The other day I wrote about time anxiety, the persistent fear of the passing of time and the stress of not being productive, and the potential debilitating impact of this stress on a person’s personal life. It can be completely paralysing to have such strong anxiety towards prioritisation and time management; the weight of it can press down on you, so much so that it stops you from getting stuff done. But is there anything people prone to the pressures of time can do about this?
For me, time anxiety was perhaps an aspect of mental distress that didn’t really bother me until more recently. The rigid structure of school, and lack of necessity for me to make and carry out my own decisions, meant that time walked forward at a reasonable pace. My life was clearly compartmentalised – morning routine, school, walk home, homework, dinner with my parents, relax, and bed.
Moving onto college gave me a metaphorical limp, and sometimes I felt a little uneasy regarding the way I managed my time. Each day had a different structure, I went to college and back at different times and had more responsibility for allocating tasks a time slot.
As soon as I left college, I went travelling. This completely threw time out of the window – some days dragged as I struggled to get through them, some whizzed by and I wished could be relived again and again – but my responsibilities were pretty primal so there was a certain lack of decisions to be made. I was just trying to get by on the money I had and make the most of my experiences.
It was only once I returned home that time anxiety really took ahold of me. Suddenly I had empty days stretching out ahead, and I had to be the one to fill each hour. I needed to find a job and I needed to make some serious future decisions. This is when the weight of time, which up until that point had been as unnoticeable as the force of gravity, began to crush and consume me, as if I’d suddenly become aware of the pressure of this invisible power acting on me. How had I never noticed time pinning me to the ground with breathtaking brute strength?
Now, a year later, I work a couple of days a week – but which days these are changes – and I’m studying towards a degree from home. This means that I don’t have a fixed routine, so time organisation is key for this to all work out. And that’s why I’ve been working on this precise thing for the last few months, gathering together a somewhat incomplete list of things that help me with time anxiety.
Get up, dressed and busy
Slow starts can be tempting, and sometimes great for mental health! But on a regular day it’s a lot better to get ready swiftly and get the morning going. Kind of like ripping off a plaster.
The way I see it, to have your mind working efficiently, your body needs to be at it’s optimum too. Stay hydrated throughout the day, eat plenty of healthy snacks, maintain regular meal times, try to go to bed at a sensible hour, and get outside as much as possible.
Keep gratitude notes
Acknowledging good uses of time, or moments which made you happy, helps you to notice that a lot can happen in one day. It’s also great for remembering the positives when anxiety takes over and tries to make you think you’re always unproductive.
Know your go-to relaxation methods
For me this is blogging, reading, yoga and baking. If you’re unable to focus on a difficult task, put your energy into an activity you enjoy instead of into worrying about not being productive.
Write to do lists
Take the uncertainty out of your day by writing a to do list in the morning, or even the night before, and doing your best to stick to it. This is pretty simple, but I find it takes the anxiety of choice out of the equation and makes it easier for me to work through what needs to be done.
Set mini goals and know when to stop
Break down big tasks into smaller ones and plan these milestones into your week. Once you reach a goal, put that specific task aside with the knowledge that you’re not going to run out of time to complete it as you’ve already planned its completion in. Knowing when to stop is an underrated skill – I find it easy to get carried away by a desire to get to the end of things, pushing myself in a way that isn’t needed.
Accept every day is different
Some days it will be easier to rattle through a to do list than others; knowing this makes it easier to recognise when you’re having a bad day and to be kind to yourself about it.
Track activities alongside wellbeing
In my bullet journal I track the various activities and hobbies that take up the majority of my time – from work and study, to yoga, reading and going for walks. Being able to see which of these you get done each day can help you to notice the parts of your life that are being neglected and the parts that are perhaps taking up too much time. I also simultaneously track my mental and physical wellbeing, so that I can see the ways in which these relate to the things that occupy my days.
This is just a handful of techniques that help me out when I experience the uncomfortable sensation that I’m not making the most of my time. I’d love to know if you have any suggestions to add to this list!
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