Have you ever felt incredibly busy and that there just wasn’t enough time in the day to do everything you wanted or needed to do? Of course you have. You probably feel it right now. In fact, ask any employed professional and they’ll likely tell you the same thing. Most of us feel like we’re always rushing around, jumping from important task to important task, with little or no down time to give us a respite.
So why is this the case? Is it because everybody really has that much to do, or is it for some other, more complicated reason?
It’s actually an interrelated combination of different reasons that tend to make people feel this way, and these five seem to be among the strongest:
1. You equate time with money.
If you include all time spent in relation to working, such as commute times and water cooler breaks, we actually have more leisure time than ever before. The problem isn’t a lack of available time, then, it’s a perception of how much time we have—and that often stems from a direct association of time as money. On the surface, it makes sense; many of us are paid hourly, and those of us that aren’t are paid yearly. We view time as a precious resource, so that every minute has an objective value tied to it. Because of this correlation, we tend to make the most of every minute we have, and no matter how much free time we get, it always feels like it isn’t enough—the same way that even as you earn raises and increase your net worth, you always want a little more. Learning to see time as less of a precisely measurable resource and more of an unpreventable flow can help you overcome this nagging sensation that you don’t have enough time to do what you want to do.
2. You let technology dictate your schedule.
Today’s technology allows for instant communication, and our demands have risen accordingly. Emails generally demand a response in fewer than 24 hours, and most of us get texts, emails, calls, and chats steadily throughout the day. This constant form of communication pressures you to constantly switch between tasks, perpetually check your inboxes, and yet never leave with a feeling that the job is complete. Work communication is something that happens in the background, with no real rest, so it feels like you’re always working (even if you’re just reading brief emails), and therefore feels like you have less free time. Learn to disconnect by turning off your devices and refusing to check in until necessary to relieve this feeling.
3. You don’t actively manage your time.
Despite being preoccupied with time, most of us don’t rigrously practice time management. Think about it—do you plan your day in advance, hour by hour, or just roll with the punches? Do you actively review how much time you spend during certain tasks and then adjust based on what you spend too much time doing? Studies show that the active practice of time management leads people to work more productively, getting more things done in less time and leaving with more leisure time as a result. You don’t have to go crazy with this practice, but you can start integrating it in small ways on a daily basis.
4. You don’t have healthy sleep patterns.
If you don’t get enough sleep, or if your sleep schedule is erratic, it can have a real impact on your productivity. Even if you don’t feel tired or sleepy, your brain simply can’t function as efficiently when it’s robbed of regular, consistent, ample periods of sleep. That means you’ll spend more time doing less work and ultimately feeling like there’s too much work to be done in a reasonable amount of time. To make matters worse, as you spend more hours working, you tend to sacrifice sleep to make up the deficit, resulting in a vicious and perpetual cycle of cutting your sleep short and making it harder and harder to make up the difference. Draw a line now and prioritize your rest—you’ll be glad you did.
5. You’re just pessimistic.
It’s the simplest reason on this list, but it’s also one of the most powerful. Pessimism and negative thinking bear significant influence on all your subjective experiences, meaning the more you think things like “I’m really busy” or “I don’t have enough leisure time,” the more you actually start to feel rushed and overly busy. Instead, force your mind to start thinking more positively about time. When you find yourself in moments of rest, appreciate them and think of how much leisure time you get to enjoy overall. When you’re at work, take note of all the breaks you take—even if it’s just checking in on social media or reading the news. The more positively you think about the time you have to spend, the more positive you’ll feel in the moment. This can be a difficult habit to create, especially if you’re used to thinking negatively, but even small changes can make a big impact in how you think and feel.
The next time you feel inescapably busy, remind yourself that it’s partially an illusion. There’s no doubt that you have a lot to do, but you probably have less to do than you think and more potential leisure time than you first suspect. Make an effort to shake up your routine, plan and manage your time better, and make time to appreciate the little things in life, and you’ll inevitably find yourself less rushed, less stressed, and less victim to that perpetual “busy” feeling.