The Dynamism of Personal Timestyle: How We Do More in Less Time

Frank Denton, University of Wisconsin, BMadison
ABSTRACT - A dynamic model of personal timestyle is developed. It proposes a reciprocal relationship between an individual's timestyle and his or her close referents, built on satisfaction or dissatisfaction with time-allocation decisions. The model also describes a set of adaptive timestyle tactics that consumers use to alter their timestyles and achieve personal homeostasis. If one's timestyle is satisfying to his or her personal relationships, there is reinforcement of the timestyle. If one's timestyle is dissatisfying to his or her own needs or to personal relationships, adaptive timestyle tactics are utilized to restore satisfaction. The model offers a new dimension for future research on time and consumer behavior.
[ to cite ]:
Frank Denton, University of Wisconsin (1994) ,"The Dynamism of Personal Timestyle: How We Do More in Less Time", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 132-136.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Pages 132-136


Frank Denton, University of WisconsinBMadison


A dynamic model of personal timestyle is developed. It proposes a reciprocal relationship between an individual's timestyle and his or her close referents, built on satisfaction or dissatisfaction with time-allocation decisions. The model also describes a set of adaptive timestyle tactics that consumers use to alter their timestyles and achieve personal homeostasis. If one's timestyle is satisfying to his or her personal relationships, there is reinforcement of the timestyle. If one's timestyle is dissatisfying to his or her own needs or to personal relationships, adaptive timestyle tactics are utilized to restore satisfaction. The model offers a new dimension for future research on time and consumer behavior.

The modern intensity of daily human activity ultimately collides with the cold, hard, immutable barrier of time.

As a fundamental variable of individual and group activity (McGrath 1988), time has been examined in a variety of disciplines (economics, household economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, communications), orientations (past, present, future), activity levels (monochronic, polychronic) and uses (income, obligation, planning). Kaufman, Lane and Lindquist (1991b) offer a concise taxonomy of time concepts.

Consideration of time in consumer behavior is anchored in Jacoby (1976), who integrated literature from economics, sociology, home economics, psychology and marketing and outlined a "terminological system" for consumer research. That work was updated and expanded in an interdisciplinary overview by Gross (1987) and in a comprehensive framework for time allocation offered by Feldman and Hornik (1981).

Most of the work on time and consumer behavior has explored specific effects of time on people and situations, for example: transportation (Cherlow 1981), women's roles (Anderson, Golden, Umesh and Weeks 1989; Hunt and Kiker 1981), taxation and the household (Leuthold 1981), church attendance (Azzi and Ehrenberg 1975), household technology (Oropesa 1993) and shopping (Holman and Wilson 1980; Marmorstein, Grewal and Fishe 1992).

Theory development has been slower, primarily through borrowing from psychology, economics, social psychology and sociology (Hirschman 1987). For example, Etgar (1978) uses an economic approach to include the value of time in his model of the consumption process. Feldman and Hornik (1981) offer an array of time constructs, a framework for time-allocation decisions and a consolidated time-use model encompassing myriad factors internal and external to the consumer.

A key issue in understanding the role of time in contemporary consumer behavior is time scarcity, real or perceived. In her survey of the literature on time scarcity, Gross (1987) concludes that, while time has become an important variable in consumer behavior, relatively little is known about the nature and behavior of time-pressured consumers.

Time scarcity, or the perception of it, is an increasingly important factor in American lifestyle. In one study, 33 percent of adults said they don't accomplish all they intend to each day, 21 percent said they have "no time for fun anymore," and 50 percent (70 percent of those earning $30,000 per year or more) said they would sacrifice a day's pay for an extra day off each week (Hymowitz 1991). A Harris survey found Americans believe their leisure time declined 37 percent between 1973 and 1989 while the workweek increased from 41 to 47 hours, and a Yankelovich Clancy Shulman poll reported 73 percent of women and 51 percent of men felt they had too little leisure time (Gibbs 1989).

The responsible forces are unclear. An economic theory based on rising aspirations poses that, in a consumption-driven economy, people work harder to buy more goods and thus have less leisure time to enjoy them. In the tradition of Galbraith (1958), this view has roots in seminal work by Becker (1965) and Linder (1970). The modern proponent is Schor (1991), who estimates that, compared to 1969, the average employed American in 1987 worked an additional 163 hours a year, or the equivalent of one month. She talks of a "treadmill" and "a profound structural crisis of time."

An alternate theory, from sociologists using time-diary studies beginning in 1965 (Juster and Stafford 1985), is that Americans have more free time than a generation ago, but that television has more than absorbed that extra time. In addition, Robinson contends that modern lifestyle is harassed by a perception of "overchoice," an excess of leisure and consumption alternatives (Robb 1992). Thus, with television consuming so much time and with so many choices for the few remaining hours, this view is that people perceive they have less time and thus feel pressured and stressful. Robinson found that 35 percent of women and 25 percent of men say they are constantly under stress, trying to accomplish more than they can handle (Hymowitz 1991).

Existing models of consumer time use do not accommodate these stresses and resulting adaptive or coping behaviors. While they may acknowledge that an individual's temporal considerations and decisions can change over time, the models stop short of explaining the dynamism of contemporary time use. For example, Feldman and Hornik (1981) organize environmental and consumer variables into a static decision model. In real life, as perceptions of time scarcity increase, time-allocation decisions intensify, and people find themselves managing their time as carefully as their money. Each day can become a strategic challenge, with one trying to fit a modern set of needs and goals to the finite resource of time. This paper proposes a dynamic model of the time pressures on consumers and of the range of tactics they use to adapt to such pressures.


Feldman and Hornik (1981) introduced the concept of "timestyle" to characterize the allocation of time among the activities involved in the consumption of goods and services. Anderson et al. (1989) called timestyles perhaps the most promising approach to time in consumer behavior: "The way time is distributed provides a behavioral caricature of the individual, a kind of activity autograph, articulating and affirming the individual's personal priorities and constraints within various role contexts" (p. 346).

Time-diary studies have used as many as 99 classifications of time activities (Juster and Stafford 1985), but functional taxonomies vary around seven (Anderson et al 1989) to ten (Hill 1985). This paper will include eight, to permit separate categories for two activities which seem to be consuming more time: shopping (Schor 1991, p. 107-138) and media use (Hill 1985, p. 135-138). Market work is paid labor, including commuting. Sleep can vary significantly. Domesticity is defined as personal and household maintenance. Family includes primary attention to one's partner, children and any other family members. Shopping is for both necessity and pleasure. Media use is a category when it is the dominant activity, normally television-watching and newspaper-reading. Religion includes church attendance and other religious observances. Pastimes are hobbies, entertainment (other than TV), recreation and other leisure activities.



Many authors have focused on what has been considered discretionary time, essentially the last five sets of activities above, on the assumption that necessities like the first three sets require relatively inflexible amounts of time (Hendrix, Kinnear and Taylor 1979). Here, all the activity sets will be considered discretionary, not only because of changes in technology (e.g., home PCs) and lifestyles (e.g., working mothers), but also because this dynamic model recognizes innovation and ingenuity in timestyles. From this perspective, the day is 24 full hours.

Timestyle should be differentiated from lifestyle, which is how one lives. In the context of consumer behavior, lifestyle has been seen primarily as a person's overt consumption behaviors. Both concepts may be seen more broadly. In a larger context, lifestyle expands to consider one's cultural connections, values, personality, roles and relationships with other people and groups (Loov and Miegel 1989). Similarly, as a subset of lifestyle, timestyle in a dynamic context must be seen to include more than allocation of hours and minutes. Rather than being merely how one allocates time, it is how one uses time to satisfy one's own goals and needs, including antecedent influences such as culture and economics (Gross 1987), and how time allocation affects other aspects of one's lifestyle.


A conceptual model of the dynamism of consumers' timestyles is depicted in Figure 1. In the model, a consumer's timestyle is altered continually by personal relationships and by a range of adaptive and coping tactics. One is inclined to arrange and rearrange his or her environment and behavior so as to minimize aversion and maximize gratification (Zillman and Bryant 1985). Seen as a dynamic, the process in the model enables the consumer to manage his or her timestyle to maintain functional homeostasis while satisfying needs and goals within a larger lifestyle.

This discussion assumes a weekday, though the model would work equally well for a weekend, with adjustments in the contents of the constructs and processes. For example, for most people on a Sunday, work would shrink, all the other activitiesCnotably religion, sleep and pastimesCwould expand, and relationships would be limited to family and closest friends. The dynamics would continue, though perhaps with less intensity.

The Effect of Personal Relationships

A key component of the dynamic nature of timestyle is the effect of personal relationships. Almost all consumers have a reference group of peopleCfamily, close friends, close coworkersCwho are so much a part of that person's daily activities that they affect his/her timestyle. Certainly, this small group of referents includes cohabitants, but it also includes significant others who, in the course of ordinary daily activities, routinely make overt or covert demands, directly or indirectly, on the individual's time. Commonly, this is the spouse or child, but it also may be the best friend demanding companionship or the close coworker who slows or speeds one's pace of work. These are not idle acquaintances; they are people who are authorized, by relationship or circumstance, to exercise influence on the individual's time. In their hierarchy of social structures and time, Lewis and Weigert (1981, p. 436-437) identify interaction time, when two or more people are interacting directly, as the first overlay on self time, or time alone.

Many, if not most, of a person's time-allocation decisions will affect one or more important personal relationships, and conversely, those relationships will affect the decisions. Lewis and Weigert (1981, p. 437) refer to "time embeddedness" as the fact that all acts of social time are temporally fitted inside of other acts of social time. In the present context, one person's timestyle affects others'. For example, work constricts the time one can devote to children; the four or five hours necessary for a round of golf give rise to the "golf widow" characterization; reading demands one's full attention, at the possible expense of family time; habitual tardiness may draw resentment from close coworkers; two-earner households may perform less housework, provoking dissension among the members. On the other hand, one's close referents also have the power to support her or his timestyle, through the use of positive reinforcement. Figure 1 shows the reciprocal influence of timestyle and relationships.

P1: If a consumer's timestyle is congruent with his or her close personal relationships, the timestyle decisions are reinforced.

At the bottom of Figure 1, emanating from timestyle, is timestyle-driven dissatisfaction, that is, a person's negative feelings that his or her timestyle has not accomplished personal goals or filled appropriate needs. Such feelings might be reified in a number of ways; Schor (1991, p. 11-13) outlines social, as well as psychological and physiological, consequences of time scarcity and pressure.

P2: If an individual's timestyle is incongruent with close personal relationships, dissatisfaction will be created within the relationships.

The Effect of Adaptive Timestyle Tactics

While personality, other antecedent influences and personal relationships will shape one's timestyle, there exists a set of tactics to craft, or finesse, the operation of timestyle. Adaptive timestyle tactics refers to a set of personal heuristics one learns or develops to manage time demands during a finite period of time and achieve acceptable homeostasis. Some of them operate through the help of other people or technology, and others reflect simple decision-making and behavior changes. Timestyle tactics should be carefully differentiated from symptoms of time scarcity, for example, rushing, stress, impatience, tardiness. Instead, these are specific devices one can use to adapt one's time resource to his or her needs and goals, or vice versa. Eight time tactics are used:

! Priority reordering, simply deciding one activity is more important than another. Feldman and Hornik's (1981) framework for time allocation implies prioritizing. An extreme example is refusing a promotion or a new job because of greater time requirements (Hymowitz 1991).

! Activity constriction, devoting less time to an activity. One common example is sleep, once considered inelastic: Thirty-eight percent of Americans say they have cut back on sleep to make more time (Hymowitz 1991).

! Polychronicity, doing more than one thing at a time. A common example is watching television while eating, cooking or sewing, but there are many others, such as shopping while socializing, eating while driving and reading the newspaper while riding an exercycle. Kaufman, Lane and Lindquist (1991a) found that people intentionally plan polychronic time use.

! Efficiency, getting the most accomplished in the least time. Some, but not all, labor-saving appliances have facilitated efficiency (Schor 1991, p. 83-105), and time also can be freed through carefully organized chores and errands, for example, and tactically timed commutes.

! Substitution, replacing one way of satisfying a need or pursuing a goal with another way. As an example, Feldman and Hornik (1981, p. 415) mention fulfilling a need for entertainment and sociability by playing cards rather than going out to the movies.

! Time expansion, or buying time, paying others to perform activities one could perform oneself. Examples are child care and home repair and maintenance. The latter is a reversal of the do-it-yourself trend, which was more to save money, at the expense of time, when money seemed more important.

! Rationalization, devising superficial or secondary reasons to justify activities. One might carve out time for a softball league under the guise of fitness, when the real goal is sociableness. Schroeder (1989) found little correlation between people's stated value of an activity and the time they spend on that activity: People say they place low value on TV watching and high value on talking with their children, but they devote far more time to the former.

! Elimination. One might forego a career for children or vice versa, but a more common example would be dropping the last activity on the priority list, such as a hobby or recreation. For example, many Americans have let their weekday newspaper subscriptions lapse, and the biggest proportion of these have cited time constraints (Bogart 1989, p. 65, 91).

These tactics function when time-related dissatisfaction appears, whether directly from one's timestyle or from the relationship impact of that timestyle. As Figure 1 shows, a person might be satisfied with her or his timestyle, until it conflicts with a relationship, resulting in relationship-driven dissatisfaction. Whichever the source of the dissatisfaction, the principle of homeostasis calls for action to counter the negative state (Schwarz and Bless 1991).

P3: If one is dissatisfied with one's timestyle, adaptive time tactics are utilized.

P4: If one's personal relationship is dissatisfying because of timestyle, adaptive time tactics are utilized.

One might have activity-driven dissatisfaction salved by a relationship, which then positively reinforces the timestyleCfor example, a person disappointed that family demands forced cancellation of a golf game might feel better about that time-allocation decision after a rewarding afternoon with the children.

When dissatisfaction enters the domain of coping and adapting tactics, the individual seeking satisfaction, or homeostasis, is faced with new timestyle decisions, seeking to recreate what Feldman and Hornik (1981, p. 413) call "an optimal combination of satisfaction based on the suboptimization of various needs essential to his/her sense of well being." While it would be rare for one to completely reconfigure one's allocation of time, partial restructurings are common, perhaps even daily, occurrences. In the largest sense, an individual will consider the influences, constraints, goals, needs and resources outlined in the comprehensive models of time allocation (e.g., Feldman and Hornik 1981, p. 414). But at the daily, operational level of time decisions, one will choose from among one or more of the set of eight tactics. They differ in application, personal and resource cost, duration, durability, consciousness and consequence.

P5: Adaptive tactics change one's timestyle.


Much of the consideration of time in consumer behavior has treated time as a variable in the study of other consumer phenomena and avoided conceptual development in the area of time scarcity (Gross 1987, p. 40). This model explores the dynamism and functionality of time-constrained behavior itself. While other time-allocation models are useful for their comprehensiveness or their interdisciplinary integration (Gross 1987), this dynamic timestyle model makes four contributions.

First, it offers a level of analysis closer to the rhythm, pacing and function of a consumer's daily life. Time perspectives have been categorized as short or long on a temporal-horizon dimension and as micro or macro at the level of analysis (Gronmo 1989); this model applies at the short micro level of daily life events. It explains how people make the best use of their available time, advancing beyond economic arguments that time is a resource and consumers seek to minimize its expenditure (Hirschman 1987). Understanding this adaptive dynamism provides an important theoretical link at the individual level of analysis, between structural models and the consumer's functioning lifestyle.

Second, the model proposes a reciprocal relationship between an individual's timestyle and his or her close personal relationships. Gronmo's (1989) concept of "social time," can be seen as mere interaction time, synchronizing one's own activities with those of others (Hirschman 1987, p. 72). The present model works at a much deeper level, extending and reifying Lewis and Weigert's (1981) concept of "time embeddedness." In addition to simple coordination of schedules, that perspective encompasses the longer-term time embeddedness of shared lives. While research is sparse, the consumer decision-making literature recognizes that people make decisions in a social context, including feelings of accountability to others, such as family members (Bettman, Johnson and Payne 1991, p. 63-64). From an experiential perspective, Hirschman (1987, p. 76) suggests that activity prioritization is a function of intrinsic personal rewards from the activity and extrinsic social obligations to participate in the activity.

Third, this dynamic model proposes a set of adaptive timestyle tactics that consumers use to alter their timestyles. Hendrix and Martin (1981) explored the concept of temporal incongruence, suggesting that it is caused by a consumer's inability to match his or her needs with the time available, but they did not venture into corrective or adaptive actions that might restore congruence. Most people apparently do not consciously allocate their time in a planned and systematic fashion (Hirschman 1987; Robinson 1977), but they do "make time" for activities that are important to them (Marks 1977). This model shows how time is "made."

Fourth, the present model adds an understanding of the dynamism of personal timestyle. Other approaches see time allocation as a set of straightforward tradeoffs, minimizing time expenditures and maximizing economic benefit (Hirschman, p. 57, 76) or as structured and static (Feldman and Hornik 1981). While the latter note that a person may have different time-related needs at different times (p. 413), their model is more analytic and relational than it is dynamic.

Taken together, these contributions offer a new dimension to research on time and consumer behavior. Previous investigations, exploring specific effects of time on consumers and consumption situations, have assumed that individuals' timestyle decisions are made unilaterally in stable, enduring patterns. The present model proposes that, in everyday practice, timestyle is dynamic, constantly changing, challenged by an ever-churning array of endogenous needs and goals and exogenous obligations and opportunities. As these forces conflict and compete and as time pressure, incongruence and dissatisfaction increase, the consumer works harder to adapt and cope, invoking tactics individually and in combination, trying to match activities, timestyles and relationships to achieve resolution and personal homeostasis.

The model contributes to future research in two ways. First, the tactics themselves, as they are used to liberate time, should be investigated for their direct and indirect effects on consumers' behavior. Second, studies using time as an independent variable should consider the dynamism of individual timestyles and close referents. In some cases, for example, cross-sectional research may be misleading; longitudinal studies may better reflect meaningful changes in this new dimension of time-driven behavior.

Existing time-diary data can measure changes in timestyle, but because of the social and introspective concepts and questions of awareness, methods beyond surveys and self-report will be required. Pointing out that time-budget data can be broad but shallow, Gronmo (1989) concluded that, in order to capture more complex variables, researchers may need to combine time-budget data with qualitative methods, such as depth interviews, observation and historical and case studies. To fully explore the present model, such methodology should include the individual's close referents and should work at several temporal levels, from the consumer's longer-term needs, goals and obligations to the dynamics of his or her daily timestyle.

Finally, to the practitioner, this model of dynamic timestyle offers insights into consumer behavior and marketing phenomena and opportunity. Activity constriction can help retailers understand why, despite the national passion, many people are finding shopping a chore or stressful. Time expansion explains the interest in some new services, such as on-site automobile oil change. When people have car phones, dual-picture TV sets and now even TV receivers within a PC window, they are exercising polychronicity. Renting videotapes, rather than going to the theater, is substitution. Efficiency is achieved through drive-up fast-food windows, fax machines and coffee makers with timers. While male business travelers are lonely and bored on extended trips, women are more energized, productive and stimulated, apparently because the business duty frees them from the multiple pressures at home (Trost 1992)Can example of rationalization? Newspapers trying to staunch the loss of weekday circulation must understand that reading is a solitary, time-consuming activity which is not amenable to polychronicity or efficiency but which is subject to substitution (television) and elimination.


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