My encounters with clients and their topics, as well as my struggle with the feeling of never having enough time and the stress that comes with that, led me to a podcast that talked about the way we tend to spend our time. This in turn inspired me to dig a bit deeper into the topic which led me to a very inspiring researcher Cassie Holmes who deals with the topics of time poverty and time affluence.
What is Time Poverty?
Time poverty would be the acute feeling of having too much to do, and not having enough time to get it done. It’s usually a very pervasive, negative experience, with negative consequences. Research shows that women report feeling more time-poor than men, people who have jobs feel more time-poor than those who don’t, parents would feel more time-poor than those without children etc. The feeling of being time-poor makes people less healthy overall. This is because they don’t exercise as they tell themselves they don’t have enough time for it, they reach for fast food, they delay medical check-ups etc. Regarding social and emotional consequences, people who report feeling time-poor are less likely to help those around them, they’re less confident about their ability to achieve their goals, and they experience more stress.
More Hours=Happier Life?
What’s interesting about Holmes is that she questions: “Would I be happier if I had a whole lot more hours in my day to spend however I wanted?” So, those would be hours spent on discretionary activities – passive leisure activities, active leisure activities, hobbies, and spending time with friends and family. They also investigated the relationship between this and overall life satisfaction.
Too little or too much?
This research looked at the American Time Use Survey data which holds information on how people spend their days and what activities they dedicate their time to. What they found was that the people who had very little to no time to spend on discretionary activities showed low self-reported levels of happiness and life satisfaction. The surprise was that the people who had five or more hours to dedicate to discretionary activities also showed poor life satisfaction and weren’t much happier. When we have too little time, we feel stressed. When we have “too much time”, we feel less productive and like there’s a lack of purpose within our days (if we’re not busy, we feel like we’re not accomplishing anything).
Quality over Quantity
All this indicates that it’s not really about the amount of time we have, but rather how we choose to spend it. Some discretionary activities do feel productive and worthwhile, such as engaging in hobbies – activities that are personally enriching, playing sports, exercising, or enjoying socializing and connecting with others.
Rate Your Activities
Holmes suggests a time-tracking exercise where we could track how we‘re spending our time and how we‘re feeling while performing those activities. This could help us determine what brings us the most joy and satisfaction – and she suggests doing it for two weeks.
It includes doing an activity – and when we complete/come close to completing it, we rate it on a 10-point scale depending on how positive it was. This would include how enjoyable it was, how satisfying, how meaningful it felt, etc. This would provide a good sense of what it is you‘re spending your time on – for example, you might notice you‘re spending more time than you‘d like on social media, and you might notice it‘s not very satisfying (5/10). That way, we can maybe choose to reallocate those hours to activities that feel more satisfying.
Spend time with others
On average, the activities that tend to be associated with the most positive emotions are, again, those that involve social connection. If they involve something physical – either touch or physical activity, even better. Meanwhile, activities that tend to be associated with the least amount of positive emotion are commuting, hours at work (hours at work that we don‘t consider meaningful), and housework (again, this refers to the household chores we mind the most).
Appreciate Time’s Value
Being focused on time as the most precious resource leads to greater satisfaction, as it motivates us to spend it in worthwhile ways, that are intrinsically motivating and satisfying, and this leads to a stronger sense of being in control as well. It brings awareness of our responsibility and agency in the way we decide to spend certain parts of the day.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Branka Mlinar is a psychologist and Gestalt therapist offering psychotherapy and counselling to adolescent and adult individuals. She’s mostly worked with problems of anxiety, interpersonal and relationship issues, procrastination, work-related stress, trauma, and grief.
Holmes, C. (2023). Happier Hour: How to Spend Your Time for a Better, More Meaningful Life. Random House.
Sharif, M., Mogilner, C., & Hershfield, H. (2018). The effects of being time poor and time rich on life satisfaction.Available at SSRN 3285436.