Time: is there ever enough of it? According to many harried adults out there, definitely not. A quick internet search on "time management tricks" will lead you down a dark rabbit hole that might, in turn, only make you feel you just wasted more time.
According to influential economist John Maynard Keynes, at this point in the 21st century, we should only be working a mere 15 hours a week. In 1930, he published a short essay, titled "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren," in which he imagined what the world would look like in a hundred years. In it, he extolled the technological advancements of society and an ever-globalizing economy, and predicted that by 2030, not only would we work less, but we'd have everything we could ever need.
Keynes writes, "Thus for the first time since his creation, man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem — how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well." Unfortunately, his optimistic prediction about the abundance of free time and how to fill our days did not come true — at least not to the majority of us working full-time jobs! Though it's true we don't have to spend our days hauling water from wells or waiting weeks to hear back from a telegram, we have somehow managed to fill our days and desires with more, more, more.
But are we really busier than ever? In today's modern world, most of us are blessed with so-called time-saving devices and technological advancements that should, in theory, free up our days. We have perfectly prepped meal kits delivered to our front door, we pay our bills with a few finger taps on our phone, and we have even outsourced walking our dogs. So why are we so stressed for time — all the time?
According to an Atlantic article by Derek Thompson on the "myth" of being busy: "We work less, both at the office and at home. Between 1965 and 2011, time spent on housework and childcare for women declined by 35 percent (or 15 hours each week), thanks to dishwashers, TVs, and other appliances that assist the work of stay-at-home parents." Studies show we spend considerably less time on work and chores than we used to, so why do we feel busier?
The article suggests that while modernity brought us convenience, it also brought us new headaches. Consider the notion of FOMO (fear of missing out). Thanks to social media and 24-hour news, we are constantly updated with new information, whether it's a friend's beach vacation or the latest political gaffe. Thompson writes, "Knowing exactly what we're missing out makes us feel guilty or anxious about the limits of our time and our capacity to use it effectively."
While being informed is important, it can lead to anxiety about keeping up with the times, or the Joneses. If you find yourself unable to stop scrolling through Twitter or feeling guilty that you're not at a friend's fundraiser, turn off the phone and take a mental break. Practice JOMO (joy of missing out), an outlook on life that's a direct contradiction to FOMO, and one that introverts are all too familiar with. Banish those feelings of guilt and "shoulds" and replace them with mindfulness and living in the moment.
Another thing technology has gifted us is the blurring between work and downtime. While constant connection has made the workday much more flexible and fluid, it's also harder to turn off at the end of the day. Always being "on" is an exhausting state of mind. Consider putting a hard stop on media and electronic devices an hour or two before bed.
Of course, working hard can have its pay-offs. If you want to move up the corporate ladder and get a bigger paycheck, working long hours has long been a favored tactic. But if you don't have passion for your job or care about what you do, you might just be working yourself into more misery.
Writer Josh Spector shared a study on Medium that found "people who work the same hours feel completely different levels of time pressure depending on their passion for their work." If most of the hours of your day are spent doing something you don't feel passionate about, it's no wonder you start to feel out of control and anxious about your time. Taking back control of your time, both physically and psychologically, can ease this mental stress. Writes Spector, "It sounds cliche, but your time management goal shouldn't be to figure out how to do more, but instead to figure out how to want less."
Though Keynes was sadly wrong about our projected 15-hour work week, he did dole out some timeless advice. People who could enjoy "the art of life itself," he wrote, would "be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes." We know that buying more stuff doesn't make us happier, so why do we insist on working longer hours to continue these acts of consumption? Take a note from the Italians and try practicing dolce far niente, a philosophy that literally means the sweetness of doing nothing. You might find that the more time you take for yourself, the more you'll be able to give to others.