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Three easy ways to feel like you have more time in a hectic day, even when you don't

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Anna Brech
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If we had a penny for every time we gasped for breath under a towering to-do list, we'd be living a millionaire's paradise in the Bahamas by now.

Multitasking is the Achilles heel of modern living and much as we'd like to simply like to lob our task-packed diaries out of the nearest window, it's just something we have to cope with.

There are, however, ways of lightening the load - both in terms of psychological and practical measures - that will help you feel like you have more time, even when you don't. 

A new study in the Journal of Marketing this week (and reported by NY mag) found that we don't feel harassed by the number of goals we have so much as how they conflict with each other.

For example we want to stay late at work to meet a deadline, but we also want to make dinner with friends. 

And the pressure formed by these competing desires is what makes us feel more rushed for time, the researchers from Duke University claim. 

We feel stressed not from how many tasks we have, but how they conflict

We feel stressed not from how many tasks we have, but how they conflict

The same researchers conducted a series of multitasking experiments with groups of college students. 

They concluded that people are generally happier if they have variety in the form of many activities over a long-term period of days and weeks. But they feel more stressed if these series of tasks or activities are smaller and have to be packed into minutes and hours. 

"People value feeling productive in how they spend their time," says lead author Professor Jordan Etkin. "When circumstances limit people’s sense of progress or accomplishment, this reduces their happiness."

"Increasing the variety among the activities that fill these shorter time periods decreases happiness by making that time feel less productive."

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We're happier when multitasking over weeks rather than hours

The researchers identified three simple ways of feeling like you have more time in regards to multitasking, even when you actually don't:

1. Breathe

It sounds simple but it works. A test group of participants were asked to follow this instruction: "Please breathe so that each complete breath (inhale plus exhale) lasts 11 counts. The inhale should last 5 counts (i.e., 1-2-3-4-5) and the exhale should last 6 counts (6-7-8-9-10-11)". And this increased the participants' subjective sense of time, compared to those who didn't do the breathing exercise.

2. Re-frame the way you think about your tasks

In one group, participants were asked to thing about two tasks were competing for their time, and follow this instruction: "Please read the following statement out loud: "I AM EXCITED!" Repeat the statement three times before moving on to the next page. Try to believe what you are saying." The other group were asked to merely repeat their names out loud three times instead. The first group again reported an increase in perception of time. 

3. Minimise variety from your hours and increase it over weeks

"Our findings have clear and practical implications for how people can plan their time in order to feel happier and more productive," the authors say. "Start by scheduling more varied activities into your days, weeks, and months and removing variety from your hours and minutes. Even if the activities themselves can’t be changed (for instance, parents may have to multitask in that hour before getting themselves and their kids out of the door in the morning), simply focusing on the features that minimize the variety among the activities should be sufficient to obtain the resulting boost in happiness. So think about your morning tasks collectively as 'getting ready tasks' rather than as a variety of different tasks that need to get done. That will make you happier and the time feel more productive."

You might also like; 'The great multitasking myth'

Words: Anna Brech, Photos: Getty

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Author

Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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