors and career changers.

I will share with you some material from AUTHORING YOUR DAYS In Journals And Personal Portfolios.. The excerpted material includes background information and journal exercises for enhancing your awareness of time and how you use it. This material is from Chapter 2--Guided Reflections For Living And Learning.

I am always interested in getting feedback about my ideas. Please E-mail me your reaction at:


Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber's book The Art of Time details how people today get more done, but with less satisfaction. He and others note how we confuse quantity of things done with quality of experience enjoyed. Servan-Schreiber writes, "We now tend to simply do nothing thoroughly, we just try to do more of it."

Not only is the day slammed into fast-forward, entire weeks and months seem to be speeding out of control. Look across a lifetime, you'll find that people today live through more episodes than earlier generations. We change jobs, partners, locations, families, houses. Because our experiences have become so fragmented, many people possess a heightened sense of time being compressed, as well as a generic feeling of overload. Our day is scheduled into tiny blocks on a calendar. Time--cut up into small fractional parts--which zip by at computer driven speeds. We want to unwind, even rewind to the past, as we desperately search for the "pause" or "play" buttons.

Eventually, we arrive at the point where we lose the ability to concentrate, and we shift our focus to the completion of tasks or the "doing of life." As a result, we are unable to enjoy slow, reflective, personal moments. We make decisions in a flash, reacting rather than pondering and planning. Perhaps, the quickened life allows a chance to escape the reality of things we cannot change.

Many experts believe that until we become more conscious of the pace at which we live, we will never be able to slow down and control our pace. The first step in awareness begins with the realization that clocks, and their mechanical approach to organizing time, are a relatively recent experience in the human story. The first clocks appeared in the 13th century medieval towers and only had one hand. These clock towers were simply used as signaling devices, primarily calling people to work and special events. With only an hour hand or the position of the sun, people regulated their affairs by more organic cycles such as the sun, moon, seasons, or their own personal events.

The widespread use of clocks coincided with the emergence of industrial society and its need for precision timing. Suddenly, officials of the new order challenged the leisurely pace which began with the Greek's adoration of leisure and play and extended to the idyllic and festival filled life of the Medieval peasant and townspeople. Plato and Aristotle saw work as a means and play as the end. They felt you could learn more about a person in an hour of play than an entire lifetime of work. The Greek word schole became our word school, and it represents the enlightenment one achieves through play or leisure.

The Middle Ages was a time of subsistence farming. When you earned enough you simply stopped working, went off on a hunt, headed for the tavern, or sat idle before a hearth or pasture.

But the new class of factory owners had a different agenda. The early industrialists and manufacturers tried to keep machines busy twenty four hours a day, they equated time with money. A whole new work force had to be created and disciplined to clock time. The notion of a fixed amount of time for work and alternate time for non-work or free time emerged.

It is interesting to note that the concept of "free time" did not exist prior to industrial clock time. The early clock with a single hour hand was no longer enough. All hours were not equal in this kind of society; some were more important, others sacred. On a busy day full of commerce or work, time flew by, but time slowed down when tending to animals in idyllic pastures.

Our reliance on clocks or mechanical time has deceived us into thinking that an entire day can be divided up into 1440 equally spaced intervals, called minutes. To free ourselves from this myth, we must remind ourselves that the notion of "free time" and the concept of a regimented work week followed by a weekend are both modern inventions--and not necessarily improvements! In fact, today everyone has a watch, but no one has the time!

Once you realize that a clock is simply a signaling device, and that each person experiences time uniquely, then you are on your way to understanding the human or subjective nature of time. To help you get back in touch with non-mechanical, non-clock time, remove your watch. Then try the following exercises which will help you renew your fellowship with human time. Perhaps in the end, you'll come to see that clocks are only signaling devices; and we are the timekeepers.

Perhaps, you can learn how to slow down the pace, stop trying to make every minute count and rid yourself of worrying about "wasting time." Time can neither be created nor destroyed; therefore, it really cannot be wasted. Time can only be experienced. And by carefully choosing the experiences, you change your perception of time itself.

Everything seems to take place in time, but what is this ephemeral thing we call "time"? Is all time the same? Certainly time at work feels different from time spent on vacation. Are we victims of a mechanical or industrial time? Can workaholics change their lifestyles by changing their perception of time?

Exercise #19: Examining Attitudes And Values Towards Time

Just as we grow up with attitudes towards work, we also inherit attitudes about leisure time. These attitudes have much to do with our daily pace, our relationship with time, and our perception of time itself. This exercise will help you become more conscious of the forces which have shaped your attitudes about time, and your current way of using time.

  1. List the attitudes or values towards time which you have inherited. To help generate the list, consider how you were raised. Check off anything which describes your family's attitude about or experience with time.

    __ My family was extremely organized and followed schedules.
    __ My family was extremely disorganized and did things at random times.
    __ I am related to a procrastinator.
    __ My parents were very time conscious, used schedules, laid down deadlines, specified times for meals etc....
    __ Time was used to punish me (confined to my room for a certain period of time).
    __ I had little free time.
    __ Free time was punishing because I was often bored.
    __ My family was always punctual for appointments.
    __ My family was always late for appointments.

  2. Consider your answers. List one or two attitudes or values towards time which you learned as a child.

  3. What has changed from your childhood? As an adult, how do you view time differently today?

  4. What new attitudes do you feel you must develop about time? What can you do to feel more comfortable about the way you use time?

Exercise #20: A Growing Awareness Of Time

The way we use time often expresses our innermost values. Once we decide that the use or abuse of free time is important, we then tend to use our leisure moments more consciously or in a more fulfilling way. While we may not increase the amount of free time, we can improve the quality of our free moments by choosing to spend them in ways that more closely align with our true nature.

This activity will help you to identify the values reflected in your sense of time. It uses the creative-thinking act of building analogies. You'll play with language and discover new insights between your personal values and your value of time. Perhaps you'll discover what you really want out of the experience of time.

  1. Write down five to ten common sayings or cliches which include the word time or the concept of time in the phraseology. The next examples may help you get started:
    • Where has the time gone?
    • This pace is killing me
    • I enjoyed my time with you.
    • That was certainly a waste of my time.
    • If only I had more time...
    • My schedule controls me

  2. Make a list of "value words." These words describe values that hold as much importance for you as the word "time." Is time synonymous to "wealth" or "life," "value," "quality," "experience" or "career."

  3. Go back to the first list and underline the key word or phrase relating to time (just as was done in the earlier example).

  4. Re-write each phrase or cliche. This time, replace the underlined time-words with a new word from your "value words" list. The following are examples:
    • Where has the quality gone?
    • This wealth is killing me
    • I enjoyed my life with you.
    • That was certainly a waste of my career.
    • If only I had more life...
    • I feel like I don't control my career.
    • I need to get control of my (daily )experience.

  5. Take one of the newly re-written phrases and write or draw about it. Describe how you might do things differently if you could become the model of "leisure wellness." What might your life be like, if you made more conscious choices about how you have used your leisure time?

  6. Servan-Schreiber has observed that we cannot control our schedules, or time, until we attempt to control ourselves first. Write how this advice could apply to you. Then write a prescription for change.

    If you find yourself constantly racing through the day, feeling mentally-winded, then you definitely lack the "breathing space" needed for reflection. If you find the question of "time" in your life to be a worthy subject, you'll find it useful to read books about how we use and experience time. Four titles I recommend include Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber's book The Art of Time, Jeff Davidson's Breathing Space, Adair Lair's Slowing Down In A Speeded Up World, and my book Serious Play.

Leisure Wellness

We generally are most involved in using our talents during the hours we spend at work and in leisure pursuits. Yet, when surveyed about satisfaction during these hours, at least 50% of us will say that we find our work, leisure (or both) unfulfilling. Many people feel that they are using only two or three talents at work, or that their leisure hours seem stale, routine, or empty. Another dilemma is faced by the army of workaholics who approach their leisure and work with an equal zeal. Trying to make every leisure moment count, they apply the principles of "productivity" to their leisure. Their three day weekend becomes a whirlwind that neither refreshes nor satisfies. When they finally return home exhausted, and plop down on the sofa, Monday doesn't look so bad.

Leisure wellness attempts to address these conditions. Leisure wellness is a prescription for re-invigorating one's leisure hours with passion and purpose. It is a philosophy which places the individual squarely in charge of examining how leisure time is used--or abused. The pursuit of leisure wellness is the pursuit of balanced work ethics and leisure values. Leisure wellness means not feeling guilty about doing "nothing" during your free time. When you get home early from work, you won't feel compelled to fill that free moment with a chore. Likewise, you'll put more thought into how you use the spare moments you often neglect or throw away.

Exercise #21: The Art Of Doing Nothing

Some people say the highest or purest enjoyment of leisure is the experience of doing nothing. Yet, many people in our busy culture find this experience terrifying. Perhaps this is due to inheriting a Puritanical guilt about leisure: "Idleness is the Devil's playground." When you get home from work early, do you find yourself doing an extra chore instead of luxuriating in the extra time? Does extra or spare time cause you to feel anxious or uneasy? Do you race off to complete another project on your workaholic to-do list? This activity is designed for workaholics who want to practice the joy of doing nothing. Do not underestimate the difficulty of this activity.

  1. For the next 20 minutes try doing nothing. Nothing has to be individually defined but it means being by yourself (not interacting with others), not doing a chore or other mindless activity, avoid thinking about your work or problems. You must define "nothingness" yourself. As a guideline, a moment of doing nothing should lead you into a more relaxed state. For some it might be an aimless stroll, for another it may include looking at nature or pictures in a book, others would choose to day dream or watch clouds, and finally some will try meditation.

    Stop here and do nothing for 20 minutes before going on.

  2. Now reflect on the experience. What are your thoughts after 20 minutes of trying to do nothing? Was it difficult? Can you define what leisure is to you? Is it a specific activity or an attitude?

  3. Extend your thinking on this subject. Consider responding to the following questions:
    • One year from now what would you like your leisure to be like?
    • What is one thing you'd like to begin doing less of?
    • What is one thing you'd like to begin doing more of in order to have more satisfying free moments?

About The Author

Martin Kimeldorf is a teacher and author. Two books you might wish to explore are: Serious Play (1995, Ten Speed Press) and Portfolio Power (1997, Peterson's Publishing Group).



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