By now we’re all used to living by the professional mantra of American careers: I’m so busy! Every new thing that presents itself to be done, every new item for the calendar, seems like one thing too many. If only there were one more hour in the day. How many of us heard our mothers and fathers recite this lament when we were children, only to hear ourselves repeating it now as our own hyperstress mounts?
However, three researchers from Duke, Erasmus, and Stanford are challenging this cliché, and telling us that one more hour isn’t likely to help at all. In fact, Jordan Etkin, Ioannis Evangelidis and Jennifer Aaker claimed recently in the Journal of Marketing Research that those overwhelmed and stressful feelings might not have much to do with time at all.
“Beyond the number of activities actually competing for their time, emotional conflict between activities makes consumers feel that they have even less time,” quoted Science Daily from their study. “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.”
In other words, what you might be defining as a time crunch might instead be an emotional conflict, or a financial conflict. It’s the conflicting impulses themselves that cause the stress, not necessarily an objective shortage of time related to the tasks or commitments you’re facing.
This might seem of little help at first: after all, whether it comes from time shortage, emotional conflict, or financial pressure, we still end up feeling hyperstressed in the face of our calendars and task lists. But this little insight can also give us a helpful window into how to approach our stress.
While it’s true that we can’t change how many hours are in a day, or ask the world to stop functioning for a few of them, correctly identifying where our sense of conflict is coming from might breed more productive strategies. For example, if the conflict is an emotional one (I feel like I shouldn’t be doing this in place of that), then it might just require some reflection as to a) why am I doing this then? Is there a hidden sense of importance for me in this activity? and b) is there another way to mitigate the time conflict? Perhaps it’s less about being in two places at once than about making sure to fully address the emotional needs associated with both pulls, whether it be self-care, connection with others, or a confident sense of productivity.
When it comes to simple strategies, start with your usual helpful time management tricks: write down a list, fill in the calendar. The first step is to show yourself where there are (or are not) objective overlaps of time. But then add another few steps. If there are objective time overlaps, identify whether that is what is stressing you out (sometimes those actually aren’t the hard choices). If there are other stressors on your list, either in objective time crunches or some other kind of pressure or cognitive dissonance, ask yourself a few questions about them and identify what is really generating the tension.
According to Etkin, Evangelidis and Aaker’s work, this activity – a kind of exercise in emotional intelligence – itself might diffuse some of your hyperstress simply by giving you pause and demystifying the pressure you’re experiencing. It’s the very idea that your day is insurmountable which makes it even more so!
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.