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Finding Enough Time to Have It All

A conversation between friends:

“Hello, this is Person A. Leave a message at the sound of the beep.”

“Beeep.”

“Hi, Person A, this is Person B. Call me when you get back.”

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Followed by:

“Hello, this is Person B. Leave a message.

“Beeep.”

“Hi, Person B, this is Person A returning your call. I’m about to go out, so I’ll try you again tomorrow.”

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Sound familiar?

In the nonstop lives of career-minded, exercise-crazed, socially active singles, only the answering machine sits home.

“My friends always leave me messages like, ‘One of these days you’re going to pick up the phone, and I’ll drop dead,’ ” said Julie Greenfield, 37, an Orange attorney. From the moment her alarm buzzes at 6 a.m., Greenfield’s day bulges with activity. She reads three newspapers before leaving the house at 8:30 a.m., meets with clients all morning, zaps a Weight Watchers frozen dinner in the office microwave at noon, works until 7:30 p.m., then exercises at a gym from 8 to 10 p.m.

On weekends, the gourmand throws dinner parties, does those ever-accumulating errands and--when a blip in her agenda allows--reads a book or attends a play.

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“I was an English literature major in college, so it’s a shame how little I read now,” Greenfield complained. “With this crazy schedule, sometimes I’m so tired I don’t feel like looking at a book. But I don’t want to lose touch with that side of me.”

Somewhere in between his early-morning racquetball game, his 40-plus-hour-a-week job, chauffeuring his daughter to and fro, cooking dinner and teaching Sunday school, Gregory Brown diligently wedges in a rare evening with friends.

“Just the other day, my fiancee and I got out the 1989 calendar and said, ‘OK, when can we get together with our friends?’ We circled one night in January and one in March,” said the 32-year-old Fountain Valley salesman. “It sounds bizarre, I know.”

So precious is Brown’s every waking second that he begins his workday before he even gets to the office, dictating notes into a tape recorder while on the freeway. “I used to drive to the office with the radio blaring, singing along to oldies,” he said. “No more.”

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It’s not unusual for Judi McInnes, administrator of Pacific Health Services in Santa Ana, to put in 14 hours at the office. “During the day, I always have a constant line of employees at my door while three calls are on hold,” she said. “So I find that the only time I can get my paper work done is after 7 (p.m.).

“I often do my grocery shopping at 11 at night. I think it would be wonderful if the malls stayed open all night--I’d be there.”

Apparently, these hectic life styles represent a modern-day norm. Our mushrooming emphasis on careers, material goods, self-improvement and fitness saps Americans of one of the things our hard-earned money can’t buy: time.

“In the past 30 years, both men and women have taken on more at the workplace, yet our responsibilities at home remain the same,” said Geoffrey Godbey, professor of leisure studies at Penn State University and author of a soon-to-be-released book, “Finding Leisure in a Sped-Up World.”

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“Advertisements tell us that we can have it all. Every article in women’s magazines is an admonition that who you are is insufficient: how to climb the career ladder while making low-cal lasagna and feeding the poor. What we sacrifice by trying to do everything is full involvement in any one thing.”

We also sacrifice activity for the sake of enjoyment, Godbey said: “We dine for contracts; we golf for contacts. We play squash to lose weight instead of to have fun. Everything is done for a purpose.”

Joe McGuire, a UC Irvine professor of management, pointed out that the obsession Americans have with exercise consumes time as well as calories.

“Overall, the fitness craze has been good for us, but it’s an additional thing that cuts into our schedules,” he said. “I’m 64, but I suffer this yuppie syndrome myself. I’m out jogging every morning with everyone else.”

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A typical day for Melisa Lewis of Fountain Valley starts with a 4-mile run. After a long day at work, the 25-year-old mortgage banking consultant meets friends for dinner or attends a meeting of a business organization.

“I’m almost never at home,” she said. “Every Monday I schedule my week. I call up my friends and say, ‘What are you doing this week?’ I’m a motivator.

“About once a month, I wear myself out and get a cold, which forces me to stay home and relax for a couple of nights.”

Tustin psychologist Amy Stark cautioned that singles need to guard against overcompensating for their solo status by overworking and/or over-socializing.

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“People need time to just be--to reflect on life, to watch a sunset,” she said. “It’s OK to be by yourself sometimes. Staying home doesn’t mean that you’re socially inadequate.

“Sometimes people lose perspective. They run from one event to another and then wonder why they’re so tired. They need to set priorities, they need to learn that they can’t be everything to everyone; they need to learn to say no.”

But Lewis insists that even if married, she would maintain her breakneck pace. “I’d just have another person to bring along,” she said. “I could never become a couch potato.”

Conversely, Laguna Beach stockbroker Lisa Pratt, 31, would often rather relax at home on a Saturday night than go to a party.

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“I’m very jealous of my time,” she said. “Friends call wanting to go out, and I say, ‘No, right now my priority is to lie in bed reading a book.’

“The stock market opens at 8:30 New York time, which means that I have to be in the office at 5:30. So sleep is a top priority for me; I’m usually in bed by 9:30.”

As a free-lance photographer, Daniel Fort believes that he “could work 6 days a week, 24 hours a day.”

“Every morning I program myself--I make a list of the things that really need to get done. That way, I feel like I have more control over my schedule,” said the 33-year-old Costa Mesa resident.

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His list carves out at least 2 hours of “private time” for creative writing. “Otherwise, you can get lost in the grind of daily business and become too narrowly focused,” Fort said.

McInnes confessed that her long days at the office have taken a toll on her personal pursuits. “I started as a secretary 11 years ago and worked my way up, and I’m very proud of that,” she said. “But now I’m ready to be in a relationship, to do some traveling. I’m ready to have more fun.” On this particular weeknight, though, the hour is already late. At 11:30 p.m., McInnes has just sat down to return the messages on her answering machine.

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