Women and Time

Virginia Santy | @ginnamccarver

The Ancient Greeks had two ways to think about time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is chronological, linear time—the progression of days and weeks. Kairos represents a more sophisticated concept—something resembling an “ideal moment”—the feeling of being the “right time” for an occurrence or activity. 

Both ways of thinking about time remain pertinent today. And as we find ourselves, as a society and as women in particular, caught up in the confines of time and its ever-diminishing resources, three books address the notion of time in women’s lives in very different ways.

Two I recommend you read and the third, in the interest of time, I recommend you don’t.

Let’s start with the third.

Katrina Alcorn’s 2013 book, Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink is the all-too familiar tale of a mom who gave all she had until she gave out. Alcorn talks frankly about her personal story, striving to “have it all”—family, career, and the myriad of responsibilities and accoutrements of both—and her resulting battles with anxiety and depression. If you need camaraderie, if you feel you are “on the brink” and are looking for the stories of others who have also been there, Alcorn’s book is a great read. It can also be a powerful wake up call for those who struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety in response to the many demands on their time and are uncertain about the root of those feelings.

However, if you are like me, and you have made it to the brink of being overwhelmed and back again, move on to the following two reads.

How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life by Caroline Webb and The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica N. Turner address the concept of time and how best to use it.

A former McKinsey researcher, Webb’s day job consists of coaching people in professional effectiveness. Her book explores how advances in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics can help us excel professionally on a daily basis. From addressing conflict through an awareness of concepts such as emotional contagion to an explanation of the phenomenon known as “decision fatigue” and how to avoid it, Webb presents an arsenal of research for understanding our days and offers tools for making the most of them.

In her chapter titled “Overcoming Overload” she introduces the concept of “planning fallacy” and our predilection for relying on our best past experiences as a benchmark for planning future tasks. When we encounter the reality of the time it truly takes to accomplish something, it derails us. Webb brings this common miscalculation to our attention and recommends the simple act of balancing the best-case scenario with a dose of “what if it goes awry?”

Webb’s book is a fascinating read, and if nothing else the buffet of theories and concepts she presents provides ample fodder for offering mildly annoying arm-chair psychology observations to friends and colleagues. 

While Webb’s book focuses on how to make the most out of chronos, Turner’s book, Fringe Hours, is an exploration of kairos, the ideal moment. Ideal moments for personal growth and satisfaction, Turner asserts, must be carved out of what she calls “the fringe hours,” the time in women’s lives between tasks, or after major responsibilities. Turner, founder of the lifestyle blog The Mom Creative, identifies and addresses the pitfalls preventing women from taking time for themselves and encourages women to find “pockets of time” during which they can practice self-care.

Early morning and later evening are common pockets of time, but Turner also recommends thinking strategically about how to use the lunch hour and slivers of time elsewhere throughout our day—what she refers to as “fringe minutes”—to bring us satisfaction and joy. According to Turner, we spend nearly 45 minutes a day waiting for things—our kids to finish soccer practice, the gas tank to fill, our turn in line at the bank. She encourages women to use those fringe minutes to do something rewarding like read a few pages of a book, write a letter, or whittle away at the NYT's crossword puzzle. When I was little, my dad learned to play the harmonica in bits and fragments while waiting in the car for my mom as she ran errands. Figuring out where your fringe minutes live in your day and how best to use them takes a bit of work, but the result can be significant in terms of peace of mind and our feelings of well-being.

Both Webb and Turner’s books could serve as the sequel to Alcorn’s Moms on the Brink. They are the pragmatic steps forward after the storm, the plan of action to bring women back from the brink and to make the most out of that precious resource: time.