If You’re Always Strapped For Time, Here’s How to Deal With Your “Time Famine”

A few tips to help you add more hours to your day

Ruslan Grumble / Shutterstock
Ruslan Grumble / Shutterstock

Are you strapped for time? Running ragged? Starving for more moments to get everything done? If so, you’re not alone. According to the Families and Work Institute for the Department of Labor, 66% of wage earners say they don’t have enough time to be with their children and spouses or to spend on themselves. If any of this sounds familiar, you could suffer from time famine—starving for more time to do everything.

Time Poverty

The Pew Research Center found that if you’re a time-poor worker, you’re more stressed and less satisfied with your life, and you’d rather be rich in time than rich in money. They asked middle-class Americans to prioritize what was important to them in their lives. And 68% said having free time was very important — outpacing the importance of having children (62%), a successful career (59%), being married (55%) or being wealthy (12%). A Gallup Poll showed that wealth has an inverse relationship with time famine: the more cash-rich American workers are, the more time-poor they felt.

If you’re time poor, chances are you’re so used to hurrying and rushing that it has become a habit, and it doesn’t occur to you that you could save time by slowing your pace. You’ve come to believe that panic and frantic are the only ways to get everything done. Maybe you gobble, gulp and go, race against the clock and shake your fist at the heavens. Perhaps you mistake overloaded schedules for efficiency and fast food, quick results and speedy service for substance. You treat the present moment as if it’s an obstacle to overcome instead of precious time to savor.

You try to find ways to save time but never have enough because there’s always more to do. Yet you can’t enjoy empty moments and talk about killing the very thing you say you want more of—an insane way to live. In these ways, you unwittingly create your own misery and diminish the quality of your life. As long as you define success by time-starving yourself, you lead a time-malnourished life and feel the hunger pangs of sleeplessness, exhaustion and worry—not to mention self-defeat. Time famine can lead to mental health issues such as burnout, anxiety and depression and physical health problems.

Time Gluttony

Mental health experts say we’ve become a society of time gluttons—spending time and wanting more instead of effectively using what we already have. Truth be told, you have plenty of time—24 hours a day—and we all have the same fixed amount. It’s one of the world’s immutable limits. You can’t add more hours in the workday, and you can’t grow it by working harder, faster or longer. Yet you say you never have enough because you don’t stop to savor the time you have–much like you would savor an ice cream cone. When you speed through life, it’s like gorging on a full meal never having tasted the food, still ravenous and running on empty.

More business experts are pouncing on the myth that you need more time in the day. A study of a software engineering team found that the group’s crisis mentality perpetuated their time famine. The study concluded that it’s not the number of hours you work that leads to time famine; it’s a frantic mindset of having too much to do and not enough time to do it that gets in the way of how you use time. Working more effectively—changing the way you think about and use your time—is key to reaching your company’s goals, not working more hours. In fact, several studies show working longer hours actually reduces productivity, optimal performance and mental and physical health and leads to job burnout.

Time Affluence

If time famine can create personal stress and ineffectiveness at work, studies show that developing the opposite mindset of time affluence—the feeling you don’t have to make time and that there’s always room for the important things—raises personal happiness, mental and physical health and workplace performance. The real question is, “What do you do with the time you have?” Scientists say if you want to have time affluence, the secret is to gain control of it. In other words, take time instead of letting it take you. It’s counter-intuitive but studies show that the solution to time affluence is mindful awareness of the present moment and your conscious use of your time, sometimes even giving time away.

In one study, those who spent time on someone else like cooking their favorite meal or volunteering to an organization or enjoying the awe of a sunset felt more time affluent than those who wasted time, gained a sudden windfall of free time, or lavished extra time on themselves, reading a book or getting a pedicure. Giving time away seemed to expand the future because by doing something for someone else, people seemed to feel effective and useful. Your perception of how constricted your time is and the pressure you get from that is more extreme than you realize, often out of line with reality. The solution is as simple as tweaking your busy life to allow space for big emotions like awe or little tasks like helping a neighbor.

Steps To Get Time Rich

Some of us pause to do the things we want to do while others let pressures and demands dictate how they spend time. You always have a choice to take charge of your life. Your life belongs to you to do with as you please. If you’re willing to make changes, you’re free to reclaim personal time and create the life you want instead of becoming a victim of time famine. You start to feel the expansiveness and breathe it in and learn to accept situations out of your control exactly as they are. You seize slow situations for personal reflection, breathe deeply and connect with the rise and fall of your breath.

When you take occasional pauses, a calm state nourishes your famished mind and body, providing you a chance to rest and digest. Your heart and respiratory rates slow down, your mind clears, and you’re more productive. The more you still the hurried mind and center within on the quiet places, the more the chill state is available to you in times of upheaval. And what has been there all along in some embryonic form gets the space to come alive. Start taking time to indulge in the sweetness of being alive with “sweet nothings”—doing nothing for the sheer pleasure of it—providing an incubation period for all of your successes to be born.

Studies say your stress about feeling time-starved isn’t necessarily a result of being busy, of having too many commitments in the day. It could be partially the result of just thinking that you’re busy and giving in to that idea. Ultimately, you only have 24 hours in a day. But you can take some control over the ticking clock on the wall and realize, perhaps for the first time, that you’re not so busy after all.

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