Between chasing last-minute chores and hustling to get a work project done, you feel like time is always running out. And the pressure to find more of this precious yet elusive commodity is making you so anxious, you can’t fully stay in the moment to enjoy the down- time you do have. Every day feels like a struggle with time management.
You’re not alone: A staggering 80 percent of Americans feel “time poor,” reveals Ashley Whillans, PhD, author of Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time & Live a Happier Life (Buy from Amazon, $14.39). “Worrying that you don’t have enough time has an incredibly strong negative effect on happiness, comparable even to the stress of being unemployed,” she explains. “This tension can easily spiral into depression and burnout.”
And while it’s easy to assume we have fewer hours for leisure these days, that’s not exactly true, notes Whillans. “We actually have more discretionary time than in the 1950s, but because our phones and devices always remind us what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing, we’re more aware of ‘goal conflicts’ between work and personal time.”
Thankfully, research proves the old adage true: Time is about quality, not quantity. “It’s not just how many hours you have, but how you feel about them — a more accurate predictor of happiness is how closely our actual days match our ‘ideal’ days,” observes Whillans.
Just read on for easy time management tips to help you enjoy one of the greatest gifts of all: time for the people you love and the activities that make you happy.
Overcommitted? Tame anxiety with “chunking.”
You’re trying to enjoy brunch with your mother and sister, but there’s a “third party” at the table — your phone — and you can’t help but check work email. “Even slight distractions increase stress and decrease working memory,” says Whillans. “Free time can feel like a chore when we’re always thinking, What’s next?”
If you start to feel overwhelmed, allay stress with ‘mono-tasking.’ “Try to block out a two-hour chunk of time each day for your single most important task without the distraction of your phone,” suggests Whillans. This strategy reduces the risk of burnout by 13 percent over six weeks and boosts productivity. Can’t “chunk” your time? Create a “happiness to-do list.” “We all get small windfalls of time of about five to 30 minutes each day,” she says. Instead of using them for work, do something for you. “I jot down reminders on sticky notes, like ‘listen to a podcast,’” she says. Simply sprinkling small feel-good tasks over a few days is shown to make us feel more in control of our time.
Procrastinating? Spark action with temptation.
You know you should start that big church project before your vacation, but you’re so overwhelmed, you put it off. Yet the initial relief procrastination gives you is fleeting, only to be replaced by a more intense feeling of anxiety.
The fix? ‘Piggybank’ a reward onto the task you’re avoiding. “Called ‘temptation bundling,’ this technique curbs procrastination,” says Whillans. Indeed, pairing a tough task with a treat, like a cup of caramel mocha, triggers momentum. In one study, folks who “bundled” an engrossing audiobook with a trip to the gym were more likely to stick with their new regimen than those who didn’t try the temptation trick. Also smart: Start in the morning. We often begin with our easiest task to give us a sense of immediate satisfaction, says Whillans. But tackling our hardest one first, when we’re more energized, increases success and lets us feel time rich by boosting our confidence all day.
Feeling stuck? Expand your time with awe.
You’re zipping through your to-do list, check by check, yet you feel … numb. Why aren’t
I happier? you worry. Says Whillans, “Often when we focus on doing everything perfectly, we lose sight of the bigger picture and feel disconnected.”
When you feel stuck, let awe inspire you. “The ancient Greeks named two types of time: linear, measured by the clock, called Chronos, and an infinite experience measured by the waves and stars, called Kairos,” explains psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D. What does this ancient insight have to do with our modern world? While the former shrinks our perspective, the latter broadens it, triggering the release of feel-good serotonin. “When we experience the ‘infinite,’ stress levels plummet and our sense of time widens,” she says. “Just heading out for a walk in nature or imagining the ocean sparks awe — when we open up to the bigger picture, we’re able to savor the small moments that make time so precious.”
A few smart time management tricks could be all it takes for you to get on top of things this year!