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Balancing act: It's time to talk about time

Published: Monday, Oct. 1 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

A new Timex survey gives an interesting look at how Americans spend their time, how long they're willing to wait for something and when, exactly, someone is considered "late."

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All of my life, I've been worried about time.

I've worn a watch since I was a kid, when I had a cheap digital one I loved. I've been interested in — some would say obsessed with — how long I have to complete assignments and how long various tasks should take.

I also hate being late to anything. That may be part of the reason I chose journalism as a profession, driven as it is by deadlines.

This time-centeredness served me well for most of my life, as it meant I was almost never late to any appointment, meeting or event.

Then, on a journalism internship about 23 years ago, I met the woman who would become my wife. The first time I saw her, she was 15 minutes late meeting me to travel to work together.

Needless to say, her relationship with time is not the same as mine. Sometimes I think that's a good thing. She's helped me relax a bit about time, which has been good for our family togetherness on occasion, although it still drives me crazy when we're late to something.

Meanwhile, I've helped her be more punctual — sometimes. She claims she appreciates that, although I know it drives her a bit crazy when I nag her about leaving home so we won't be late to an event or when I "hover" (her word) around her while she's getting ready.

Anyway, my natural interest in time and my understanding that building work/life balance is all about using time wisely both contributed to my fascination with a recent survey from watch manufacturer Timex.

The survey of 1,000 people was completed in August and has a margin of error of 5 percent. It gives an interesting look at how Americans spend their time, how long they're willing to wait for something and when, exactly, someone is considered "late."

For example, according to the Timex press release, people wait an average of seven minutes for a cup of coffee. They also wait 20 minutes a day in traffic, 20 minutes a day for the bus or train and 32 minutes every time they go to a doctor.

"When it comes to asking people to be quiet, it is apparent that Americans aren’t shy," the Timex release said. "They’ll 'shhh' somebody in a movie theater after just less than two minutes. They’ll also endure someone else’s phone conversation for an average of two and a half minutes before asking them to 'keep it down.'"

But that's not all the survey found. For example:

— More than half of respondents said that any amount of lateness makes you "officially" late for work, a first date or a job interview. Also, 64 percent said they were never late to work. That seems a bit high to me. Who doesn't get stuck in an unexpected traffic jam every now and then?

— "People wait an average of 20 minutes for their significant other to get ready, which is shorter than the 32 minutes they spend getting ready," the release said. I won't make any comment on that statistic, in the interest of preserving good feelings in my marriage.

— Watching sports on the weekend takes an average of 1.9 hours. I probably spend that amount of time or less during most weekends. However, during football season or the NCAA basketball tournament, I'm sure I go way over the average.

— "Women are more likely than men to agree that 'people should have more patience when waiting in lines' and that 'being late says a lot about your character,'" the release said. I'm not sure this holds true in my family, as my wife is slightly more likely to experience "line rage" than I am — especially when waiting to drop off or pick up our children at school.

— Respondents said 50 seconds was the average amount of time that must pass before it's acceptable to honk at the car in front of you if the driver doesn't move after a light turns green. I don't think I'd wait even close to 50 seconds, especially if I could tell that the other driver was texting. In such cases, I'm pretty quick on the trigger.

While I may not agree with the average American on all of these statistics, as a time-obsessed person, I do appreciate the information. The next time one of my children or my spouse is getting ready too slowly and making us late, I'll just remind them that surveys indicate any amount of lateness is rude.

I'm sure that will go over really well, aren't you?

Assuming I survive making such a statement, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the issue of time. Are you an always-late person or an always-on-time person? How much lateness is acceptable? How long can you wait in line before rage sets in?

Send me a message, and I'll share some of your responses in a future column.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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