Celebrating Take Back Your Time Day

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Maureen Wilt is a Professor of Social Work at the University of Central Missouri, and a proud supporter of Take Back Your Time since 2003. This year marks the 13th Take Back Your Time Day she will celebrate with her students – future social workers who consistently come up with creative new ways to help spread the word about what a serious issue overwork is for our world.

1.) What are some of the Take Back Your Time themes you celebrated over the years? What do you intend to do this year?

On our campus we use the theme, Take Back Your Time for Caring, encouraging people to take time to care for themselves, others, their community and the environment. We have speaker presentations, fun activities, pets to pet, and we raise funds for local causes. Since 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of America's National Park Service, this October we're going to have a nature walk and an interpretive guided tour through a park close to campus. We'll pass out time assessment surveys and quizzes and information about TBYT. We'll also have a speaker talking about his experience as a foster child and how to care for oneself while caring for traumatized individuals.

2.) Tell me more about the T-shirts that you have made over the years.

All of our shirts use the time symbol emblem on the front and the back is often taken from many of the outstanding posters from TBYT, including, Medieval Peasants Worked Less Than You Do, and one listing adult playground rules. Students also designed shirts–one with a humorous daily schedule on the back. The shirt we will be using this year has "Stop the Glorification of Busy" on the back of it. It's great seeing our shirts all year, all over campus, spreading TBYT's message.

3.) How and when did TBYT first cross your path?

I was writing an article titled, "Caution: Working yourself to death can be dangerous to your health," for Social Work Today when I first came across the Take Back Your Time website and John de Graaf. I couldn't believe that someone had put a name to this huge social problem of time urgency and was talking about it. People hadn't really named it yet; I credit John with putting the issue on the map.

4.) How did you first get involved?

I came across the TBYT website where they offered suggestions on how to raise awareness about time issues and gave tips for putting on a Take Back Your Time Day event. Students devised a TBYT Day quiz based on the book, Take Back Your Time, edited by John de Graaf. Students distributed this quiz and a time assessment survey on campus. The students, faculty and staff on campus were eager to fill out the survey we created. They wanted the opportunity to write down and share how packed their schedules were and the time crunch they continually experienced. Students dressed as police and gave out tickets to individuals who were not taking back their time. They were given information about Take Back Your Time and gift certificates to area restaurants so they could enjoy time with loved ones.

I've been involved with TBYT since 2003, the first Take Back Your Time Day; this will be the 13th year that we've celebrated TBYT Day at the University of Central Missouri. It started with our Social Work Program, but we now have more than 8 other organizations and departments working with us, including The American Democracy Project, which promotes students becoming engaged citizens. TBYT Day has become something that students, staff, and faculty look forward to each fall. In the field of social work we recognize how many social problems result from time urgency or worsen the challenges people are facing.

5.) How has your involvement evolved over the years?
Over the years we've done a variety of activities to raise awareness about TBYT. Students created a Take Back Your Time Jeopardy game and they performed a play written by Katy Fitzpatrick, a student who brought her play, The Real American Dream: A Play for the Take Back Your Time Movement, to the TBYT conference.

Students also distributed the Time to Care Agenda asking participants to rank the TBYT Day policy agenda items and asked local and national agencies to endorse Take Back Your Time Day.

The Take Back Your Time movement fits very well with social work and our tradition of advocating for humane work hours and the larger macro issues contributing to overwork. In the midst of all our fun activities we don't want to lose sight of how serious an issue overwork is for our world.

6.) Did TBYT's mission immediately resonate with you? Why?
Yes. Time urgency is an umbrella for so many problems that cross my path as a social worker. Most people I encounter feel that there is just not enough time. People are not living in the moment. They are worrying about what has to be done next. When you don't have sick leave or vacation time it's really hard to lobby for more time because you could lose your job if you take a day off work. You don't have the luxury of time. As a social worker I have been inspired by Francis Perkins, Jane Addams, Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, Florence Kelley, and many other influential Hull House leaders who were in the forefront of the movement to ensure better working conditions in the early 1900s.

These women were outraged at the exploitation of workers and took great risks to fight for workers' rights. The emblem of the National Women's Trade Union League, which these women of Hull House helped to establish, bore the words, "The Eight Hour Day," "A Living Wage," and "To Guard the Home." These issues are at the heart of the Take Back Your Time movement.

The difference today is that the conditions that outraged these predecessors are now seen as acceptable. Working 10-12 hour days, bringing work home, not having time to eat properly or get enough sleep, being too exhausted to spend time with loved ones, having to work more than one job to make ends meet have become the rule more than the exception. Even social workers have difficulty recognizing the extension of their work responsibilities to the detriment of their personal lives. Progressive era social workers picketed and risked imprisonment to fight against such ills. Finding the Take Back Your Time movement helped me to provide rich learning opportunities for my students to advocate for a society that embraces long-held social work values.

7.) How do your students respond? Has there been a difference overtime?

I think that the time issue resonates with all of our students. I find it gratifying when many former students become supervisors to current students. As supervisors I witness them continuing to value time issues for themselves and the people who work for them.

8.) What types of students do you have? Did these issues impact them? How?

We have traditional and non-traditional students. They are trying to go to school full time and work. Having time to take care of themselves is a big issue. The first semester I brought Take Back Your Time into our program I had three students who had experienced dire consequences due to time issues. One student's relative died after falling asleep driving, another's husband had a stroke after working excessive hours as a utility worker after an ice storm, and another had to drop out of school temporarily due to working so many hours that it affected her health. Time issues impact students of all disciplines. Jaya Agrawal, who served as president of the American Medical Student Association referenced an alarming study where six out of seven residents fell asleep driving. Overwork is an issue students will face as they enter the workforce as well. Research done in Japan in 2002 found that men working over 60 hours per week have twice the risk of heart attack as opposed to those working 40 hours. Lack of sleep and long work hours contribute to heart attacks even when other risk factors are controlled. Sleeping an average of five or less hours per night for two or more days a week doubles or triples one's risk of having a heart attack

9.) What does TBYT mean to you personally?

I don't know what I would do if TBYT didn't exist. TBYT is a legacy that I'm fortunate to be a part of. I'm proud to be a board member and have this rich opportunity to have students impact such an important issue. I remember reading that any significant social movement needed the involvement of college campuses. Having our students be part of TBYT gives me hope that my students, children and grandchildren will live in a less hectic, more caring world.