Why do we still feel like we have no time even though we’re not doing anything?April 26, 2020
We have just completed our fourth week of lockdown, and we have at least three more weeks of this to come. Compared to what our lives used to be like, we are absolutely swimming in time. Our manic schedules have been put on pause, indefinitely, and we finally have the space to take a breath. Why then, are so many of us still feeling like we are just a touch too busy? Like we ‘don’t have time’ to get everything done? All we have is time… so is this phenomenon of still feeling ‘too busy’ a consequence of poor time management? Or is it all in our heads?
Part of it comes down to our expectations. Within days of lockdown coming into force, the concept of staying at home began to be romanticised online and on social media. Suddenly, everyone was baking banana bread, colouring, meditating, going for runs, and posting about it in a frenzy of isolation oneupmanship. Everybody online seemed to be talking about how they were going to fill the endless, empty hours that lay before them in lockdown, and coming up with gratingly wholesome ways to pass the time. But if our instant priority is to fill every hour, it’s no wonder that we quickly feel as though we don’t actually have that much time left over. And the pressure to live-up to the perfect lockdown life that we’re seeing online might leave us feeling as though we should always be doing more. Another possible cause behind this unjustified feeling of busyness, is that it’s just what we’re used to. We’re so used to being run ragged and ticking things off our to-do lists every second of the day, that slowing down our lives so abruptly just isn’t computing in our brains.
Another possible cause behind this unjustified feeling of busyness, is that it’s just what we’re used to. We’re so used to being run ragged and ticking things off our to-do lists every second of the day, that slowing down our lives so abruptly just isn’t computing in our brains. Emily, 29, is a publishing assistant, and has been working from home for the last five weeks. She says she can’t understand where her time goes, and she feels almost as busy as before lockdown. ‘I finish work at 5 pm on the dot – and obviously I’m already at home,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I feel like, wow – such a long, luxurious evening ahead of me, I can get so much done. But I feel like I have dinner, I blink, and then it’s 10 pm. I genuinely don’t understand it. It’s like time has sped up or something. ‘I keep saying that I’m going to do some baking, and I want to properly clean out my wardrobe, or get back to painting – but it just never happens. I go to bed disappointed that I haven’t achieved what I wanted to, which makes no sense when I, in theory, have all the time in the world.’
Part of this depends on your lockdown circumstances. If you have kids, for example, you’ll probably feel much busier than before because now you’re looking after them all day every day. And if you’re furloughed or unemployed, that will feel different to if you’re working from home. But for those who have turned their living rooms into makeshift offices, it might again be a case of adjusting expectations. Despite being at home, work will still take up the majority of your day. On top of that, there is more housework to do when you’re in your house all the time (why are we hoovering every day now?). Cooking three meals almost every day is time consuming too, and food shops take longer than they used to at the moment.
Maybe there just genuinely isn’t as much time for baking and yoga as you were led to believe. Psychologist Charlotte Armitage says the uncertainty and stress of living through a global pandemic may also be contributing to feeling as though you have no time. ‘Feeling busy when we are not, is a state of mind which provides us with a distraction from our own fears and anxieties,’ Charlotte tells Metro.co.uk. ‘If you are feeling constantly busy, it may be that your mind is busy with thoughts but the reality is that you aren’t busy on a practical level.’ She suggests that we consider why we feel the need to be busy. ‘Right now, it could be, understandably because of the current situation. Some may be more aware of their anxiety than others. Some may use distraction techniques to avoid feeling anxious and the feeling of being busy could be a distraction technique to prevent confronting those uncomfortable hidden feelings.’ She says in this current situation, as long as your distraction techniques aren’t unhealthy, it’s OK to find different techniques to manage your anxiety because it is a natural response to the unstable environment around us.
‘Try to spend some time focusing on relaxation,’ she adds. ‘You can try deep breathing for three minutes, or grounding techniques which help you to focus on being in the present moment. ‘You could also try writing a schedule of tasks that you need to complete, this helps to organise your thoughts and can help to de-clutter your mind, reducing that feeling of being busy.’ Time is definitely acting strangely during this lockdown period, so if you feel your days racing away from you, or entire weeks feel like they’re merging into a single day, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most of the frameworks that we use to structure our lives, to differentiate the days, to mark the passing of time, have been stripped away – so it’s normal to feel a little adrift at the moment. ‘Even if we try to map out a structure or routine for our day, what happens if we break it? Probably nothing. During this strange time, there are likely no consequences for not sticking to the routine,’ explains life coach Nadia O’Boye. ‘Ordinarily, if you’re late for work several times you might get fired. Now, no one will probably know if you’re late if you work from home. Without the consequences, we are naturally finding it more difficult to stick to the structures and routines we once did. ‘Without structure or routine, your brain fires off in all sorts of directions making you feel “busy” doing things that in reality you don’t really need to do.’
Nadia says that the key is self-discipline and trying to replicate the consequences of breaking the structure, and rewarding yourself for sticking to that structure. ‘If you don’t do the thing you need to do, you can’t watch that TV show you wanted to catch up on. If you get the thing done and you get rewarded, your brain fires off dopamine and makes you feel good, meaning it will want to help you get that feeling again.’