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Time Off Clock Time

by Dee Andrews

Two years ago, I was in the midst of selling our house and planning our move to Spain. The exhilaration and excitement of making the decision to move abroad had worn off a little and the stress and complexity of making it all happen was starting to mount.

My daughters, 6 and 9 at the time, and I were just home from the library, and I sank into a chair with my latest book, Living Simply with Children by Marie Sherlock.

There was a quote that struck an immediate cord,

“Everything of lasting value takes time

— and time is at a premium these days. Parenting, like all arts, requires expanses of empty time for spontaneous, unbidden life to erupt through the humdrum of shuttling between appointments. Time is like a vast, shimmering Shangri-la that is accessed when we leave the manufactured, regimented world behind. Laughter happens in that kind of time. So does love. And meaning. We need time off from clock time. Sabbaths. Rest. Giggling. Lying in the grass…”

Clock Time

Clock Time

I was refreshed reading Marie’s words. This was what our year in Spain meant to me. Time with my daughters, time with my husband. Time off the clock. We were hesitating to call our year abroad a sabbatical, as my husband would still be working some, and I intended to commit to my writing, but the idea of sabbath time, or at least more flexible time, sounded appealing and necessary to recharge and redesign our lives.

And two years later, now that we are back in the States after our year abroad, as my husband and I both work away from home offices, I remember our time in Shangri-la. We definitely had more time off the clock, and we found Europeans in general had a different outlook toward work and life and balancing the two.

We came to appreciate the Spanish idea of manana,

tomorrow or the next day, an indefinite time in the future. We realized that was the way we wanted to live no matter where we lived. Unscheduled weekends with lazy mornings, long meals and conversation together, board games, walks or bike rides. The opportunity to all be thrown together in our house without an agenda for those spontaneous moments of laughter and meaning.

But I know too that even with these memories fresh in my mind and the best intentions, it’s tough here in the U.S. to not get pulled back into our over-achieving, ambitious society that fills our calendars with color-coded appointments and has us checking the clock every hour. My husband and I are working hard to design jobs that allow us to work from home and be location independent, but that also means our work and laptops are always near.

I remind myself of Shangri-la and once my work day is over to avoid my email and Facebook and Twitter. I remind myself to sit and ease up and enjoy a snack with my daughters after school, play scrabble, get off the clock.

Do you take time off the clock? Tell us how you balance work, life, friends and family.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Anil January 14, 2010 at 6:37 am

It’s hard for me since I’m completely freelance and travel at the same time. The temptation to relax and explore is always there but the reverse is true for me personally. I like to work and work hard when I do.

I need a schedule and set of goals for myself that I set usually at the beginning of each week. That way I’ve got boundaries to stay within but still feel like I’m accomplishing things when I’m off the clock too.

Dee January 14, 2010 at 10:04 am

I am sure being completely freelance and traveling does pose challenges to accomplishing work. I remember that from my days in Spain. Now that I’m not traveling, I find myself getting pulled back into too much work and clock time. I like your strategy of weekly goals and boundaries. The boundaries are hard for me since I too enjoy my work and like to immerse in it.

Do you constantly travel and how often are you in one place? Do you find you still get to enjoy exploring and seeing new things or do you find yourself landing somewhere new and trying to set up “shop” all over again?

lena January 21, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I wish I could say I am trying to, but life is way too hectic. But sometimes, a day or two in a month I let myself lazy around doing nothing, having food in bed and watching movies or reading a book.
The last time when I actually had a longer period of time off for myself was during my vacation trip to India last Summer. I just fond myself again in an absolutely different rhythm of life. Felt great 🙂
.-= lena´s last blog ..3 Facts: Barcelona =-.

Leigh Shulman January 21, 2010 at 2:12 pm

This is a really lovely piece, Dee.

How true that peace and balance are all in your way of seeing things. Life with weekday lunches at home with the family and long coffees or a glass of wine require a different viewpoint than a fast to-go Starbucks in a paper cup.

I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but they do have different purposes and different outcomes.

Heather ~ Acting Balanced Mom January 21, 2010 at 9:09 pm

just stopping by from SITS – love your blog… my husband is a prof and we are counting down to a sabbatical year which I think will be wonderful for our kids.
Welcome to SITS and I will look forward to reading more 🙂
.-= Heather ~ Acting Balanced Mom´s last blog ..‘Iwannastay’ =-.

Dee January 22, 2010 at 12:33 pm

@ Lena, I think as long as its working for you Lena then that’s what’s important. If you start to find life too hectic, perhaps then you figure out how to find more time off the clock. Even my 20 minute siesta, which I got into the habit of in Spain, works wonders for me each day.

Dee January 22, 2010 at 12:37 pm

@ Leigh, You are so right about needing both in life… the long coffee taking in the view and the Starbucks to go. I think coffee has become the perfect metaphor for the subject of balance!

Eat Smart Age Smart February 13, 2010 at 8:18 am


For me taking a break is going as far away as possible from my home. My destination of choice is Europe.

I find it essential to become grounded again. Since winter has been grey and long, I intend on heading down south in the next few months to “far niente” as the Italians say.

When it comes to taking a break here, it’s usually a nice cup of latte or heading to my favourite coffee shop with my favourite book for a few hours of balanced-relaxation!

Thanks for your great post!

Krizia from SITS!
.-= Eat Smart Age Smart´s last blog ..10 reasons why I workout regularly =-.

Dee March 15, 2010 at 11:07 am

@ Krizia at Eat Smart Age Smart

I can’t get enough lattes and books to rejuvenate, especially if they could be in Italy! Funny latte in Italy experience I had. I ordered a latte, thinking, you know, the kind Starbucks has… the waiter looked at me funny, asked me if I wanted it hot or cold, confirmed… and then brought me hot milk.

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