How many times have you told yourself “I don’t have time for anything”? And how many times have you been told or have you read that “I don’t have time” is an excuse, because if you really wanted to, you would take a space? However, despite everything and no matter how much you want it, you can’t escape that feeling that time is slipping through your fingers and you can’t cope with everything.
You are not the only one.
The feeling of not having time has become a true pandemic worldwide, to the point that has been coined the term “NOPET syndrome (NO Personal Time)”; that is, not having time to go to the bathroom.
When we feel like we don’t have time for anything and 24 hours a day aren’t enough for us, our first impulse is to squeeze every minute like a lemon. That leads us to multitasking, doing several things at once to do everything – or at least try to.
That is not the way. Multitasking can be effective for short periods of time, but in the long run it leads to burnout, makes us more careless and we make more mistakes, condemning us to frustration and dissatisfaction. No matter how much we do, the feeling of restlessness, anxiety and tension intrinsic to multitasking will shorten the time, instead of lengthening it.
To regain control of our time, the first step is to understand why we seem to have less and less. To do this, it is convenient to review what has happened in our society in recent decades.
The acceleration of the world and the exponential fragmentation
In recent years we have experienced a dizzying acceleration. For example, in 1854 Antonio Meucci invented the first telephone, but it was not until 1876 that Graham Bell made the first telephone call. We would have to wait almost half a century, until 1927, for Western Electric to patent a telephone aimed at the large market.
Fifty years later, in 1973 Motorola created the first mobile phone, which weighed 1.1 kg and only offered half an hour of conversation with 10 hours to recharge. Just two decades later, the number of mobile users was already around 11 million and by 2020 that number had risen to a whopping 2.5 billion.
In the same way, in 1985 the first text message in history was sent. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, SMS became popular, although there was a maximum number of messages per day. Today, we receive hundreds of notifications across a wide variety of messaging and social apps.
That same phenomenon has occurred with television channels. Much time has passed since the first public television broadcast was made in England in 1936. Since then, its development has been increasingly dizzying, so that today we can not only access thousands of television channels but also to millions of Videos on Demand.
All these technological advances have led to the exponential fragmentation of our sources of information, communication channels, work tools, leisure options… And this, in turn, is causing an experiential fragmentation that affects our attention span. The result is also a fragmentation of our time into a myriad of disconnected instants.
Time becomes more and more fleeting
“It was the time you spent with your rose that made it so important,” wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to leave us a valuable lesson in “The Little Prince.” He was referring to a linear time, in which we are fully present.
At present, experiences pile up as they expand and fragment. While in the past we had to wait to hang up the phone to talk to another person, today we can talk to several people at the same time through social networks or messaging services. As a result, we are not fully present in any conversation.
We find ourselves immersed in a tide of stimuli and fragmented moments, trying to barely stay afloat and honor our commitments so as not to disappoint others or ourselves. That, obviously, is exhausting.
Experiential fragmentation has reduced our time to disconnected moments that literally slip out of our hands because, lacking our presence, they become fleeting moments without that guiding thread that gives meaning and order to our experience, also giving coherence to time.
This constant flow of stimuli destabilizes our environment, forcing us to sacrifice attentive observation that dilates time on its altar. For this reason, although the day continues to have 24 hours, we continue to think “I don’t have time for anything”.
Experiential fragmentation ends up affecting the way we manage our time. It continually draws our attention until it possesses our hours, breaking the traditional time structures. Imbued in fragmented situations, time ceases to be habitable and becomes an enemy. It lacks the lilting rhythm that it had before, loses its form and becomes fleeting.
For this reason, although we can do more things, we have the feeling that we can’t do everything. For this reason, and also because the things that we could potentially do multiply like a hydra with a thousand heads.
Actually, we don’t lack time. What happens to us is that we don’t know how to manage it correctly, so it ends up escaping through the black hole of fragmentation, which leads us to pay attention to things that are inconsequential and irrelevant to our vital objectives.
How to regain control of your time?
Experiential fragmentation makes us believe that time is our enemy, which leads us to a fight in which we are losing.
The key is to cut negative thoughts over time since when a thought is repeated over and over again, it becomes a belief and this, in turn, a reality.
If you repeat to yourself “I don’t have time for anything”, that thought will end up becoming your reality. It will end up generating a feeling of rush and anxiety which, in turn, will give you the feeling that time is going faster, thus plunging you into a spiral.
In fact, did you know that anxiety alters our perception of time? Psychologists from University College London have found that when we feel anxious we believe that time passes faster and we have the feeling that we have less time.
What is the secret to reversing that trend?
Be more aware of our time. Having time must become an attitude.
And that means simplifying our lives. Become friends with time, instead of trying to go against the clock or obsessing over multitasking. To have more time we must pause, instead of speeding up. It seems a contradiction, but slowing down, instead of running faster, will give us back control of our hours.
Instead of telling yourself “I don’t have time for anything” and stressing about it, simply say: “I have enough time to do the most important things”. And make sure it is. Don’t fall into the modern trap of experiential fragmentation.
Sarigiannidis, I. et. Al. (2020) Anxiety makes time pass quicker while fear has no effect. Cognition; 197: 104116.