Do you ever feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day? At 4:45 pm, are you flabbergasted that the day’s nearly over? When trying to schedule plans with friends, do you ever find yourself bewildered at how few options there are to mutually plan?
You aren’t alone. Most of us feel like we never have enough time. But why is this the case? Is this a perception problem? Or does it have more to do with being actually busy? Either way, is there a solution?
Why It Feels Like You Never Have Enough Time
Let’s dig into some of the scientific reasons why it feels like you never have enough time:
- You are incentivized to work long hours.
First, people in the United States are pressured to work long hours. Even if the stated “ideal” workweek is around 40 hours, the average American works 47 hours, and many people work 70 hours or more every week.
This has two distinct effects; first, you’re likely to be working more hours than you truly need to work. You might linger around at the office after hours to make yourself look more indispensable to the company, or you might tackle extra projects even when they aren’t necessary to increase your chances of being promoted.
More hours working means fewer hours for everything else, resulting in a feeling of “busyness.” Additionally, this high-pressure culture makes you feel like you should be spending every waking hour doing something productive, whether it’s exercising, meditating, or reading to advance your own knowledge.
You fill up your schedule even when you aren’t working, so there ends up being little (if any) time to do nothing. Fight back against this by consciously scheduling “free time” for yourself, and easing up on the number of hours you work per week.
- You’re not engaged.
One study from 2004 explored a critical difference between men and women; when spending 10 hours or more on tasks like housework or volunteering, women reported feeling more pressed for time than men who spent the same amount of time.
What accounted for this difference? Researchers hypothesized that it was because men were spending their time on more engaging or rewarding activities, while women were typically bogged down with tedious, repetitive, or uninteresting tasks.
Broadly speaking, this difference isn’t necessarily sex- or gender-based; if you’re not engaged with what you’re doing, you’re going to feel busier and more exhausted. Try to optimize your workload and your free time to prioritize things you genuinely enjoy. Find a way to get in a flow state, and stay there.
- You’re stressed.
Stress plays a massive role in creating your feelings of time pressure; one study from 2015 found that people with more conflicting goals tend to be more stressed and anxious, and those people were also more likely to feel strapped for time. What does it mean to have “conflicting goals?”
Let’s say you want to lose weight, but you also find it difficult to get motivated to exercise. There’s a push and pull effect here, making you feel more stressed than your baseline. When you try to plan your exercise, it might feel like there’s no room in your schedule, and when you make time, you might find yourself lower on time for other activities.
You can fight back against stress by spending more time relaxing and acknowledging the conflicting goals that make you stressed in the first place. Just don’t get bogged down trying to schedule “stress-relieving activities,” or you might stress yourself out further.
Employers will need to get creative during the COVID-19 pandemic on finding ways to relieve employee’s stress, one idea is to try a virtual happy hour.
- Social media makes you afraid of missing out.
When you feel like you don’t have “enough” time, part of that feeling stems from a lingering sense that there’s something better you could be doing with the time you have. Why do we feel this way?
Part of the problem stems from being constantly bombarded with social media posts from other people who seem to be doing exciting things. This fear of missing out (FOMO) is a predictor of problematic social media use and is often associated with high levels of anxiety.
It’s easier said than done, but don’t worry about what other people are doing, or even what you could be doing with your time. Focus on what you are doing; are you enjoying the present moment, or at least advancing a goal that’s genuinely important to you? If so, nothing else should matter.
If you want to stay active on social media without spending a ton of time on it, then use social media automation tools like Leadsurance where you can quickly and easily manage all of your social media profiles and content in one place.
Using automation tools like these will not only save you time posting but will prevent you from logging into each platform and wasting time scrolling through endless content.
- You don’t realize how much time you’re wasting.
How much time do you think you spend on your smartphone each day? The U.S. average is more than 3 hours. If you’re like most people, you can easily lose 15 minutes or more without even realizing it, endlessly scrolling through newsfeeds or going down a Wikipedia rabbit hole.
At the end of the day, you might feel unproductive, noting a lack of results or tangible products, compared to the number of hours that have passed since the beginning of the day. Without accounting for those wasted hours, it might feel like time is slipping through your fingers.
Spending your time more consciously—by noting when you’re getting distracted and limiting the potential to “lose yourself” in technology—is the best solution here. Start tracking your time.
- You lack autonomy.
An interesting report from 2007 studied low-income working mothers to determine how chaotic they felt their lives were. Strong differences were found between mothers who adopted a “reactive” style and those who adopted a “proactive” style.
Mothers who felt more control over how they spent their time felt that their lives were less hectic, even if they spent the same number of hours doing things. It seems fair to extrapolate this finding to other demographics; people who feel more autonomy and more control over how they spend their own time seem to feel less overwhelmed by responsibilities.
If you can make room for more personal autonomy in your current job, do it; if not, you can at least fight for more autonomy in your personal life by saying “no” to things you don’t want to do and adopting a more proactive planning style.
- You understand the value of your time.
There’s a strong correlation between the perception of “busyness” and a person’s income; the more money you earn, the busier you feel, even when accounting for the number of hours you spend.
In other words, 40 hours feels busier at $150,000 per year than it does at $50,000 per year. Part of this could be attributed to the stress levels of higher-paid positions, but the effect is more likely due to individuals realizing the value of their own time.
If you make $200 an hour, every hour you waste feels agonizing, and you’re likely to have higher standards for how you spend your time. If you only make $15 an hour, wasted time doesn’t feel like a big deal, and you’re likely to have lower standards for how you spend your time.
The solution here isn’t to make less money, obviously; instead, it’s to avoid maximizing how you spend every minute of every day. Productivity strategies are great, but they can also drive you crazy.
The Best Time Management Tips
If you are feeling like you need more time in your schedule to get everything done then you can learn how to better manage your time to become more efficient and productive.
By following some proven time management tips you will start to feel like you have more time in your day. Below are a few of the best time management tips from Leadsurance, Slack, and Quickbooks.
One of the best time management tips for reducing stress-based prioritization is to round up time estimates for completing a project.
You should focus on your attention span and how to manage that, not your schedule. As far as time management tips go, working on a tight schedule can be useful for staying on top of work and balancing your schedule and time efficiently, especially if you are managing more than one project and multiple deliverables.
Consider the benefits of outcomes instead of crossing off tasks Starting your day with a to-do list is one of the most tried-and-true time management tips.
Start every day with a list of the tasks you hope to accomplish. Once you get into work, write down your to-do list and prioritize those tasks appropriately. When you complete a task, check it off of your list. Enjoy the sense of accomplishment you get with each check, and keep the momentum going!
Writing out a list of tasks is one thing. But you also have to know how to prioritize those tasks. Prioritize the most immediate tasks first. These tasks might be those that are due sooner or take more time to complete. If one of your tasks feels too big, try breaking it into smaller tasks that are more manageable. After that, you can organize your tasks based on importance, due date, or requester.
Finding More Time
Throughout this article, I’ve recounted some of the biggest motivating factors for that persistent feeling of being low on time and explained strategies you can use to mitigate them. But most of those strategies boil down to a few important high-level concepts.
Try to relax, and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by things you can’t control. Acknowledge the difference between true desires and social pressures. And pay attention to how you’re actually spending your time—not just how it “feels” like you’re spending your time.
Do these things and chances are, you’ll feel like a veil has been lifted. Suddenly, you won’t feel nearly as busy.
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I think, a lot like with money or a diet, the best thing you can do to figure out where all your time is going is to start tracking it. You mentioned this in the post but of course the hard part is knowing how to.
One example is to start avidly paying attention to your smartphone’s time tracking like Apple’s Screen Time (which is cross device these days). That’ll give you a sense of what’s eating up all your time on your devices.
You can also run a timer while you’re doing a particular type of activity and log it (whether digitally or good old paper and pencil) to start to build up a library of where your time is going.
Step 1 is certainly tracking!