WORK-LIFE BALANCE / MAR. 09, 2015
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Coping with the Time Pressures of Modern Life

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The modern world is nothing if not fast and frantic. I remember reading a fascinating book by James Gleick on the subject almost a decade ago, and I dare say even he may be surprised by just how much faster it seems to have become in the intervening years.

See also: Time Management Mistakes to Avoid

Whether it’s our mobile phones or the constant flood of information from social networks, it seems as though there are always things to do and content to consume. A recent study, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, from a cohort of American universities suggests, however, that if we’re feeling pressed for time, it may not have anything to do with the actual time itself.

Why Emotions Matter More than Time

"Beyond the number of activities actually competing for their time, emotional conflict between activities makes consumers feel that they have even less time," the authors say. "Emotions such as guilt about where time is being spent or fear over loss of income both generate stress, and make a person feel more pressed for time than they actually are."

Participants in the research were asked to list things that took a particular amount of time to complete, and then to imagine themselves actually completing those tasks. They were then told to imagine the tasks were somehow in conflict with each other in some way.  For instance, the tasks may compete with each other for time, or they may be in competition for financial resources or even your emotional energy.

It transpired that this mattered rather a lot. When the participants believed, the tasks were in conflict with each other, the time pressure they felt went up enormously, which resulted in an increase in anxiety levels. This anxiety boost happened regardless of the type of conflict imagined, be it emotional, physical or financial.

Coping with Conflict

Thankfully the researchers identified a couple of strategies that we can deploy to help us cope with these inevitable conflicts and reduce the sense that we’re pressed for time when we actually aren’t. The first is common to anyone familiar with mindfulness and requires us to slow our breathing down. The second strategy, however, suggests we try to channel the stressful feelings we have into rather more productive energetic emotions such as that of excitement.

During the experiment, both techniques proved to be effective in making the participants feel that they weren’t as pressured for time as they had originally feared.

"Feeling pressed for time impacts how consumers spend time, and how much they are willing to pay to save it. From a consumer standpoint, feeling pressed for time can have many harmful consequences such as poorer health, trouble sleeping, and depression. By pausing to breathe or envision the source of stress in a more positive light, people can enjoy the time they actually have in a healthier and happier way," the authors conclude.

So, the next time you’re feeling particularly stressed out about the speed of life, maybe you can try these techniques to relax a bit.  Let me know how you get on.

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