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18. Time and everyday life


shutterstock_30354373clockIt is commonly perceived that the pace of daily life is accelerating and that people are increasingly short of time. The resultant ‘time pressure’ is a contemporary malady, which many prescriptions promise to alleviate. These include: time management advice and consultants; gadgets and services that speed-up, slow-down, and permit the multi-tasking of activities; ethical or lifestyle movements that prescribe new modes of slow or ‘simple’ living; and government policies like flexible working.

All assume time pressure is a result of ‘too much’ of something – very often of too many demands related to consumption. Take the popular notion of ‘work–spend’ cycles as an example: we work more in order to earn the money to consume more; and because we work so much we treat ourselves and our children to more consumption. The confounding point is that time diary data show that most people actually work less, certainly in European societies.

Research at the University of Manchester has advanced our understandings of time and everyday life by exploring temporal rhythms and coordination. Collective, or institutionalized, rhythms of everyday life have been eroded. For example, comparison of ‘day in the life’ diaries from the 1930s with interview data from 2001 revealed that past rhythms of daily life were more collectively defined – meal times, work times, shopping days, wash days, and rest days/times, were pretty much the same for the whole population.

Today, each individual is obliged to manage her own personal schedule – whether to coordinate a meal, socialize with friends, or juggle work-home life. What is more, everyone else is also trying to manage their personal schedules. It is this challenge of coordinating everyday life that creates time pressure and sense of being harried.

Further reading

Squeezing Time‘ (2003) by Dale Southerton

Analysing the Temporal Organisation of Daily Life‘ (2006) Dale Southerton


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