By Sadaf Vidha, consultant psychologist at Type a Thought.
The economist Maynard Keynes had predicted that the people of the 21st century will have a lot of leisure time on their hands, because we will have the technology to get a lot of time-consuming work done by us.
Two very prominent news giants who dominate the conversation on cultural topics, present startkly different views on this. The New Yorker says that we simply are busier than before. The Atlantic, in response, said that it largely depends on what we mean by ‘busy’ and ‘we’.
So, are we really busier than before? If not, why do we feel that all our time is taken away and hardly anything left for relaxation?
Keeping up appearances: In a world where everything is competing for our attention, we naturally do not want to fade away. Therefore, even when we are not ‘busy’ with work, we are busy in a social competition, be in on social media or with coworkers. Proving our worth constantly is the only way we feel good about ourselves, and things which can take up time, like personal reflection, mindfulness or meditation, are simply not fast-enough for our result and ‘out of sight’ world.
Thus, the biggest reason we feel busy is because we are constantly ‘doing’ and hardly ‘being’.
Disruption as a fashion: Disruption is a fashion. Any product which can disrupt a well-established player in any industry, is considered innovative and cool. And while this may give us many useful products, it also means that creators need to go more and more out of their way to get our attention. Thus, we have push notifications and desktop notifications and what not.
It’s like the entire market’s profit’s depends on how much they can eat into your time and give your another thing to explore, another task to do.
Sloppy boundaries: We watch recreational videos at work and answer emails at the dinner table. So, mentally, we are unable to distance ourselves from work and that is one of the bigger reasons why we feel burdened, like it ‘never ends’. Bad boundaries can also be seen when we measure our non-work activities in terms of what brownie points they could gain us. Like a class on creative thinking may be seen as a leeway to impress the boss at work. Since the effort is driven by an end goal that one ‘must’ achieve, is it surprising that you were not as relaxed at the class, and ended up not learning a lot?
Relative value of time: Since we have a lot of options with what we could do with our time, we feel guilty when not using it properly. There could be ten articles to read, and 9 emails to answer, and so on. So while people 100 years ago also had choices, leisure time spent doing one thing for a longer time was valued, and aided by the fact that there were lesser choices.
Relative problem of choice: On the topic of choice, while it is true that like we are confused between 10 choices, earlier people would be confused between 3, there is a cognitive bias that makes us think like we always have it tougher. Some of it is objectively true in the number of choices, but subjectively, humans will always feel they are facing a conondrum. In other words, we will feel burdened by choice, no matter what time in history we live.
So, what’s the way out?
Putting a stop to distraction: Following the pomodro technique, work with 25 minute slots where you put away all distractions. Work will get done much faster, with more sense of accomplishment. This can be followed by a break of 10 minutes.
The best way to use your break would be to save stuff offline which you want to recreationally read or work on. Working offline will help you maximise your focus.
Going off the radar: Take up any practice which involves your senses, be in dancing, meditation, Tai-chi, pottery – anything. A proper ‘activity’ will help you feel that you are living in real time, not a fast-zooming, scroll-down, virutal world. Take of the weight off one of your senses (usually sight) which is overused most-times.
Define yourself: Feeling like you need to keep up appearances is the biggest cause for making yourself too busy for your own good. Step back from your social media persona and set down some exploration for yourself.
Who are you as a person? What are your strengths? Challenges? Why does your self-esteem feel like it depends on constantly being praised on social media? What would you do to feel good about yourself in the absence of social media feedback?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you will feel released from internalized behaviours which you just consumed over time as ‘cool’ or ‘required’. Then you can finally have time. For yourself.