Updated: Sep 30
Do you feel like you never have enough time? Has the clock been working against you despite trying every time management hack out there? Or maybe you feel like it’s too late to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do?
If you nodded your head to the questions above, you might be dealing with time anxiety. But fret not, we’re here to address that. And trust us, the next five minutes will be worth your time.
Understanding Time Anxiety
Many of us live by our Google Calendars, our fancy smartwatches, and the ten alarms we set for our mornings. Time is a limited resource after all, yet our responsibilities seem infinite. It’s no wonder why our relationship with time can get complicated.
Time anxiety kicks in when you feel like you never have enough time to achieve your goals. It also manifests in feeling that you’re not maximizing your time by being productive. Instead of a momentary spike of stress at work, it’s an ongoing feeling of dread around the passing of time.
Time anxiety manifests in three ways
Daily time anxiety: Feeling rushed, stressed, and overwhelmed in your daily tasks.
Future time anxiety: Worrying about everything that may or may not happen in the future.
Existential time anxiety: Feeling anxious about the limited time you have in your life.
These three forms of time anxiety demonstrate how it’s more than just feeling stressed over our daily schedules. It disrupts our ability to savour meaningful moments, reduces our quality of life, and even worsens burnout. Next, we’ll guide you to accept the uncontrollable nature of time and to find calm amongst the chaos.
Five Ways to Managing Time Anxiety
Time management is similar to weight management. Just like how obsessing over every calorie is stressful, obsessing over every minute of your life is unsustainable too. The key lies in striking a balance between awareness and action while being compassionate when ad hoc moments occur. Here’s how:
1) Understand your relationship with time
Time didn’t mean much to us back when we were kids. We were left with long, unstructured days, occupied with games and naps. The older we grow, time gains its importance. Homework, exams, deadlines, work, and chores reserve their seats in the hours of our days. Not only that, we’re taught that “wasting time” will detriment our future. Slowly, time becomes increasingly scarce, and we become pressured to control and manipulate time.
Reflecting on how time anxiety builds up as we get older may feel like a silly first step. But this creates the foundation for quelling anxiety and figuring out how to move forward.
2) Redefine your “time well spent”
Time anxiety arises from feeling like you’re not maximizing your time, or feeling like you’re not being productive enough. Ironically, worrying about wasting time isn’t the way to go either.
Redefine productivity by asking yourself what “time well spent” mean to you. Being productive isn’t about demonizing downtime and worshipping the hustle. It’s about being present no matter what you’re doing - even if that means doing nothing to recharge.
3) Say goodbye to planning fallacy
Let’s be real here, we’re pretty bad at sticking to our ambitious plans. Psychologists call this planning fallacy - wherein people underestimate the time it will take to complete a task (1). As a result, we schedule more tasks than we can handle, creating the perfect recipe for time anxiety.
The antidote to planning fallacy is to be intentional about how we plan our schedules. Instead of trying to do it all, pursue the essentialist mindset of “doing less but better” (2). As much as possible, streamline, delegate, or eliminate non-priorities. Know that you have control of where to spend your time and energies instead of letting your anxiety run on autopilot.
4) Be satisfied, not maximized
Psychologists have ruled out two types of decision-makers.
The first type is called a maximiser - a person who strives to make a choice that will give them the maximum benefit later on. The second type is called a satisficer, whose choices are determined by a set of current criteria and nothing more.
Embodying the satisficer's mindset is essential if we want to reduce the fear of making the “wrong decision”. If it makes you feel better, studies have even found that maximizers actually often make worse choices and suffer stress and anxiety in the process (3).
Managing time anxiety is a balancing act. It’s being realistic about the limits within time, but also avoiding the pressure to micromanage our seconds and minutes. At the end of the day, it’s about accepting that time is finite and knowing that we’re doing our best in each passing moment.
However, if your time anxiety feels overwhelming, consulting a therapist will help you explore underlying reasons and tailor personalised strategies to help you overcome them. As the prolific Anglo-Irish writer Maria Edgeworth says, “If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.”
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