Endlessly scrolling through Instagram, procrastinating until the eleventh hour, commuting in rush hour, commuting at any hour… It’s easy to recognise the myriad ways in which we waste time, but when it comes to pinpointing where it goes – and how to get it back – things start to get complicated
It feels like we’ve hit peak pressure, but the term ‘time famine’ was actually first coined by professor Leslie Perlow way back in 1995, already identifying and referring to that all-too relatable feeling of having too much to do, but not enough time to do it. Unlike money, time is a fixed entity that we can’t physically increase. So how do we go about getting more of it? Whelan has always been fascinated by the interplay between time use, happiness and money. ‘Perhaps it is unsurprising that time and money became the focus of my research,’ she says. ‘Even as a kid, I would carefully map out how I was going to spend my time and money, writing long to-do lists.’
She continues: ‘My obsession with maximising the efficiency of these resources helped me get by as a cash-strapped, overworked graduate student who was writing a dissertation while saving for financial goals. Today, I hope that my insights help people to escape the attractive trap of chasing money at the expense of time. It is hard to shift from a money-first to a time-first mindset. But when we do, my research suggests that this decision could change our happiness for the better in moments, in days and across lifetimes.’
Whelan defines the idea of time affluence as ‘the feeling of having enough time to do all of the things that we want to do, or have to do, each day’. In contrast, her findings showed that ‘time poverty is linked to lower levels of happiness, higher anxiety, higher depression, and greater stress’.
By keeping a record of how we spend our time, it becomes much easier to track the areas in which we’re not being productive enough with our free time. Break down the week into a chart of the hours spent commuting, working and sleeping vs. leisure and social time. Locate the areas that need more or less hours dedicated to them and create goals in which you gradually alter the breakdown, prioritising quality time.
Find valuable and memorable ways of spending time. According to Whelan’s research, ‘active leisure’, such as volunteering for a charity or offering to help a friend, have higher stress- combating effects than ‘passive leisure’, such as watching TV.
According to Whelan, ‘Awe is a positive emotion we feel when encountering something vast and expansive, like a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. It can increase our sense of time affluence, which is yet another reason that scenic hikes, tropical vacations or just a few moments of looking up into the sky can rejuvenate us.’
Feeling more organised can help make us feel more time affluent. Dr Elena Touroni, Consultant Psychologist and Clinic Director of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, says that making a to-do list is ‘essentially a way to manage our stress levels and create some kind of order in a jumbled mind’. She continues: ‘When we feel like we’re not on top of things, it can cause a free-floating anxiety that can easily lead to procrastination. Listings things on our to-do list provides us with a sense of relief – it’s almost as though it’s “step one” of tackling the problem.’
In his 2004 book In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, author Carl Honoré describes a ‘slow movement’, which ‘advocates a cultural shift toward slowing down life’s pace’. In the following two decades, many more scientists and health practitioners have celebrated the idea of taking a slower approach to life, whether it’s cooking from scratch rather than purchasing fast food, limiting weekend plans and saying no to non-essential commitments, or choosing sustainable travel and shopping options.
Ashley’s research encourages us to invest money on services that can aid us with the tasks we don’t enjoy: ‘Most of us fall into the trap of spending time to get money, because we believe money will make us happier in the long run. Our thinking is backward. In fact, research consistently shows that the happiest people use their money to buy time.’ Whelan and her team found that people who were willing to sacrifice money at the cost of time ‘by, say, working fewer hours or paying to outsource disliked tasks’ experienced ‘more fulfilling social relationships, more satisfying careers, and more joy’.