ONE FRIDAY LAST MONTH, Joe Konrardy got up for a 6 a.m. racquetball game, called his office at US West on the car phone, discovered an overnight crisis, played racquetball, called work again to schedule a meeting, wolfed down two eggs and sausage, drove to work and solved the crisis by 9:30.

Think he's busy?At Padilla Speer Beardsley, a Minneapolis public relations agency, staffers eat lunch at their desks so often that they compiled a list of foods that don't make noise on the phone. Peanut butter is out - it smacks. Broth soups are out - they slurp. Pizza is the favorite - convenient, nutritious, available in endless variety.

Think they're busy?

When Cathy Madison was publishing Format magazine and running the Advertising Federation of Minnesota, she would get home at 7 p.m., fix dinner for two children, collapse at 10 p.m. for a 5-minute nap, then work until 3 a.m.

One week she slept a total of 10 hours between Sunday and Saturday. Madison, a single mom, has tried to cut back her work load.

"Now I'd settle for being able to eat a doughnut, drink coffee and put on my eye makeup at the same time while driving to work."

Americans seem busier than ever, and it's not just an illusion. The percentage of Americans who work has reached an all-time high of 66 percent - 81 percent if you count people who work intermittently during the year.

At the same time, respondents to a survey by Louis Harris and Associates report that their leisure time has declined by 37 percent since 1973, to an average of 16.6 hours a week in 1987.

"This society is obsessed with time-saving technologies," said Jeremy Rifkin, author of the recent book "Time Wars" and a long-time skeptic about progress. "Yet we feel like we have less time available to us than any culture in history."

In the short run, the trend has two familiar causes:

- The baby boom - 76 million Americans, or almost one-third of the population - has simultaneously reached its prime work years and peak child-raising years.

- Women have radically changed their relationship with the labor market. Now, instead of dropping out for 10 years to raise children, they drop out for 10 weeks. Nearly two-thirds of women aged 16 to 64 are in the work force, a percentage that has more than doubled since World War II.

But there are other, more subtle causes that have to do with the U.S. standard of living and the economic expansion of the 1980s. The recovery has produced a jobs explosion, 16 million new jobs since 1980, but also a stagnation in income.

One result is an increase in moonlighting. The percentage of Americans working second jobs reached a 20-year high in 1985, and appears to have jumped further still, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Factory workers' hours have gotten longer and longer in the 1980s as manufacturers expanded production while freezing hiring, and management experts say the same thing has happened in white-collar jobs.

"Companies have cut the head count substantially, but not necessarily the scope of activities," said Adil Zainulbhai, a principal in the Minneapolis office of McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm.

"We know a guy who used to be CEO of a big company - he had two secretaries and somebody to run errands for him. We visited him after he bought the company and tightened the belt, and he made coffee for us and he cleaned the kitchen because he couldn't afford $200 a day for staff to clean the kitchen."

Not that people are clamoring for less work. When the U.S. Labor Department asked people in May 1985 if they would rather work fewer hours and take home smaller paychecks, 92 percent said no. Only among women earning more than $400 a week did the number wanting fewer hours exceed the number wanting more.

That might be because people are working more without earning more. Hourly wages are actually lower today than they were in 1973, after adjustment for inflation.

Moreover, the number of paid holidays and vacation days, which grew steadily for most of this century, leveled off in the 1980s as employers struck harder bargains with workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"It's a patriotic belief that our system gives us more things and more leisure, but increasingly it's going to be either/or," said Geoffrey Godbey, a professor at Pennsylvania State University.

"We're frantically struggling to maintain this unique standard of living that we had after World War II, this artificial economic advantage that we had in the 1950s and 1960s, and we've virtually sacrificed the idea of increases in leisure as being worthwhile."

Not everyone is busier. Among men over age 55, labor-force participation has fallen from 89 percent in 1955 to 71 percent last year, largely the result of generous retirement benefits and involuntary early-retirement programs.

More than 6.8 million Americans were unemployed in August, and another 5 million worked part time because they couldn't find full-time work.

Yet for millions of Americans, life's quickened pace has changed the nature of eating, relaxing, volunteering and raising a family.

The symbols of our decade - VCRs, car phones, phone-answering machines - are appliances for people who need to do two things at once. The symbols of earlier decades - leisure symbols such as golf and baseball - have been accelerated for our hectic pace.

Many golf courses have adopted something called "speedy golf" to get a foursome around the links in less time. The American League this year urged umpires to keep pitchers and batters from dawdling between at-bats. Many arts organizations offer alternative season-ticket packages that allow patrons to see fewer plays or swap nights to avoid a schedule conflict.

Godbey said the new pace also has changed our conception of leisure.

"The key themes of leisure today are mastery and efficiency. Thirty years ago, people said they engaged in a wide variety of leisure activities - gardening, golfing, bridge. Today, people specialize in one hobby. They take lessons, they spend more money on specialized equipment."

The Independent Sector, a confederation of volunteer groups and foundations, estimates that the number of Americans who volunteer their time dropped only slightly from 1980 to 1985. But the way they give time has changed.

"Organizations are finding that they have to recruit people to give specific pieces of time," said Virginia Hodgkinson, vice president for research. "If you had someone who gave 20 hours a week, now you need six or seven people to do that same job."

The time crunch has spawned a gigantic convenience industry of 10-minute oil changes and 4-minute microwave bacon. People who lack time for routine chores can hire a service in many urban areas to pick up the dry cleaning, buy a wedding present or house-sit until the furnace-repair man comes.

For single-parent households, which now represent one-fourth of all families, the burden can be crushing.

"Working parents, especially single parents, are the real heros of this story," said Jan Smaby, president of the Center for Spring Hill Programs in Orono, Minn., which just completed a yearlong study of work-family conflicts.

"I don't know that continuing to dictate a 40-hour work week, given the demographic changes in our work force, is a humane work ethic anymore."

While some of the change in women's work habits reflects changing social values, much of it results from economic necessity: One-fourth of working mothers have husbands who earn less than $10,000 a year, an income that puts a family of four below the federal poverty level.

For parents and nonparents alike, the result appears to be a rising level of stress and its associated complaints.

Dr. Paul Rosch, a Yonkers, N.Y., physician who has conducted research for the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, estimates that stress-induced health care costs doubled between 1982 and 1987 and says that stress has been implicated in diseases as diverse as cancer, stroke, colitis and the common cold.

Some 26 states now recognize stress-induced psychological complaints as legitimate workers' compensation claims, and such claims account for 14 percent of all job-injury claims, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance.

Predictably, the time crunch has produced a backlash, a movement of people ready to drop off the fast track.

Flexible work schedules, though they remain rare in corporate America, turn up in surveys as one of the most sought-after employee benefits.

Prestigious New York law firms have developed something called the "Mommy Track" for attorneys willing to slow their career advancement for the sake of time with kids.