168 Hours…Who Are The “Rest of Us”?

Before I go into time management advice for “the rest of us“, I thought I should define this group.  The rest of us are not the 1%, which I would define as those in highly successful households with six-figure salaries. These same folks are often profiled in work/life balance articles.

Consider the “typical” work/life profile on Yolanda Edwards, Executive Editor of Martha Stewart Living magazine, and Emily Kalanithi, an attorney.  (This is a great series from the blog “A Cup Of Jo” which I’m not singling out as criticism, just that these “types” of women are often the same ones profiles in Working Women-type magazine, i.e. women who “have it all”):

Yolanda Edwards:

  1. Work schedule: I work five days a week at Martha Stewart Living from 9:30 to 6 or 6:30. I work on Momfilter from about 6:10 to 7am, which is when Clara wakes up; and I work on it at night, but not more than a half hour, because I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, so I’m a little too sloppy. I usually get a chunk of work done on Momfilter on weekends. And I try to do a post on my travel blog around once a week.
  2. Childcare: We have a great babysitter who comes three days a week and picks her up. On the fourth day she has after-school activities, and on the fifth day, her dad gets her. I try to pick her up at least one Friday a month”

Emily Kalanithi:

  1. Work schedule:  I work in the office full-time, Monday through Friday. My actual hours in the office are pretty reasonable—9-6ish. But I frequently check in on email at night and on weekends during naps and after bedtime.
  2. Childcare: We have an amazing nanny who comes to our house five days a week. Our nanny feeds Eve at an astoundingly early hour (4:30 or 5). After I come home from work around 6, I play with Eve until she goes to bed at 7:30. Then, if Jeevan is home, I’ll cook an easy dinner (maybe 3-4 nights a week). Or we’ll order Chinese or Thai or Indian.
  3. Balance:  My husband has a very busy job as well…When we’re too busy or tired for real date nights with a sitter, we have devised something called “internal date nights” where we put the baby to bed and have a date at home. Even if it’s just ordering food and watching a movie, it at least means we’ve set aside the time to be together without email-checking and other distractions.

The above are just snippets and I encourage you to read the series of posts.  Getting glimpses into the lives of very successful/elite made me realize that there is an entirely different world out there and that if you’re not in the top 1% or even top 15% in terms of income, your choices are so very different. 

Our vision of balance is very different.  People in power and/or who love their jobs really don’t want a break from their work.  They call it a balance if they get home at a reasonable hour, put the kids to bed, and have another hour or so doing work-related things.  For the rest of us, the 40 hour work week is just fine.  That’s not to say that in a recession and stagnant hiring practices, we’re not over-worked as well.  It’s just that we’re not expected to be “on call” or resent being on call since that seems above the scope of our responsiblities and pay scale.

They can buy flexibility.  When you read the typical work/balance article, there is much reliance on paid help from cleaning to nannies to personal assistants.  These are luxuries that are out-of-reach for most people.  I call this buying time because you make enough to outsource many chores and afford a nanny, which offers more flexibility than daycare since there aren’ts pick-up or drop-off times.  Secondly, those in power have  the ability to set their hours. This depends on company culture, of course, and if the person wants to do this.  Some hard-charging personalities probably prefer to work 60 hours per week.    Still, I do believe that if an executive needs to work from home for some reason, few people would question it.  If you’re lower on the totem pole, however, it’s harder to justify working from home.  This is based on observations and my personal experience, but the only time I can work from home is if I put in my regular hours and then work from home on a special project.  There’s no way my boss, or most bosses, would let me leave earlier with the promise that I’ll finish up in the evenings. 

Part 3 of this series will address the challenges facing those of us who cannot afford to buy help/flexibility.  I’ve written many posts with tips for simple living that could be applicable but I also want to delve into bigger issues regarding work/career and family.  I know I have my notes somewhere…

How do you envision balance?  What are your biggest challenges? How does paid help factor into your balance, if any? 

Also, check out author Laura Vanderkam’s blog…her book “168 Hours” inspired this series.

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9 responses to “168 Hours…Who Are The “Rest of Us”?

  1. 6 figure salaries each is more like the 5%, and top 10% if you mean they add up to 6 figures. I think several of your regular readers fit into one of those categories. (Though not the 1%.) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Distribution_of_Annual_Household_Income_in_the_United_States.png

    We could pay for a cleaning person, for a personal assistant and/or a nanny, but we’re not doing that right now. When we were trying to rent out our house we had a cleaning person. When we were overwhelmed with childcare we hired a college student at $8/hr to run a bunch of errands for us over the course of a few weekends. During the 8 months that DC was on a waitlist for daycare, we hired college students as mother’s helpers, also at $8/hr. It looks like we’re going to do the same thing this time around at $9/hr. We use preschool, after school care, summer daycamp, daycamp extended care etc.

    Growing up, we were nowhere near the 5%… always in the bottom 50%. But my parents still made use of paid childcare, including a college student to get us ready for before-school care or daycare on the mornings my mother had to teach early and my father was either in another city for his job or also had to work early. They made sacrifices in other areas to pay for it– I still miss the ancient VW bug my mom drove for at least 25 years, even if it had a tendency to break down. Apartment living wasn’t so bad, though I like being in a house better. I know how to spend very little at the grocery store, and I can cook from scratch (we almost never ate out… fast food buy one get one free coupons were a huge treat). As an adult I’m never giving up a/c or a dishwasher, but I understand why those sacrifices had to be made.

    • I understand that a six-figure household may not buy as much in a high cost of living area. However, much like the FCC quote about profanity “I know it when I see it”, I think there are ways to distinguish haves and have-nots.

      At my work, I talk to a wide spectrum of people. The Directors and Vice Presidents always own their homes, in nice areas of course, and take fancier vacations. Oftentimes there is a stay-at-home spouse which means the one income is enough to support a family and save for college. There is talk about home renovation, adding in a pool, tennis lessons, cleaning help (even if it’s not one person doing all of those things at once..even the wealthy make choices). There is a definite difference, however, between those top earners and the many worker-bees (non-managerial) people I talk to. These live in modest neighborhoods. There is usually a working spouse, and you get the feeling that they “need” both incomes in order to pay their mortgage (if they own). Vacations are modest or staycations. Of course even among middle-class, there are choices being made but you definitely get the feeling that these choices are tougher than simply cutting out cable or massages.

      • I think we’re talking past each other here.

        Not making the point about 6 figures in a high cost of living area. Personally I think that’s a ridiculous argument since it’s easy to live in a high cost of living area on 6 figures so long as you’re not picky about buying a house. I’m totally with Scalzi and Donna Freedman in that respect, if you’re making 100K, then you shouldn’t be complaining about being poor because you’re not. Even in Santa Monica, Palo Alto, or Manhattan.

        Just saying that that isn’t the 1% and many of your regular readers are in that 5-10% group. And yes, it is nice to be in that 5-10% group, and to have that flexibility when needed. (And would probably be nicer to be in that 1-5% group.) Also that sometimes paid childcare is more important than other luxuries if you’re not well-off, especially when it is necessary to keep a job.

  2. While not the 1% by any means, I am very lucky right now as far as work lifee balance. Income wise, probably top 10%, and only going to go up when T is done with work.

    Granted, I’m truly balancing just LIFE, not including kids, which is inherently easier. Still, I know many women at my work with childrenn who are able to work out what works for them. We have part time moms and parent’s who choose to utilize nanny’s or daycare. I expect to have similar somewhat priviledged options when I reach that point. I can already (on occaision) leave a little early as needed and am trusted to manage my own time. Vacation is more like “this is when I’m going” than “can I book this?” To “get ahead” you are somewhat expected to work off hours, but it really matters what you can deliver.

    Teleworking is somewhat OK, but no one does it too regularly, and I know I have a hard time being effective with it. A lot of programs just can’t for security reasons. A large part of my job is collobration based, meetings, and getting things and people to work together. Also, I don’t know any exec at my place who would be able to make good use of teleworking. Maybe at different companies it would work out better, but not for mine.

    sorry, i basically wrote a post in your comments. I appreciate the series though! Been thinking about this type of thing a lot lately!

  3. SP- It’s good to think about these things and prepare ahead of time!

  4. This is an interesting post – I like that you’ve defined who you’re talking about (regardless of what % this is considered).

    There must be some strong social factor to sort of disavowing being “one of those people” as I was thinking “oh that’s not us” when you used terms like “elite”, etc. I think there was an article in the NYT or WSJ a few months ago about how lots of people in the top whatever% are convinced they aren’t, or don’t want to admit it 😉

    We live in a high cost of living area, yet I’d say at least 50% of our peers have a SAH spouse. For 2 working spouses, when you get to 2+ kids, a nanny/sitter is actually more cost effective than good daycare, esp for infants and young toddlers. (The daycare closest to my work is about $2K/mo for fulltime infant care. Staggering, I know.)

    But, one small point, is that many of these folks are “worker bees”, ie non-managerial. Is your distinction maybe something around career aspirations and satisfaction vs. just having a job to earn money to do what they like outside of work?

    I am also non-managerial, and feel sort of put upon to be “on call”, though will do it in a pinch as needed, but income and lifestyle wise we are probably closer to the “people this is not for” that you mention. Maybe I’m lucky that way – my job is interesting and reasonably satisfying but if they stopped paying me or wanted me to drastically change my schedule, I wouldn’t keep doing it. (unless we had a real financial need.)

    Just curious about your classification 😉

  5. I’m definitely not in your target audience for these posts, but I’m looking forward to reading them!

    Like @Nicoleandmaggie points out, income-wise, we’re in the top 5%, not top 1%. And, because of where and when we decided to buy, we do need both incomes to pay the mortgage + child care. If we dropped child care (i.e., one of us stayed home), we might be able to make it on one income, but it would be a stretch because of the size of our mortgage. I think for it to work, it would have to be my husband who stayed home, because I make a fair amount more than he does. But yeah, we don’t complain and we don’t feel poor at all. I think people at our income level who complain that they are “poor” are stupid and insensitive.

    We’re also both management track- I’m one level below director, my husband is two levels below, but we’re both at smallish companies (mine is ~200 people, I think his is about twice that). I’m still “on call” a bit, but that is the nature of my field, and the nice thing is that since I run the group, I can set up practices that minimize the suckiness of being on call for all of us.

    To me, the hardest thing about not being at the very top is the extent to which your work-life balance depends on luck- i.e., getting a reasonable boss, having decent company culture, etc. I try to mitigate that by keeping a big buffer, so that I could walk away if I needed to, but I’ve never used it for this purpose, and I wonder if I really would.

    • You know, I was thinking of what you said about not being the target audience. However , I think it’s actually great that those in higher incomes read about and learn about the struggles of those “below”. We can all learn from and help each other, hopefully.

  6. N&M: I did read the Scalzi post about not complaining about six-figures and agreed. I guess I do see distinction between 2 adults earning a combined six-figures vs. one person earning 6-figures. Most of the higher-ups I know have a stay-at-home spouse (wife) and that gives them so much more flexibility to advance their careers by working longer hours, traveling or even appearing more devoted than those who have to take time off for kid doctor appointments or when kids get sick.

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