We all know the feeling: The sun has long since seeped from the sky and the hour is growing late, but you still haven’t accomplished all you set out to do today. Your chest tightens as you look at your to-do list, only half-finished. Where does all the time go?
This sense that there’s never enough time to do everything—both on a day-to-day level, but also in the larger sense—is known as “time anxiety.” Are we making the most of the time we have? And what if we’re not? Is it too late? Should we just give up and crawl into a hole now?
Dr. Alex Lickerman, author of The Undefeated Mind, writes for Psychology Today that anxiety about time actually stems from anxiety about meaning. “I worry constantly that I’m spending my time on things that are meaningless. Or, perhaps I should say, not meaningful enough,” he writes.
In order to manage time anxiety, it’s important to first understand what it is, and the several forms it can take.
Daily time anxiety is the feeling of never having enough time in your day. You know that dull weight you feel when you realize you have too much to do, and not enough hours to do it? That’s this.
Future time anxiety is dwelling on the “what ifs?” Every action you take today has a dizzying number of potential outcomes, making you feel paralyzed with worry. What if you choose wrong?
Existential time anxiety is the sense that you only have a limited amount of time in your life, and that it’s slipping away.
Create a schedule that serves your goals
Time anxiety, in all its forms, stems from feeling like you’re not spending your time in the best way possible. But in order to do that, you first have to define what “the best way possible” looks like. What does it mean to have a good day? What are the tasks that get you into a state of flow?
The answers to those questions aren’t always obvious. For guidance, think about activities that fall under Darius Foroux’s “Six Spoke” theory. The idea is that life is like a wheel with six spokes, each of which should be balanced.
- Body. What do you like to do to feel healthy and active?
- Mind. What pushes your mind in a good way?
- Love. Who do you love spending time with?
- Work. What work or tasks make you feel good?
- Money. How do you want to use the money you do have?
- Play. What hobbies or rest activities do you really enjoy?
This notion of balance doesn’t just apply to your life as a whole, but your day-to-day. Take me for example. My days at the JotForm office aren’t usually very long, but I do try to make the time I’m there count.
This doesn’t mean that I’m spending every moment at my desk poring over spreadsheets. My schedule allows plenty of time for meetings and emails, but the gym, morning pages and lunch with my employees are all top priorities, too. By identifying what is important to me, I’ve created a daily schedule that fills my days with energy and meaning.
Ask yourself this: How many TikTok videos or Instagram stories have really contributed to your overall happiness? Probably not very many. Not only are the minutes or hours you spend mindlessly scrolling actively distracting from more worthwhile activities, it’s also contributing to time anxiety.
If you’ve lost what feels like months of your life to the screen, you’re not alone. In the U.S., people spend an average of 2 hours and 3 minutes on social media. Add to that the five hours on average people spend checking their email, and you can see how entire days slip away unaccounted for.
Pay attention to what distractions you most often fall prey to, so you can catch them sooner. Once you’ve given in and allowed your attention to be pulled from the task at hand, it’s harder to refocus.
When you do begin to feel yourself getting distracted, make a note that you’re being triggered, suggests Rich Fernandez, CEO of the nonprofit Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. Then, “switch the spotlight of your attention.” To reconnect with your brain’s logic center, focus on “something more immediate or visceral, like your breath,” he says. Acknowledge to yourself that you’ve been consumed by the latest Twitter spat, but that now, you’re going to pay attention to breathing instead.
Don’t try to do it all
It’s all well and good to have an ambitious to-do list, but failing to check off every item on it usually just leaves us feeling stressed.
Instead, accept that you don’t need to do everything. As entrepreneurs, we pride ourselves on wearing multiple hats. But research shows that workaholism is, frankly, unhealthy. Not only does it double the risk of depression and anxiety, it actually lowers productivity and decreases work performance.
This is where delegating comes in. While it may feel like everything needs to be done by you, specifically, this isn’t true. When I first launched my web company, I spent entire days tackling support issues. But once I hired reliable people, I was able to hand those tasks off and devote my attention to other things.
Finally, learn how to say “no.” More often than not, saying “yes” to everything can lead to double-booking or overscheduling. Beyond that, it means you’re putting other people’s priorities ahead of your own, which can lead to stress and burnout.
If you maximize the value of your time, meaningful days will turn into meaningful weeks, and so on.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.