Category Archives: Time

Don’t Let Workplace Telepressure and Vacation Shame Impact Your Vacation

With spring behind us and our eye on summer, thoughts often turn to vacation. For some, vacations are routine and/or are based in tradition. This could include weekends at the cottage or a nearby campsite. Vacations sometimes revolve around a week or two at the same time every year to the same place. Or, perhaps vacations are novel experiences each year. Unfortunately, it appears that many North Americans do not take vacation and that portable technology has made it more difficult for us to be fully engaged during our vacation.

Chairs Cabin Water Vacation Nature Cottage Lake

Growing up, I had the privilege of experiencing two weeks of vacation at a rental in Nova Scotia near where my maternal grandparents lived. Our first trip there was around my sister’s first birthday (I was 4 and a half). My father, a lawyer, had a fairly stressful job and the idea was that getting away would be a chance for us to have focused time together as a family. Over the years since those summers away, our family has fondly reflected on our time at “Harbour View”. Our rented cottage did not have a phone (and in the 1970s and 1980s, there were no cell phones). My father used to say that one of the reasons we went to Harbour View was because if we did not leave town and get away from the phone, he would never be able to leave work behind.

As I reflect back on my family’s vacation practices, I see the wisdom. It was an opportunity to detach. It was a time for rest, a time to relax, and a time to focus on family. I remember my father reading lots of books, playing tennis with my sister and I (once we were a little older), taking us to the on-site pool a couple of times a day, and playing catch and baseball with us in the field behind the cottage. He was noticeably more relaxed and humorous. Getting away was smart and the outcomes for him (and us as a family) were clear and significant enough that I remember them 35+ years later.

In stark contrast to my father taking all his vacation each year, a number of studies have demonstrated that vacation time is not being used. Project: Time Off (2017), an American study, found that Americans used a half-day more vacation (16.8 days) in 2016 compared with 2015 (16.2 days). However, because more vacation time was earned, more vacation days were left on the table than the previous year. In Canada, the story is fairly similar. In 2015, on average, Canadians accrued 17 days vacation and took, on average, 15.5 days (Montgomery, 2015b). The 2010 Statistics Canada General Social Survey found that one third of Canadians took less than 10 days vacation and 19.3% took no paid vacation days at all (Hilbrecht & Smale, 2016) which is slightly better than the 23% who took no vacation days in the U.S. (Ray, Sanes, & Schmitt, 2013).

In North America, “letting go” while on vacation and disconnecting is also a problem. For example, 57% of Canadians respond immediately to work-related email while on vacation (Montgomery, 2015a). One U.S. study of those working more than 50 hours a week found that 30% did a significant amount of work while on vacation.

Personally, I struggle with taking big blocks of time for vacation and with using all my vacation days. At times I have wondered if it is, in part, a result of not having children. I’ve thought that maybe I’d be more inclined to recreate the kind of vacation experience I had as a kid for my own children or I would crave more intense, uninterrupted quality time that a vacation could provide. However, it seems that perhaps there is more in play that my lack of offspring, and it also seems that I’m not alone in leaving vacation days on the table.

Workplace Telepressure

One of the reasons people struggle with taking vacation is the work norms that produce pressure to respond right away messages they receive through message-based technologies such as e-mail or text messages (Barber & Santuzzi, 2015). These pressures make it difficult to set physical and temporal boundaries that support the separation of work and leisure (Park, Fritz, & Jex, 2011). While personality characteristics (e.g., conscientiousness, extroversion) can contribute to this impulse to check and respond to work-related email, norms in the work environment are also to blame (Barber & Santuzzi, 2015). These norms are created in response to the demands of the job (and job overload). It can be created by employers who email their employees during non-work hours and by employees who respond to work messages during non-work hours (who may be keen to demonstrate their work ethic or present themselves as work martyrs; Ammar, Santuzzi, & Barber, 2016). When responding to messages during non-work hours becomes the norm, it makes it more difficult for employees to set boundaries that support detaching from work including during vacation.

Vacation Shame 

Feeling guilty or experiencing shame from co-workers when using the vacation time to which one is entitled is referred to as “vacation shame”. It seems that a younger generation of workers and women are more likely to experience this guilt or shame. A 2016 Alamo Family Vacation Survey found that 59 percent of Millennials and 41 percent of older employees feel a sense of shame when they take time off. And 25% of all women, compared with 20% of all men, reported that feelings of guilt about taking vacation held them back from using vacation time.

These feelings may be a result, in part, of a lack of clear messaging about time off. In the Project: Time Off (2017) study, 66% of those surveyed felt their organization culture was ambivalent about, discouraged, or sent mixed messages about taking time off. When employee vacation time and the benefits that result are not valued, it may not be promoted or encouraged.

Why Vacation and “Unplugging” on Vacation are Important

Detaching from work is critical to the psychological and physical recovery process that allows us to go back to work and perform well (Fritz, Yankelevich, Zarubin, & Barger, 2010). Workplace telepressure and vacation shame make detaching more difficult and lead to employees not using all of their vacation time or not getting the optimal results from the vacation time they do take. The consequences are broad ranging.

Workplace telepressure has been found to contribute to higher levels of physical and cognitive burnout, health-related absenteeism (Barber & Santuzzi, 2015), poor sleep quality (Sonnetag & Fritz, 2015). And, when workplace telepressure violates boundaries between work and family life, it can lead to less satisfaction with the investment in family and greater work-family conflict (Hunter, Clark, Carlson, 2017). Vacation shame means that employees often take fewer vacation days which can contribute to lower productivity and burnout (Project: Time Off, 2017). And perhaps it might be useful to keep this quote in mind when thinking about checking and responding to messages while on vacation: “Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master” – Christian Lous Lange (1921)

It is important to understand that there is a relationship between the amount of paid vacation taken and life satisfaction and also self-assessed health (Hilbrecht & Smale, 2016). More specifically, longer vacations were associated with “greater satisfaction with work–life balance, better mental health and reduced time pressure” (p. 49).

One final point. Arguably, one of the reasons we take vacations is because they offer opportunities to create memories with friends or family. If you want to increase the chance that you can fondly reflect back and remember aspects of your vacation, paying attention to how long you are connected while you are on vacation is important. Vozza (2017) reported on one 2016 study that found using your smartphone to take pictures and finding things to do can help with remembering your vacation. However, those who are on their phones for two hours or more a day are 26% more likely to have trouble remembering the experiences you had while on your vacation. Using your device for work-related activities – even for an hour – can have an impact. Only 43% of people who were on their devices for work one hour or more per day remembered all the events on their vacation while 60% those who used them less than one hour were able to do so. And those who worked on their laptops recalled significantly fewer aspects of their vacation.

Final Thoughts

If you have paid vacation, you are entitled to it. If you do not take it, you are essentially donating money back to your organization (Project: Time Off, 2017). You may also be placing your mental and physical health at greater risk and compromising your own productivity on the job. Not detaching from work while on vacation produces similar consequences, but can also have an impact on your family relationships. One has to wonder whether being a work martyr by not taking vacation or all your vacation and working/responding to messages while on vacation is worth these costs.


Ammar, J., Santuzzi, A. M., & Barber, L. K. (2015). Are you suffering from telepressure? Time for a cure. Psychology Today. Retrieved from:

Barber, L. K., & Santuzzi, A. M. (2015). Please respond ASAP: Workplace telepressure and employee recovery. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 20(2), 172-190.

Fritz, C., Yankelevich, M., Zarubin, A., & Barger, P. (2010). Happy, healthy, and productive: the role of detachment from work during nonwork time. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(5), 977-983.

Hilbrecht, M., & Smale, B. (2016) The contribution of paid vacation time to wellbeing among employed Canadians. Leisure/Loisir, 40(1), 31-54.

Hunter, E. M., Clark, M. A., & Carlson, D. S. (ahead of print, 2017). Violating Work-Family Boundaries: Reactions to Interruptions at Work and Home. Journal of Management, Doi: 0149206317702221.

Montgomery, M. (2015a, July16). Vacations? Canadians need to let go but don’t. Radio Canada International.

Montgomery, M. (2015b, October ). Canadians and their vacations. Radio Canada International.

Park, Y., Fritz, C., & Jex, S. M. (2011). Relationships between work-home segmentation and psychological detachment from work: the role of communication technology use at home. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16(4), 457-467.

Ray, R., Sanes, M., & Schmitt, J. (2013). No-vacation nation revisited. Washington, DC:
Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Sonnentag, S., & Fritz, C. (2015). Recovery from job stress: The stressor-detachment model as
an integrative framework. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36(1 ), 72-103.

Vozza, S. (2017, June 2). What happens to your brain when you work on vacation. Fast Company.








Considering Leisure Education Opportunities for Homeschooled Students

The start of the new school year is only a week away. While many children will be going back to a public school in their community, there are about 5% of children who will be learning at home. My nieces are two children who form the homeschool population in Canada. As my sister has shared thoughts as she prepares for the year ahead (one niece in Junior Kindergarten; one in Senior Kindergarten), I’ve become curious about the interaction between homeschooling and leisure. I have very little knowledge about homeschooling – I wasn’t homeschooled; to my knowledge I have only taught one student who was homeschooled in my 12 year career; and I only met two people who were homeschooled. Despite my lack of knowledge, I wanted to take some time to begin a discussion on some of the potential challenges and opportunities for leisure education within a homeschooling environment. I say “potential” challenges and opportunities because there is a lack of academic research on homeschooling and leisure. Therefore, I’m applying my understanding of leisure and how children experience leisure through their traditional pathway of public school in this discussion.


Photo credits to Wel@Home

To begin, leisure education is a process of developing the attitudes, knowledge, and skills

needed to make positive leisure choices (Robertson, 2007). Leisure education is a lifelong process but it is quite critical for young people because childhood leisure influences leisure well into adulthood (Shannon & Shaw, 2008). There are a few key aspects of leisure that homeschooling parents might want to think about and explore.

Opportunities for Socialization. Developing social skills through socializing with others is an important leisure skill and one that is argued to be the a key influence on the quality of our lives and leisure (Mundy, 1998) . Children who lack social skills sometimes struggle to make friends because of challenges in starting and engaging in conversations, listening and understanding, and/or initiating invitations. They may also be challenged to expand and deepen relationships. Ensuring children have opportunities to socialize and develop these skills is important.

I suspect that most homeschooling parents give the socialization of their children significant consideration and look to provide opportunities through various activities for their children to engage with others their age. In some communities, recreation departments create opportunities for children who are homeschooled to come together with others to participate in activities. For example, last year, when my oldest niece with in junior kindergarten, she participated in swim lessons on Friday afternoons. They were offered for children who were homeschooled. What a great opportunity to not only develop her swimming skills, but to also socialize with other kids who were homeschooled. My sister needed to participate in the class with my niece, but for parents of older children, this was also an opportunity for homeschooling parents to socialize with each other during the instruction time.

Obviously, this type of opportunity costs money. However, youth free swims or free skates, library programs, or youth drop-in centres within communities offer other, less-expensive opportunities for children who are homeschooled to meet and interact with others their age. Church communities and neighbourhood playgrounds are also chances for interaction and friendship development. And, some cities and towns have their own homeschool networks or support groups where events are planned to bring homeschoolers together and provide opportunities to connect (my sister and her childhood friend have created WEL@home – a group for homeschoolers in the west end of Ottawa).

Exposure to Diverse Leisure Activities and Interests. In a classroom of 20 or more students in a school of 100 or more students, children have the chance to observe, listen to, and interact with a large number of children. This creates opportunities to become aware of and learn about different leisure activities in which children participate. For example, I did not figure skate, take piano lessons, play baseball, draw or paint, or grow my own vegetable garden at home, but I had classmates who did. I learned a lot about these activities because of the regular interaction with kids who had interests I did not. Since these classmates were not necessarily the friends I spent non-school time with, I likely would not have developed an awareness and understanding of these activities if it were not for our school interactions. I also learned how to play hopscotch, skip rope, play four square, and play marbles because this is what others in my age group were doing at recess and lunch time play periods of the playground. This group of kids exposed me to and taught me different activities that I would not have explored on my own. Exposure is a key first step in developing a large and diverse leisure repertoire. Research suggests that the leisure interests and skills children develop by the age of 10 tend to be the ones they carry throughout their lifetime. Meaning… if you don’t know how to skate by age 10, you’re unlike to do this activity as a teenager, young adult, or parent.

For homeschooling parents, awareness of the importance of this exposure may help them consider ways to ensure their children are exposed to a wide range of leisure activities and not just those activities in which their children express interest. Homeschooling networks are excellent ways to increase the opportunities for homeschooled children to meet and interact with others who may have interests that are different from their own. Facilitating opportunities for children to share what they like to do for fun or to talk about their favorite activity is one way to get the ball rolling with discovering diverse interests. For those involved in such groups, here’s one exercise you might want to do to begin discussions about leisure activities and interests (Find Someone Who…).

Another way of increase children’s exposure is to take them to spectate a variety of activities. Attend high school football, basketball, or volleyball games. Go to a rowing regatta. Keep your eye out for martial arts demonstrations (they seem to occur often at the mall in my city). Get tickets to the community dance studio’s year-end production. Watch sports on TV (I’m a big fan of using the Olympics as a way to increase children’s exposure to various activities). Attend concerts in the park; go to art demonstrations (e.g., pottery; basket weaving). All of these experience create an opportunity to discuss the activity or hobby, explain rules of sports or how activities are done, and gauge the interest/curiosity of your child as it relates to that activity.

Acquiring Leisure Skills. Within a school context, children do experience instruction in a number of activities – art, music, and sports (although the quality of this instruction likely various depending on the school district and the certifications that teachers are required to have to offer instruction).

In the absence of physical education classes, parents of home schooled children need to consider how to develop their children’s physical literacy. While homeschoolers estimated spending an average of 4 hours per week in physical education (i.e., being active), they indicated they spend little time in instruction of fundamental motor skills, team sport skills, or individual/dual sport skills (Gregory, 2005).  A few studies have found that homeschooling parents rely on youth sport program and homeschool support group sponsored physical education for instruction (Baker, 1999; Gregory, 2005; Waters, 1998), however, the quality of that instruction can vary depending on the qualifications of the leaders and may not . Gregory (2005) found that few parents in her study were aware that fundamental motor skills needed to be taught at an early age (they do not develop naturally) and expressed concern that homeschooled children may not be developing the necessary skill for mature, proficient movement. One advantage for homeschooled children is the opportunity to have personalize instruction of fundamental motor skills based on the child’s characteristics whether this is by a knowledgeable parent or by an instructor. Parents can read more in the report – Developing Physical Literacy: A Guide for Parents of Children Ages 0-12.

I see tremendous opportunity for parents to develop art and music skills through homeschooling. My own experience with art in public schools was… well… lackluster to say the least. I really did not develop much of an appreciation for art nor did I develop any real, specific skills. In music, I learned the recorder in Grade 4. I took part in choir. But, I did not learn to read music or play an instrument or anything that created lifelong enjoyment. I participated in dance, but that was outside of school and that’s where my real love of music (listening mainly) came from. I do believe that parents who homeschool have the opportunity to do a much better job fostering leisure skills in the areas of art and music. The flexibility of a homeschooling schedule and the opportunity for one-on-one attention could allow for skills to be explored and talents to be nurtured. If parents can afford to designate money for art and music skills, there may be opportunities to learn to paint or draw; scrapbook; quilt; do pottery; play the piano, violin, or the guitar. These skills may be developed through private instruction (either by a parent with expertise or other instructor), but time to practice and further hone skills can be included within the homeschooling schedule which sends a very positive message to children and youth that developing these leisure skills – that could turn into life long interests – is as important as typical school subjects. I’m all for this type of messaging!

Incorporating Leisure Learning into Traditional Subjects. Homeschooling parents have the advantage of being able to educate their children about and for leisure through their teaching of subjects like math, social studies, and language arts. Math learning can involve examples that relate to travel or sports. Rather than using grocery store prices when teaching about money and addition, costs of various leisure activities could be used (generating awareness). Children can write stories that relate to their leisure – their favorite activity, what they liked about attending a festival, or their best memory on vacation. Social studies offers opportunities to discuss leisure in different places, how leisure has changed over time (e.g., invention of the television), and could even foster leisure planning skills (e.g., what would you need to take on a vacation to Iceland in February; what could you want to do there; how much money would you need to take to do all the activities you might like to do). These are chances to draw attention to leisure and for discussion about what children value in terms of their free time, can generate leisure awareness/knowledge, and develop various leisure skills.

Summary. Homeschooling presents parents with both some challenges regarding leisure (e.g., social leisure; exposure to diverse leisure; skill instruction). However, with an understanding of what might not be accessed through a homeschool experience, parents also have the opportunity to take charge in fostering the development of leisure awareness, the acquisition of leisure knowledge and skill, and an appreciation of leisure’s role and importance in one’s life. I also think it is important to acknowledge that not all leisure-related experiences within school are positive and therefore, for some children, homeschooling means that leisure learning could be designed and delivered in a more meaningful way and in an environment that may not produce some of the negative experiences that are reported in traditional school environments.


Baker, R. K. (1999). Physical education in the home school. Uppublished doctoral disseration, University of Georgia.

Gregory, E. R. (2005). Curriculum and the status of physical education in homeschooling. Unpublished doctoral disseration, Texas A & M University.

Mundy, J. (1998). Leisure education: Theory and practice. Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

Robertson, B. J. (2007). The leisure education manual. Wolfville, NS: Leisure Experience Associates.

Shannon, C. S., & Shaw, S. M. (2008). Mothers and daughters: Teaching and learning about leisure. Leisure Sciences, 30, 1-16.

Waters, G. J. (1998). Homeschool physical education instruction: An initial study. Unpublished doctoral disseration, Florida State University, Tallahassee.

3 Leisure-Related Behaviors That May Contribute to Rising Rates of Adult Obesity in Canada

Earlier in the week, the latest obesity rates for those 18 and over in Canada made the news with the release of a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Obesity is on the rise with rates having tripled since 1985 (from 6% to 18% in 26 years and an expectation these rates will be 21% by 2019).

Having worked with families with an obese child, I’ve had the opportunity to witness first hand the struggles families (both parents and children) face in living healthy lives in today’s society. I have had a chance to discuss with families what their individual leisure time looks like (for parents) and what their family leisure involves. From that research, across the 60 + families I worked with over a 5 year period, I learned about the variety of factors that influenced the leisure lives of these families. However, three leisure-related behaviors were common across the families – lack of time, preference for sedentary pursuits, and eating out as leisure. As I’ve done more research into Canadian statistics related to a couple of these factors, it is clear that it wasn’t just the families that I worked with who engage in these behaviors that may be contributing to rising rates of adult obesity.

Obesity and Leisure Behaviour

While there is a genetic component to obesity, the calories we consume and the calories we burn (through physical activity, for example) play a significant role in the obesity problem. We consume too many calories and don’t burn enough of the calories we consume. Research makes the case that individuals need to control sugar and fat intake, eat more healthy food, exercise more, etc. I wanted to take a deeper look at how our leisure-related behaviors that were common among the families I spoke with might be influencing calorie consumption and energy expenditure.

1. We Use “Lack of Time” as the Reason for Not Being Active. This was a common reason why parents told me they had trouble incorporating more activity into their family’s daily life. I’ve discussed the idea of time use and priorities in other blog posts, but it is worth repeating. The way we prioritize aspects of our lives and what we make room for influences our leisure behavior. Really, it is not “lack of time” that contributes to my inactivity or poor food choices, it is not setting activity or healthy eating as a priority (and organizing and living my life as if it is a priority). Or, I’m not active because I’m not motivated, or because I may not have energy left after a difficult day. Citing “lack of time” as a reason for not doing something allows us to surrender responsibility for our time and our decisions related to how we use it. It also stops us from really getting at what might be the core reasons we are not doing certain things that we know are beneficial (e.g., don’t enjoy activity; would rather socialize at lunch than go for a walk).

It is not an easy task to reorganize priorities, especially when you are part of a family where your personal priorities may be in conflict with the priorities of others. A first step may involve getting family members to develop attitudes toward active living that will support it being a priority. Another step might be to keep a time diary to better understand what time you and your family members do have and where that time it is going. Once you know how your time is spent, you can determine whether it reflects your priorities and start to make adjustments.

2. Sedentary Leisure Pursuits Dominated Leisure Time. Many of the families I worked with enjoyed sedentary pursuits (e.g., reading, watching tv, playing video games, play cards) – either alone or as a family. While there are many options available to Canadians for engaging in active recreation, there has also been a trend in people choosing and finding some level of satisfaction in pursuits that are sedentary. Social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) provide opportunities for connecting with others; maintaining knowledge of current events; and searching for information related to hobbies, interests, or roles that individuals play (e.g., parent, coach, domestic engineer). In fact, Canadians consume content from over 100 websites and approximately 4,000 web pages per month.

There are many studies that have linked television watching to obesity, and men and women who are frequent television viewers are more likely to be inactive in their leisure time. Depending on the statistics you locate, the average Canadian adult, when indicating how time at home is spent, watches between 20 and 30 hours of television a week. Television viewing is often hypothesized as an activity that replaces engagement in physical activity and it is understandable that if 20 to 30 hours a week are spent watching television, this choice is likely being made over choices to engage in active leisure.

Almost 60% of Canadians age 12 or older can be classified as social media networkers (approximately 13 Million Canadians) and a recent report, 2012 Canada Digital Future in Focus, indicated the average Canadian is spending about 45 hours a month browsing the Internet. Statistics compiled by the Television Bureau of Canada in 2012 found the average 18- to 49-year-old spent 23 hours per week online. Those in the age range of 18 to 24 watched less television (a mere 14 hours per week), but were online 31 hours per week.

This means that the “average” Canadian is either watching television or is on the Internet for between 6.8 days (163 hours) and 7.5 days (180 hours) per month. Some of this time could involve activity (e.g., watching television while on the treadmill at the gym or at home), but there is no specific data on how much of this time might be active. Also, it is possible that some individuals are online while watching television which would lessen the amount of total time spent on these activities combined. People may also be engaging in activities online that were previously done offline (e.g., reading the newspaper) meaning more time on the Internet but less time reading. In this scenario, we could argue that there has been a shift in time spent in one sedentary activity to another. While the increased television and Internet time is likely sedentary activity, more research is needed to understand exactly how much more sedentary Canadians are than they have been in the past. However, even if all the Internet and television time was occurring at the same time, that would be between 20 and 30 hours of sedentary leisure per week. Cutting back on 7 hours a week would allow for 60 minutes of active leisure each day of the week.

3. Eating Out Has Become a Common, Social Leisure Behavior. Many of the families I interviewed talked about eating out as a family activity. While it obviously fulfilled the need to eat, parents often saw it as an opportunity to spend time together. As Canadians feel more time pressed (e.g., long hours working, longer commute times because of urban sprawl), eating out or getting take out is often a solution for getting fed without needing to take the time to cook a meal or pack a lunch. Beyond the functional role that eating out plays (e.g., nourishing our bodies when we feel there is no time to cook), there is a social component to eating out that, similar to the families I worked with, appeals to many Canadians. For example, a 2010 Ipsos Reid and the Canadian Restaurant Food Association study found 35% of Canadians prefer the restaurant, pub, or bar as their number one place to socialize with friends and family. Another 12% of people prefer socializing at the movies (and how many of us pass up the movie snacks). For Canadians who are 55 years of age and older, 42.3% chose eating out at a restaurant as the number one social activity.

Eating out as part of their social activity in and of itself might not be harmful if it weren’t for the frequency. One study found 60% of Canadians eat in restaurants once a week and an average Atlantic Canadian or Ontarian eats out twice a week. Eating out more frequently is associated with obesity, higher body fatness, or higher BMI (e.g., Chung, Popkin, Domino, & Stearns, 2007; Kruger, Blanck, & Gillespie, 2008). So, it just may be that the ways in which individuals are connecting socially or prefer to engage socially are also contributing to a greater consumption of calories.

It may be worth considering how personal and family leisure behaviors contribute to our individual health and not just as it concerns body weight and obesity.

  • What leisure can you prioritize that will improve your health and well-being?
  • Can you substitute some of your sedentary behaviors for more active pursuits? Can you find 30 minutes a day to be more active? Can you give up 30 minutes of something you are already doing for a more active pursuit?
  • Are there other ways to connect socially that don’t involve eating high calorie foods or being sedentary (e.g., Facebook),
  • If you do eat out in restaurants or pubs as part of your social leisure, are there ways you can eat more healthy?

Food for thought.


Chung, S., Popkin, B. M., Domino, M. E., & Stearns, S. C. (2007). Effect of retirement on eating out and weight change:  An analysis of gender differences. Obesity, 15(4), 1053-1060.

Kruger, J., Blanck, H. M., & Gillespie, C. (2008). Dietary practices, dining out behavior, and physical activity correlates of weight loss maintenance. Preventing chronic disease, 5(1).

Aim low, go slow – An approach or mantra to support leisure?


Shortly after my sister had her first child, she told me about coming across a chapter in The Happiest Mom titled “Aim low, and go slow”. The chapter was focused on setting realistic expectations – of yourself, of others, of the outcomes of events or day-to-day occurrences. In the years since, my sister has, from time to time told me that it is an “aim low, go slow” day. I too have had “aim low, go slow” days. When I hear my sister talk about her aim low, go slow days, it almost takes the form of an apology – she’s implementing a solution and mantra for the days she can’t possibly aim high or quickly accomplish a million things before lunch. Sometimes the statement has a tone of failure to meet the supermom standards and so “aim low, go slow” is what you do if you can’t “do it all”. So while the author’s intent is about realistic expectations, the volume of messages communicating something to the contrary are often too overwhelming to ignore and “aim low, go slow” seems to be something some of us may resist or do apologetically.

Although the author’s focus is on happiness in motherhood, I have started to see “aim low, go slow” as a way to resist the dominant messages we all receive in one capacity or another (e.g., work life, home life, family life) that suggest we need to “do more”, “be more”, “go big or go home”, “try harder”,  “strive for excellence”, and “shoot for the stars.” I’m not necessarily against any of these things. There are times when doing more is a good idea, necessary, and even important. There are times when trying harder is the best action. But there is also incredible value in doing less; being content; and taking small, steady steps toward various goals

It is possible that an “aim low, go slow” approach to certain aspects of life could create more time and space for leisure and allow greater satisfaction to be experienced during leisure. For me personally, I have been reflecting on how more realistic work and career expectations (both the scope and the time frame in which I hope/plan to achieve them), could allow me greater opportunities to choose leisure over work. It may also allow me with more mental energy for our leisure. So, I think of “aim low, go slow” in terms of where it can be applied in my life that would afford me more leisure, encourage more leisure, and support me in choosing more leisure.

I also have been thinking about how “aim low, go slow” can be applied within the leisure activities that I choose. There are those people you will meet (I meet them) who, for example, start running for the first time in their life in April with a goal of running a half marathon in October. I’ve known those who have done it. I am amazed by them, but recognize that this kind of goal would likely set me up for failure. It’s too ambitious. I kept “aim low, go slow” in mind when I reflected at the beginning of the year on my goals for 2014. I wanted to get outside more. I set what I perceived as a very achievable goal of 1 hour more per week. If I’d set 20 minutes per day, I would have failed. There are just days when it’s -30 degrees Celsius with a windchill, for example, when I don’t want to set foot outside the house. However, 1 hour per week was a reasonable enough goal that I knew I could be successful. So far so good.

I also set a goal to visit one new leisure/recreation space or facility, attend one new annual community festival or event, and learn about one new leisure/sport activity in 2014. Again, hardly challenging goals. But my goals/resolutions were not meant to be a checklist of accomplishments or to push my limits. They were meant, instead, to support me in enhancing my personal leisure experiences, broadening my knowledge of leisure opportunities in my community, and expanding my leisure repertoire.

In terms of the “go slow” aspect of the mantra as it relates to leisure – to me, it represents being in the moment and having a quality leisure experience. How often do we rush from one thing to the next… even pleasurable or enjoyable experiences. We rush through dinner to get to a theater performance. We rush from a family swim to a friend’s birthday party. If we’re not rushing, we may be conscious of the limited time we have to engage in a particular experience – watching the clock or thinking about what we need to do next (e.g., make dinner, run an errand). For me, “go slow” reminds me to choose carefully how many leisure-related activities or experiences I plan for a day, week, or month. It reminds me to plan these experiences in a way that will allow me to be in the moment when I have them and to enjoy the opportunity to anticipate them. It reminds me to focus on quality not quantity and to savor the experiences.

Aim low, go slow may have incredible value as an approach to thinking about or planning leisure and as an approach to other areas of life that may afford more time and mental energy for meaningful leisure. I am looking forward to testing the approach out in my own life and paying attention to whether or not it makes a difference in, for example, my leisure satisfaction.

“I never have time” – Shifting away from using lack of time as an excuse

One spring day in 2000, while I was a graduate student working on my Ph.D., I was having tea with a fellow doctoral student and we had an interesting conversation about time that has stuck with me. Discussing our lack of time was a common part of our weekly visits. That day she was particularly agitated about being busy. She explained that a friend of hers was encouraging (perhaps demanding) her to change the way she spoke about her time. “She doesn’t want me to say, ‘I don’t have time to have coffee with you this week,’ she wants me to say, ‘I choose not to take time to have coffee with you.'”

As a leisure scientist, I have a particular interest in time and how we think and speak about time because of the connections between time and leisure. Often, people think of time or lack of it as something that is beyond their control and would therefore view it as a “structural constraint“. Those individuals generally have an external locus of control and feel controlled by what happens to them that is external to themselves. They tend to blame other people and events, positive or negative, for what is transpiring in their lives. Therefore, the reason they would not have satisfying leisure or time for leisure would be viewed as a result of factors external to them. In my friend’s case, she was viewing preparation for comprehensive exams as dictating her time. The stack of books she had on her desk and floor in her home office – they were in charge of her time. The looming date on the calendar was marked in red “methods exam” also controlled how her time was spent.

I have fallen into this similar trap of seeing time as outside my control. In some ways, it’s comforting. I don’t have to take responsibility for my choices and even get to feel a little sorry for myself when I “have to” deny myself opportunities for fun because of class lecture preparation or grading is “eating up my time.” But at the end of the day, this external locus of control can mean that I miss out on satisfying experiences, that I experience a feeling of helplessness, and that I can even have a negative attitude about what it is that I’m doing (e.g., feeling annoyed at a work event because I feel I “have to” be there).

On the other hand, there are those individuals who see time use as something they have considerable influence over and have an internal locus of control. Those with an internal locus of control tend to experience a greater sense of personal freedom – feeling that they control their life, that they possesses a sense of power, are responsible for their life and their choices, and direct their efforts toward mastering their environment.

I have revisited the conversation about choosing how to spend time on many occasions. Would I make different choices if I had to phrase my time excuse as a choice? What might change for me if I thought about or spoke about my time use as a series of choices? In particular, I was curious if it might help me to understand my own values and choices related to how I spend my time.

The Experiment

A few years ago, I gave focused attention to altering the way I thought about and spoke about my time. I committed to a month. It was during a term when I was teaching “leisure education” and the topics I was covering that month were focused on leisure awareness and self-assessment. I thought that teaching those topics would help me keep this internal locus of control experiment at the forefront of my mind.

First of all, I found the exercise of shifting my thoughts and words to be a challenge. I didn’t realize how many times I used, “I don’t have time” or “I ran out of time” as a reason for not doing something or for explaining why I didn’t get to something. I found I used “I have to” quite a bit to explain why I could make a different choice.

I also became much more aware of what my values were related to my time. Work certainly seemed to be a priority as I was regularly choosing this over other things – my personal, solitary leisure pursuits, my social leisure activities, and even my health (e.g., not taking time to exercise or make healthy meals). I found that I was uncomfortable saying to a friend, “I choose to work instead of spending time with you”. It didn’t communicate what I perceived to be my values. It was a bit of a wake up call to realize that blaming the time demands of work had masked the choices I was making and that these choices were not necessarily representative of what I valued.

The other thing I discovered was what I truly enjoyed doing and what I did not. I would be inclined to use the time excuse for things in which I really had no interest. The things I wanted to do, I found a way to make the time. This raised the question for me of whether it’s okay to simply tell people that you’re not interested in, for example, going to a horror movie instead of saying “I’m too busy this week.” Did I risk being excluded in the future by being clear about what I chose to participate in and what I chose not to? It seemed easier to say, “I’m busy” rather than “I’m not interested in seeing a horror movie, so I’m going to choose not to go.” And yet, how could I truly expect friends or family or acquaintances to get to know me or demonstrate they knew me if I masked my interests and choices in the “lack of time” excuse?

The other change I noticed was that as I “chose” to work or “chose” to go grocery shopping, and “chose” to clean the house, or “chose” to do something with a friend that wasn’t really my thing but meant a lot to her, I approached these task less begrudgingly. I didn’t suddenly love cleaning, but there was something different when I used “I choose” instead of “I have to” language. I also found that I had a greater appreciation for those times when I “chose” leisure as well. It wasn’t something I did with what time I had left over. This seemed to enhance the experiences I had with those leisure pursuits. I was also practicing what I preach – taking personal responsibility for one’s leisure

Certainly, there are times when we cannot choose. I teach classes at a particular time and I don’t choose to show up or not – it’s my responsibility to do so. I fulfill this responsibility. There are many things parents do for their children that are not necessarily choices – but a responsibility that comes with being a parent. However, we each have some room in our days and weeks to make choices.

The Challenge

I encourage you to experiment with your thoughts and language related to time and leisure. Rather than saying, “I never have time for leisure” or “I can’t get leisure time” or “No one gives me time”, try saying, “I am responsible for making time for my leisure.” Tell your partner/spouse or children or friends what you are “choosing” – be it work, your family, your friends, or yourself. Be honest with yourself about your choices. Sometimes we make work a priority for a particular length of time for a specific reason. Other times we choose family over time with friends and vice versa. If you don’t like what you see (or hear yourself say) when the mask of “no time” is removed, you are in a position to make different choices.

If you accept the challenge and try the experiment, observe yourself in the process. What do you notice when you switch your language and thoughts? Do you feel differently about what you’re doing? Do you experience an increased sense of freedom? Do you find yourself making different choices?

Since my personal experiment with the time excuse, I still fall into my old traps. I catch myself saying I don’t have time for something when really,… even with all the time in the world, I would not choose to do it. I still catch myself saying “I have to” for things I am really choosing. It is easier at times to blame the clock or a full calendar for what I fail to accomplish or enjoy in my leisure. It absolves me of the responsibility. And yet, in the long run, it doesn’t help me in leading a fulfilling leisure lifestyle. In this way, shifting the way I think about time is indeed a work in progress.

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