How much leisure time do we actually need? I ask the question because new research suggests that we are starting to think differently about our 'time off'.
In the past, having leisure time meant you were rich enough to employ others to work for you, so you didn't have to 'labour' yourself. If you were poor, then you were too busy working to have much leisure time at all.
However, this long-standing, historical model seems to have broken down and to have been turned on its head, with the better off working the most hours.
One reason for this is simple economics - the more you earn each hour, the more money you give up if you take time off, which is clearly an incentive to work rather than not.
But there's another element in the equation, and it's this - many of us now like the work we do far more than we did, particularly if we are self-employed.
Even just a few decades ago, many jobs were dull and repetitive. They offered little opportunity for engagement, provided no intellectual challenge and certainly brought no pleasure to those who did them. Not surprisingly, most employees were only too happy to leave for home at the end of the day, longing for the weekend, which couldn't come soon enough.
Then technology came along and things changed.
Jobs suddenly became much more interesting and rewarding. Gone were the gloomy, monotonous factories of the past and in came bright modern offices that increasingly became 'social hubs' as well as places of work.
Going into the office, far from making life miserable, was actually adding a new dimension to peoples' lives. And if work wasn't always enjoyable, it was still much more tolerable than in the past.
However the attraction of the modern office didn't last long. Today, once more, there are countless disengaged and demoralised employees who can't wait for retirement because their job seems so meaningless.
Many also feel threatened by the increasingly sophisticated technology that is already performing very skilled tasks, adding a layer of anxiety to their frustration, as they contemplate the prospect of 'technology redundancy'.
Being an employee still means following someone else's plan. You may have degrees of freedom in what you do, but ultimately it's someone else who is calling the shots.
Peer pressure often forces you to work longer hours, to avoid feeling guilty for leaving the office on time or worrying about losing your job to a more resilient newcomer. Technology also makes disconnecting from work more difficult, making us available 24/7, at the press of a button.
Life and work boundaries are increasingly blurred, so that we're permanently tuned into work - until stress and exhaustion, or something worse, force us to stop.
It's great to love your job, but it's also good to have a life outside of work. Overwork can also be a sign that something else may not be going so well in other areas of your life. Maybe it feels easier to keep doing what you do well, rather than deal with the cracks that are showing elsewhere.
So, if you get value from working for someone else, couldn't you get more value from making all that effort for yourself?
If you are going to spend more time working, why not make that work your work, not someone else's?
That's what more and more people are choosing to do, as I talk about in a previous blog, The Domino Effect of Self-Employment.
Working for yourself offers the opportunity to lead a richer and more rewarding life - on many levels. Here are just a few of many reasons:
1. Set up a business based on a personal passion and much of the work you do won't feel like work at all. Prioritise fulfilment and satisfaction in your working life.
2. Enjoy the intellectual challenge. Solving problems, creating something from nothing, all bring added value to our lives. As an employee, most jobs lock us into a limited range of activities. When we work for ourselves we have the opportunity to expand our horizons in many different ways - we can explore what we're good at and enjoy doing, then outsource the rest. Without this engagement, we are just passive players, when we could be so much more.
3. Real freedom comes from 'running your own show'. Having your own business allows you to set the agenda and decide your priorities, including 'creating' the time you need for yourself. You get the chance to shape your day the way you want, to get rid of what you don't like doing and to do more of what you enjoy.
Even for the freelance professional that's perfectly possible in today's connected economy, in which the day-to-day 'bits and pieces' can be picked up by a virtual assistant working on your behalf.
4. As an entrepreneur you have the chance to build something bigger than yourself, even if you're working on your own right now. That's rewarding and empowering. When you're an employee, you're just part of a larger machine, the future of which is largely out of your hands.
Given that working for yourself can introduce so many potential positives into your life, and free you from so many of the downsides of work, isn't it time to rethink the whole idea of work/life balance?