How to Defeat the Tyranny of Time Poverty

“We have become a nation of thoughtless rushers, intent on doing before thinking, and hoping what we do magically works out. If it doesn’t, we rush to do something else, something also not well thought-out, and then hope for more magic.” ― Len Holman

Our view of time and how we choose to spend it says a great deal about us. For example, consistently staying late at work at the expense of family time, says something about our priorities.

So does after work cocktails versus the gym. The couch and mindless television versus books and creative expression.

The pace in which some people live can result in great damage. To their health, relationships, and emotional well being.

Everyone gets 24 hours a day, yet many complain about “time poverty.” When asked “how are you?” people used to say, “Fine, thanks.” Now, the standard reply is “Busy.”

We tediously create calendars filled with empty duties, and then we foolishly let those calendars empty us.” — Craig D. Lounsbrough

Over 59,000 people viewed the following video, titled “Enough time.” It speaks to today’s problem of time poverty.

Better pathways to restoration

There is an alternative to all this busyness. It doesn’t require quitting our jobs, embracing monasticism or endless procrastination.

The alternative lies in redefining our leisure time. Beyond work and sleep, each of us has a narrow margin of time for leisure activity. How should we spend it?

Fatigue usually leads us to superficial, quick escapes like the wine bar or NCIS reruns on the couch. Such diversions are easy, but don’t afford us time to truly think.

True leisure time is conducive to deep thinking, which leads to sound judgements, which leads to better decision making. Calm reflection helps you check in with yourself. Problem solving becomes easier.

Also, innovation and creative breakthroughs happen when our minds and spirits are relaxed.

Three tools to make better use of your leisure time

These things have worked for me and improved the quality of my life. Perhaps they can help you refine your leisure time, too.

1. Minimalism– I often write about this because it works. Less truly is more. Simplify your wardrobe, declutter your home, and you’ll find you declutter your mind. Less clothing and stuff means less laundry, cleaning and debris. More time for leisure.

2. Learn to say no– I wish I learned this one a long time ago. I used to hate to disappoint people, so I said yes. Yes to working late. Yes to joining committees. Yes to parties I didn’t want to attend. The problem is that there will always be people ready to spend your time for you. Learn to say no, and buy yourself more leisure time.

3. Exercise– This one is kind of counter-intuitive, because when we’re tired we don’t want to exercise. Yet, exercise is weirdly invigorating and reenergizes you.

You come away from that gym visit feeling good about yourself. You strip away stress, get healthier, have more energy, sleep better, and gain clarity of thought. I do some of my best thinking in the gym or out running with my dogs.

That’s my simple message for today. Put a little more thought into how you spend your leisure time. Are you getting the best bang for your buck?

Yes, there are ways to buy back more time. You could seek a job with better working hours. A shorter commute. By all means, explore the full picture.

But then, zero in our how you’re spending your leisure time. If you can optimize your leisure time to focus more on health, your passions (like artful expression) and deeper connection with loved ones, you’ll feel a lot less stressed about time.

What if Mozart never made the time for his music, because he was “too busy?” As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

Don’t be one of those people leading a life of quiet desperation. Don’t exit the stage of life with your songs still in you.

Take control of your leisure time. Stop suffering the tyranny of time poverty. The world can be your oyster, so go grab it!

Before you go

I’m John P. Weiss, fine artist and writer. Get on my free email list here to receive the latest artwork and writing.

A version of this post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.

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Photo credit: John P. Weiss

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