We’re all busy and overwhelmed – here’s how understanding “time famine” could help

Written by Amy Beecham

Do you often feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day? This is how managing your “time famine” can help you to feel less busy.

Over the last few years, our relationship with being booked and busy has changed dramatically.

On the one hand, we know that as a collective, we’re more burned out than ever, and prioritising rest and downtime is essential to everyone’s mental health. On the other, many of us are feeling the pull towards making as many plans as possible after spending so long in isolation during lockdown.

This constant push and pull has taken its toll on how we feel about our schedules and our lives in general, and it’s making us feel like we don’t have enough time to do any of it.

“Time famine” is defined as the feeling you get when you are starved for time, named so because of its psychological similarities with experiencing hunger.

Just as our bodies experience stress when we haven’t eaten, researchers have found evidence of stress on the body in time-famished people. One study even suggested that experiencing time famine had more of a negative impact on wellbeing than being unemployed.

“You can get a sense of this when you imagine having a full day of back-to-back meetings, a looming project deadline and a commitment to attend a social event, and your supervisor asks to schedule one-on-one time with you,” writes clinical professor Deana Goldin for Psychology Today.

The opposite, Goldin explains, is called “time affluence” – a state of mind where you feel “wealthy” in terms of free time. So how can we learn to feel like we have more time and gain it?

Invest in time-saving

“If you’re fortunate enough to have some disposable income, you could be directing more of those funds toward saving yourself time,” suggests Dr Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University.

This could involve investing in a meal service subscription or hiring domestic help. “Although we sometimes feel guilty for outsourcing domestic tasks, when it’s affecting our mental health, there’s nothing wrong with buying back some time,” Professor Santos says.

Our busy schedules could be leading us towards burnout

Reframe the time-saving things you’re already doing

Whether it’s grabbing an Uber, ordering a takeaway or getting groceries delivered rather than doing an in-person shop, there are lots of ways that we naturally spend money in order to gain back time.

Professor Santos advises being more conscious about what benefits this adds to our lives. “The next time you order takeout, instead of simply consuming the food while checking your email, savour the time savings. Remind yourself that you’re putting time back into your schedule by not having to spend an hour or two cooking and cleaning up.”

Make good use of the free time you have

If you want to feel less time-strapped, make sure you’re making good use of the free time you have, Professor Santos advises.

Whereas we used to have more big blocks of time off, now we have what Santos calls “time confetti”. We get five minutes between meetings or 10 minutes waiting for our friends to arrive.

“What do we do with these little moments of free time? We take out the devices we have glued to our sides 24/7 and check our email or scroll through the same feed we just checked 30 minutes ago. Of course we’re time-starved.”

So how can you solve this? “Make a “time confetti to-do list”, so that when you find yourself with a spare moment, you know what to do.”

This can include anything from making progress on a new book that’s been sitting on your bedside table to finally organising the files on your laptop. You’ll feel more focused and productive as you steal moments to finally check things off your to-do list.

Images: Getty

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