I think we can apply this same principle to time. Over and over again in my workshops on resilience and stress coping, my participants put "no time" as one of their major stressors; yet we all get the same amount of time each week and many of us share a dizzying amount of tasks to complete in that time. Why is it that some people, although heavily busy seem to be coping okay? They actually seem to relax and connect in with you when having a coffee.
Part of the issue with being really busy is that our minds tend to wonder onto unfinished tasks. We can sit down to have a relax and our eyes fix on something left undone or a little reminder jumps up in our brain. It's not that there is too much to do, it's that our minds can't let go of all those unfinished little tasks.
In Baumeister's book on Willpower, he refers to this as "pulling at the skirts of memory". It's a little inbuilt reminder system primed so that we don't forget things and is helpful in making us finish tasks. However, all those little reminders jumping about all the time cause feelings of stress and overwhelm.
Here's where the 'sense of time' principle comes in. We don't necessarily need to stop doing everything we try to cram into a day (although there is a benefit in this, that's a whole other blog!) but we do need to make better and more efficient use of our time when we are involved in the tasks. In a way, we need to be fully present when we are doing each task, not madly trying to sort out a hundred other tasks that we need to be working on next.
Write it down
This is where task timetabling or writing things down can be so valuable. Once we have a task arise that needs completing, simply write it down or timetable it in for later in the day, week or month. I did this with the million housework tasks that needed to be completed in any one week and getting it out of my mind has been revolutionary- not only in making me more efficient, but in helping me to relax when it's relaxing time. Those pesky little reminders literally stopped pulling at my memory skirts.
A long time ago, a group of Psychologists wanted to do a study on who was a good Samaritan. They gave a group of students a task and asked them to present it in a different building. En route to the building, they planted a down and out man who was obviously in some need. Then they waited to see which of the students, on their way to deliver a good samaritan talk, stopped to offer assistance to the man. Disappointingly, it wasn't the most noble or moral students that stopped, it was the ones that weren't running late. Time, or at least a sense of time, can therefore not only improve our efficiency, but it can make us more moral. Interesting, isn't it?
This month's read: The Social Animal-Brooks
Sometimes, we come across a non-fiction book that is so readable that you forget you are learning. This is how I found The Social Animal by David Brooks (Short Books, 2011/2012). Brooks is a journalist and uses his skills as a writer to summarise vast amounts of research into a narrative, complete with accessible characters that we actually want to follow.
It only took me three days of snatched reading time on planes and late night baby-feeding sessions to devour the 22 chapters, which cover topics like Decision making, Self control, Morality and Meaning. What's more, although I felt that through the process I met some old friends (oh, there's that marshmallow study again), there was enough new research and intriguing findings to halt the ever-tempting 'skip' reflex.