Most people often feel rushed, that there’s not enough time to do everything. They feel that they’re always behind — and never feel that they’re doing enough. This problem of “time scarcity” is one of the most common stressors in modern society.
Most people feel some kind of time stress, thinking to themselves some version of “I’m not making the most of my time,” or “Time is slipping away too quickly,” or “I feel overwhelmed by it all.” The feeling that there’s not enough time leads to stress about not getting everything done — and a sense of falling behind.
To overcome this feeling of time scarcity, people need to realize three important things:
- There’s always a fresh supply of time. Everyone gets the same amount of time, no matter who they are. And everyone gets a fresh batch of 24 hours every day, no matter how terribly they spent the previous 24 hours. It’s a clean start, over and over — a chance to try something new.
- It doesn’t matter how much someone gets done, because doing more doesn’t solve the problem of not enough time. Even when someone has a fantastically productive day (completing 20 to 30 tasks with zero procrastination or distractions, for example), they might still feel that they need to do more — and still wish they had more time.
- Time is a precious gift. Most people take each day’s hours for granted and don’t appreciate them to the fullest; instead, they just go through their days doing routine things and not really paying attention. That’s why they feel that the hours are slipping away and wonder where all the time went.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to eliminate time scarcity. But with those three key understandings in mind, anyone can take the following steps to make the most of their 24 hours.
Be intentional at the start of each day. It’s easy to fall into the usual rhythm of starting each day as usual. But in order to make the most of a new batch of hours, it’s important to take a few moments at the start of the day to reflect on what to do with those hours. Even when someone doesn’t end up doing things exactly as they planned, they’re much more likely to spend the hours wisely if they start the day by making a list of their intentions.
Don’t simply do more — do what matters. Doing lots of things in one day won’t get rid of the time scarcity and often makes the stress even worse. Creating a long to-do list each day can also contribute to feelings of stress and scarcity. So start each day with a list of three important tasks (limiting a to-do list to three things forces careful choices) and work on each one as though it were the only thing that mattered. After those three things are done, there’s still the possibility — but not the expectation — to do more.
Create moments of transcendence. Rushing through tasks and chores to get to the next thing makes all experiences blend together into a dull soup. But what if everyday moments could be elevated to something special, sacred, alive? Everyone has experienced a transcendent moment of feeling incredibly connected to the entire world, losing a sense of separate self, and feeling part of something bigger (while looking down with awe from the top of a mountain, gazing up at the stars, floating in the ocean, feeling breathless at the sight of a sunset of a field of flowers, etc.). With practice and mindfulness, it’s possible to intentionally create such moments in daily life. Working through tasks on a to-do list, washing dishes, having a conversation, driving home, eating kale and beans — any of those everyday moments can be elevated into a moment of transcendence. This is by far the most important thing anyone can do to address time scarcity: when people create multiple transcendent moments throughout the day, time feels less scarce — and incredibly abundant.
Reflect with gratitude. At the end of each day, take a few moments to reflect on the day and think about what to be grateful for. This is common advice, but it’s worth repeating, because a gratitude practice can have an incredibly powerful and positive effect on how people perceive time.
Together, these four strategies suggest a way of being that radically differs from what most experience each day. Time scarcity is largely a matter of perspective and attitude. By using time more effectively and efficiently — and focusing on what’s truly important — anyone can learn how to make the most out of their time.