The trouble with time – too little or too much?

Time is an interesting concept. It’s also one I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. How much pressure does the measurement of time add to our lives? How many decisions do we make based around time? I’m certainly guilty of complaining about how there’s never enough time, and yet many of us have spent the last year with more time than we could ever imagine. Have you done anything useful with yours? Because I’m not sure I could honestly say that I have…

An awful lot of my day is governed by time. I get up to an alarm clock, and then try to be working at my desk to a specific time. Much of my work day is governed by meetings, which specify when my lunch break will be and when I might get some actual work done. Work stops so that we can make and eat dinner, before working out how much of the evening is left and what we can fit in before going to bed. Weekends are a little different. There might be no alarm, but that can lead to panic later on as the day appears to have slipped away. Although I’m not governed by time as much at the weekend, its presence is still there.

James often suggests that we should have a time free day, turning off all clocks and alarms and just seeing what happens. We were a bit better at doing that in the summer when the days were longer, whereas currently the darkness is too much of a reminder of time. Lots of people have confessed to losing track of the days, weeks and months since the start of the pandemic and it all just slips into one. However, others are more aware of time than ever before, particularly when it comes to age.

I’ve seen multiple articles recently about how many young people are missing out, losing the best years of their life. If I’m honest, it feels a little melodramatic but it’s only true because of the expectations we’ve learned to foster. There’s a whole cohort of eighteen year olds who’ve never been to the pub, or gone out clubbing, but that’s just something to look forward to at another time. Those same people may also now be closer to their families or have found joy in things like cooking or walking. Perhaps I’m attempting to be too optimistic again, but I find it really hard to completely write off the last year as lost or wasted time, even though I couldn’t tell you much I’ve productively done with it.

As an adult there have been so many occasions where I’ve cursed having too little time. ‘If only I had more time’ I would say. Well in this last year I have to an extent. Without plans, the weekends and evenings are much emptier. Without a commute, I gain back an hour every day. But what do I do with it? I really couldn’t tell you. I haven’t written the novel I always wanted to write. I don’t bake us fresh bread several days a week. I still don’t live in a perfectly tidy and dust-free home. I’m certainly learning that usually it’s not about how much time we have, it’s about what we choose to do with it and ultimately want to do. There’s no reason why I couldn’t have at least attempted a few of those things, but I haven’t.

What I have done is do activities which take up quite a bit of time and which before I’d have ignored or squeezed in just before bed. I do jigsaws, I read, I cook meals that take a while and I don’t feel guilty for wasting time because at the moment that time is there for the taking. I just hope I continue to fit those things in if life becomes busier again.

How to gain more time

There’s a lot I could say here about using a calendar, writing to do lists, setting your alarm earlier by half an hour… And whilst I have no doubt that some of those things do help, the easiest way to gain time is to fill your time doing what you want to and eliminating the time sinks in your life. It’s all about working out our own priorities and then attempting to change habits.

It sounds silly, but it’s taken me a surprising amount of time to realise this. There used to be someone at school who never had their homework in on time but would have a different colour nail polish each day. I could never understand why nobody could see through their clear lie about not having the time to do the work. I was the exact opposite, but we each had our own priorities.

Ironically, I’ve found that it can feel like you have a lot more time if you fit more in, because you then look back at the time that has passed and remember what you’ve done. James and I have found that weekends feel longer if we do something on a Friday night – even if that something is cooking a nice meal and watching a film.

My biggest time sinks

My phone. I spend far too much time on my phone each day. I don’t know why, and other than the ten minutes I spend on Duolingo I’m almost certainly not achieving anything. I now try to consciously leave it in another room or don’t take it out with me which completely defeats the point of having it, but prevents me from mindlessly scrolling through goodness knows what and losing time that way.

TV. There are so many evenings I lose to watching television. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy what we watch but it seems so silly when I could just spend an extra hour doing something else instead. We keep challenging ourselves to have screen free evenings because we’re well aware how easy it is just to turn the TV on at the end of the day. Some days we succeed, others we don’t but when we do it’s a really easy way to win back some time and spend it on something else.

Cooking. I really enjoy cooking but it can be a real time sink, particularly at the end of a long work day it can just eat up the rest of the evening. But the temptation to go for easy meals instead can lead to unhealthy food. I’m trying to get better at trying out different recipes, or saving a more involved recipe for the weekend where I feel like I have the time to enjoy the process of cooking. And if you batch cook then there’s a series of home-cooked but easily prepped meals waiting for you through the week. Our Friday evening last week felt really long and in part that was because we fitted a lot in but also because dinner only took 15 minutes to cook which freed up time for other things.

Chores. How much time do we spend each week doing chores or ‘life admin’. If you saw the state of our flat currently you’d probably think not much, but there always seems to be endless rounds of washing up or clothes washing. One of the benefits of working from home means you can do your washing throughout the week, popping it on during the day rather than having to wait for evenings and weekends. We’ve also found the quietest time to go food shopping is on a weekday evening, and whilst that may eat up an evening, it again helps to leave the weekend gloriously clear.

Work. I’m probably not alone in discovering that when you don’t have a commute at the end of your day, it’s far too easy to stay sitting at your laptop trying to finish off your to-do list or fire off a few more emails. However, when I’m strict with myself and close my laptop down when I intend to, I suddenly find I have both more time and energy to actually do more with the evening. Something I’m going to try and get better at!

The hardest thing I’ve found is feeling guilty for how we spend the time we do. I have a to-do list that throughout this month hasn’t got any shorter. If anything, I’ve been adding more to it throughout the month and at some point I’m going to have to stop putting off the inevitable and actually do something with it. It’s really easy to feel guilty about it when you have a lot more time to do those things. But on the other hand, I probably feel a lot more relaxed than I would have done otherwise.

How have you been filling your time? Do you see extra time as a blessing or a curse?

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