Lockdown highlighted my sense of time poverty. Here’s how I’m planning to cultivate time affluence.

When the current lockdown in Melbourne was announced, I felt a sense of relief. I felt a sudden inspiration to bake and cook and curl up and read and nap. It was as if a weight had been lifted, but also came with it the gnawing feeling that this response was somewhat wrong.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

These lockdowns impact everyone. Whilst absolutely necessary to curb the rate of infection, they add economic pressure and emotional stress to many. Our freedoms are restrained, social events cancelled, we’re constrained to our homes and local areas, which adds anxiety and emotional fatigue.

I feel all of this, however when the lockdown was announced, I felt a sense of relief.

I believe the reason I reacted this way was because the lockdown brought with it a feeling of time affluence; I suddenly felt I had time on my hands to do my hobbies, read, catch up on emails, rest and relax. This was a comforting realisation (albeit one that comes from having the privilege of not being economically impacted by the lockdown).
It was only on reflection that I discovered a worrying implication.

The implication is that my normal psychological state is one of feeling chronically time poor.

Time poverty is that feeling that we never has enough time to do everything we have, or want, to do.

And it can really impact our mental wellbeing, which a growing body of research is showing. I first came across this whilst listening to The Happiness Lab podcast. The host, Dr Laurie Santos, dedicates an entire episode to it: “For whom the alarm clock tolls”.
In this episode, she speaks with Dr Ashely Whillans, who’s research is at the forefront of our understanding of the impact time poverty is having. In an article published in Nature last year, Dr Whillans research shows that “…time poverty is linked to lower well-being, physical health and productivity.”

So this begs the question: What can we do about it?

Here are some ideas.

Plan your time.

Plan for your time with as much attention as you do your money and leave time for yourself, time to be free of commitments.

Spend time being idle.

Limit the chores, errands and social engagements you book each weekend. Exchange them for a nap, or drinking a glass of wine with a good book. Compound the benefits of your time affluence by enhancing your physical and mental wellbeing with a forest bathing walk.

Prioritise time over money.

Research indicates that prioritising time over money is the greatest thing you can do to improve your sense of time affluence. Even if this is in the smallest increment possible, find a way to do it. Spending as little as $40 to outsource your least-liked tasks (and win back time in your week) can increase your sense of time affluence and wellbeing.

When given the opportunity, prioritise your time over more money. If you’re offered a pay rise at work, see if you can exchange the difference in salary for working fewer hours, or more annual leave. It’s well documented that once you achieve an income where your base needs are met, there is a diminishing return on happiness with additional income. This is impacted further if your sense of time poverty increases.

Don’t let your phone make things worse.

Unsurprisingly, social media and email has the most significant impact on the fragmentation of our time, a key contributor to a sense of time poverty.

But our phones can also be part of the solution.

Try the following activity over the next week and see how it makes you feel. Create a list of 5 minute activities you can do. The best ones are social, like lists of friends and family to reach out to or call. A reminder to take a few minutes for a mindfulness practice or meditation is also good. When you find you have a spare moment, during a commute or waiting in line at the supermarket, rather than checking your social feed or email, bring up your list and do one of the activities.

Be present.

Make a point of savouring your daily experiences, like meals or time spent with others.
Spend 30 minutes every day socialising with friends and family, volunteering or exercising.

Make time to enjoy meals without distractions and technology. Take your time, talk, taste your food! Be present when you spend time with friends. Dispel with gossip and talk about the latest TV shows in preference for questions that will deepen your relationships.

These all directly influence your wellbeing.

Most importantly: once you’ve won back some of your time, don’t go and spend that time working. This leads to an even bigger impact on your wellbeing. Avoid it as best you can.

So, here I am, two days into lockdown. I’ve spent some time collecting and sharing these thoughts. Now I’m going to spend some time baking cookies, savouring every moment! I hope wherever you are, irrespective of the freedoms you have during these challenging times, you can apply some of these ideas to enhance your wellbeing by taking measures to cultivate a sense of time affluence.

Thank you for your time, I know how precious it is. I’d love you to join the conversation around this, so please leave a comment or reach out to me so I can hear your perspective and we can continue talking about this.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a poem, one which feels perfect for this topic.

Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,
we have no time to sit and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
and stare as long as sheep and cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
streams full of stars like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
and watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare.

William Henry Davies

My small addendum:

Life is a process. With so much advice out there telling us how to live our ‘best’ lives, progress, not perfection, is a noble goal! I don’t expect anyone reading this to magically switch from a feeling of time poverty to one of affluence through making a few tweaks. But you may win back some time each week through these recommendations.
I’m also a realist in recognising that time you win back, you may want to dedicate to work. If you feel you must spend your hard-won time on work, don’t waste it on the minutiae. You are never going to make a significant impact in your work by having a zero inbox. The most valuable contribution you can make is to spend your time on big-picture thinking that will add value to the world.
Come up with new business ideas, innovative ways to do your job, enhancements to your team culture… anything that leverages your creativity.

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