If your fairy godmother could grant you one wish, one that would make make your life a whole lot easier – what would it be?

For many people, myself included, it would be more time.

Time. Elusive, highly prized and apparently in constant short supply.

And just like the supermarket that’s out of milk AGAIN, we curse and bemoan the fact there is never enough time when you really need it.

Our perception of time poverty can have a significant impact on how we operate.

Did you notice the one important word in that last sentence?

That’s right, we have fallen into the trap of believing time poverty exists whereas it is merely our perception. We still all have access to a full 24 hours in any given day.

The problem is this perception impacts our thinking and behaviour because it stresses our brain.

Think about it – when that deadline is looming fast and you’re still waiting on input from your colleague that was due last Tuesday you notice your heart rate goes up, you’re breathing more shallowly, your pupils are dilated and all you can think about is how important this deadline is and the consequences that may follow.

Our stress makes us cross, irritated and frustrated making it harder to stay on task and we make more mistakes.

If this is your ‘usual’ way of operating, under pressure, feeling as if you never quite fully catch up, the longer-term implication of this in addition to being at increased risk of stress related illness and burnout is that your performance declines.

We may have the aptitude and capability, but too much stress quickly leads to mental fatigue and our capacity to work to the level we know we’re capable of is diminished.

Why are we in such a rush?

The modern workplace and pace of life places multiple demands on our time and energy. Our work is more complex and demanding. We spend more time at work to complete assignments, meet deadlines or play catch up. We may live further away from our place of work and spend more time commuting. We juggle work, family and life commitments trying to be all things to all people often with little down time for ourselves.

Plus the adage of time being equated to money can weigh heavily on our desire to save time.

Many professions still provide their services based on units of time, such as your doctor, accountant or lawyer. It’s in our interest that they don’t spend too long solving our problem because that time is going to cost us.

 Other evidence for our need for speed occurs when:

  • On the roads, we see cars weaving and dodging in the traffic to get to their destination faster.
  • We ‘tsk tsk’ and fidget when kept waiting in the supermarket checkout, outside the ATM, or while waiting to cross a busy intersection.
  • We hunker down, shackling ourselves to our desk, growling and snapping at those who dare to interrupt.

As a result we have become a little time obsessed, checking in frequently to see how time is passing.

How do we keep an eye on the time?

Beyond sundials and the church clock:

We wear a watch. Digital or analogue, the watch is often more of a fashion accessory than a timepiece today. How often do you use your smart phone or fitness tracker to check the time?

We set ourselves alarms. More than just to getting ourselves out of bed in the morning, we set ourselves reminders so we don’t miss an appointment, risk a car parking fine or overcook the dinner.

We use an online or printed Calendar – hurrah! Now all our activities, meetings, important dates etc. can all be kept safely in one place.

Goodness, all this timekeeping is time consuming!

What has now been discovered is how our digital technology is adding to our perception of time poverty (and our stress).

Technology is speeding up our brains perception of time.

Dr. Aoife McLouglin from James Cook University has found in her research that those who spend more time connected to their smart phones or computers overestimate the amount of time that has passed. For example thinking an hour had gone by whereas it was really only 50 minutes.

That perception is what then leads to our feeling more stressed because we feel that our time has ‘run out.’

Can we reclaim time?

Well sort of.

What matters is reducing our stress levels associated with the perception of time poverty so that we can maintain our mental performance.

Enjoy the benefits our time saving technology provides us.

Let’s give ourselves permission to pause for long enough allow to acknowledge that.

Remember to disconnect from our technology every once in a while.

 This will help to reinstate a more accurate perception of how we are really spending our time.

And thirdly another way to regain time is slow down our mind mindfully…. but that’s another story for another time.

Is the perception of time poverty impacting how well you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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