Got Time Poverty? 4 Causes

The most difficult part of working remotely is that my day has no chapters, no boundaries. There are no bookends to my day. Traveling to work or to school or the daily arrival of my children home from school used to make a delineation in the day. There are the blurry lines of “Am I at work right now?” or “Am I on a break?” or “I’ll answer this one email even though it’s 3 PM on Sunday.” My days are one big smoosh of what feels like aimless work and yet at the end of the day I say to myself, “How was I home ALL day and I got NOTHING done?” This has been my excuse for months as I have barely written any new blog posts. I have been suffering from time poverty. I have plenty of time – I just have no idea where it goes.

I read an article from by Ashley Whillians on Ideas.Ted.com in which she wrote, “Time poverty is a serious problem, with serious costs for individuals and society. The data that I and others have amassed show a correlation between time poverty and misery. People who are time poor are less happy, less productive and more stressed out. They exercise less, eat fattier food and have a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease. Time poverty forces us to compromise. Instead of preparing a nutritious dinner, we grab chips and guac and munch mindlessly while staring at our screens.” Hmmm. It’s not just me that is sucked into screen time and feeling miserably unproductive. 

Here are some of the reasons I suffer from time poverty:

Technology

Whillians posits, “Technology interruptions break our hours into confetti.” I love that metaphor. Confetti. Light little pieces of magical colors that have absolutely no functionality and are a mess to clean up. That would be my inbox on 3 different email accounts, 4 different messaging systems and 2 different phone numbers. That is my technological confetti and I’m cleaning it up all day, every day.

Shawn Stevenson wrote, “Just being near your phone impairs cognitive performance. If we’re going to be empowered… if we’re going to be able to reach our potential in an increasingly distracted world, we MUST do some practical things to maintain control of our attention. This recent study uncovered that THE MERE PRESENCE of your phone can cause significant cognitive impairment. The researchers conclude that, even if your phone is not “dinging” with notifications, even if it’s face down, even if it’s turned OFF, your brain still has to use significant mental energy not to pick it up (whether we realize it or not).” Hence, in order to write this post, I put my phone in another room and shut down all apps on my laptop. 

Money

Whillians wrote, “Money does not buy joy. A culture obsessed with making more money believes, wrongly, that the way to become more time affluent is to become financially wealthier. We think, “I’ll work hard and make more so that I can afford more leisure time later.” This is the wrong solution. Focusing on chasing wealth leads only to an increased focus on chasing wealth.” I think it’s also a focus on material versus experience. This is tough in the middle of a pandemic. Why not buy a big television to binge on Netflix for the weekend or a freezer to store all my backup to the backup meals in case I get quarantined for two months? Amazon can get you anything you want in a matter of days, if not hours. Just because you can buy it, doesn’t mean you should. Time well spent is the new affluence.

Busyness

I can panic if I see that my schedule is back-to-back for the day and panic even more when my schedule gets freed up with a cancellation. I value the busyness and take pride in getting it all done in one day, taking the dog out, making dinner and setting up that long overdue dentist appointment while working all my meetings in flawlessly. Whillians wrote, “With our self-identity so wrapped up in work and productivity, the social appearance of being busy makes us feel good about ourselves. In contrast, focusing our attention on something other than work can threaten our livelihood and status. We worry we won’t be valued, and, in part, we are right.” I am trying to stop sending emails and texts outside of “normal” business hours. I’m trying to stop being part of the problem and not encourage the cult of busyness.

Future

I always think I’ll have plenty of time later. I plan and load up my Saturday with chores and errands. And when Saturday arrives the day evaporates into unplanned phone calls and a change in the weather. Whillians posits, “Statistically, the best predictor of how busy we are going to be next week is how busy we are right now. Our minds frequently forget this important point and trick us into believing we’ll have more time later than we do now. This over optimism means that we become cavalier with our yeses, even with the small stuff we don’t want to do. We also want to say yes; we see it as a way to overcome idleness and feel productive, connected, valued, respected and loved.” I think of my plans a few Thursdays ago. Swim at 7:15 AM, meeting with WIN at local coffee shop at 8:30, Coach at 10 and 11, then Rotary Meeting at 12:30 at a local country club, then Group coaching at 2 PM, individual coaching at 3,4 and 5 PM. Thank goodness I had a cancellation. What was I thinking to overbook my day? If one thing goes wrong, my whole day can fall apart and in the end I feel completely depleted.

One of the gifts of moving to Durham are the countless trails and greenways. Within two minutes, my dog, Baci and I can be on a path walking through the trees. I used to listen to books but now, I am present in the moment and leave my earbuds at home. I listen to the birds, watch the squirrels torment my dog, look for redbud in blooming and watch the breeze kick up pear tree blossoms and watch it flutter in the ground like snow. The cure to time poverty for me is to be here right now. How do you cure time poverty?

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