In 2002 the marketing consultant Bill Geist invented a new phrase: time poverty.
Time poverty is the sense of not having enough available time to do everything you want, of constantly rushing to meet looming deadlines, and being overloaded with things to do, coupled with a general anxiety and guilt because you know you’re always too busy, and aren’t spending enough time with your friends and family, exercising, relaxing or even enjoying yourself.
Sound familiar ?
Do you remember that new technology was meant to make us more efficient and give us all more free time. Instead somehow we’ve shifted our expectations, and the constant ability to do work and endless opportunities and choices available to us have made us strive to do even more, over scheduling our lives as a result. We take work home, we run from one appointment to the next – always late, we try to cram more and more into every moment – multi-tasking ruthlessly. Yet whatever we’re doing, part of our brain always seems to be contemplating whatever it is we’re not doing.
We belong to the most productive and efficient civilization the world has ever seen – but many of us are simply struggling to juggle all the things we feel we should be doing in our lives. It’s easy to find news stories like children being too busy to play, voters too busy to vote, Christians too busy to pray, or nurses too busy to nurse.
In the rich world most of us don’t have to face the harsh realities of extreme poverty that exist for many in the poor world – our fundamental material needs of food, clean water and shelter are generally met. Nevertheless our societies struggle to be happy, with poor diets, increasing levels of obesity and diabetes, stress and exhaustion, sleep disorders, guilt, depression, isolation, alcoholism and other addictions – the so called diseases of affluence. In addition our families, our social institutions and our community cohesion is suffering as we simply struggle to find enough time to engage. Even if we find the time, we all too often can’t summon up the energy!
Of course this is a problem entirely of our own making – we’ve chosen to lead such busy lives.
Time is not a resource – we all have the same amount available. We cannot spend it, save it, use it or waste it. To quote Douglas Adams; “time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so”.
Paradoxically the oft quoted solution to the problem of time poverty – becoming more efficient, having more lists, being better organised, using the latest technology more effectively, not only doesn’t work, but actually adds to our sense of time pressure! Completing tasks in as short as time as possible is obviously a worthy objective, but if we tend to simply refill our to do lists with more tasks as a result, we’ve simply maintained or increased the pressure on ourselves.
It’s obviously easier to say it than do it, but to overcome the stresses of time poverty we must simply do less and reclaim more of our time from our ‘to-do’ lists.
One way to start is by making a don’t-do-list – to identify and challenge all the things you’re currently doing, with the aim of de-cluttering your life. Only keep what you’re passionate about – or what is so essential to your life it’s not negotiable (and very few things are).
A few ideas:
- Delegate or pass-on as much as you can, and then ‘let go’ the responsibility for it,
- Stop trying to make everything perfect,
- Stop doing things that used to be a good idea if they no longer are,
- Stop doing things you are doing only through pride, insecurity, status anxiety, guilt or habit,
- Stop spending time processing ‘junk inputs’, use filters to remove unwanted emails, post, phone calls, texts and social media messages, don’t watch TV programmes just because they’re on,
- Stop procrastinating, just focus on completing the task in hand. Actively remove distractions to help increase your concentration (like closing down Facebook, Twitter etc open on your browser),
- Stop rerunning past events, or pointlessly worrying about things in the future you can’t control.
Once again Zen Habits has some good advice.
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Photo by deflam, via Flickr