For a long time, I used to have a disturbing feeling of wasting time and not keeping up with the progress I would like to have. It was the feeling of missed opportunities and the skills I wanted to acquire. It is the time anxiety that can be both a useful and harmful feeling. Most of us have it for one or another reason. I would like to share a strategy and actionable steps to understand it and benefit from it.
Time Anxiety is a Guide
People who do not have any thoughts about their time are either conscious about it, how they spend it and where they are going, or they do not think about it due to a lack of goals or ambitions. Thinking about time is important. It is a very limited resource. We cannot restore it, only choose how we manage it. However, the continuous feeling of anxiety is not healthy or helpful. Anxiety only makes the progress and the quality of our lives worse.
The Feedback of Your Better Self
Emotions are a useful feature nature gifted us. If it is negative, it warns us that something is wrong, if it is positive, it reinforces us to repeat something useful. Time anxiety is an emotion too. It is negative but still useful. It tells us that something is off. Consider it as a warning message from our brain. However, if the warning is recurring and we do not take any actions to silence it, it can make things worse and worse. If we take the right steps, the warning will be resolved and it will not hinder us from improving our lives. So what are the steps that we can take to understand the time anxiety and finally move in the right direction?
Steps to the Promise Land
To understand the warning we have to find the primary reasons. Next, we plan our strategy and finally, take actions on the reasons we find.
Step 1. Find the source of anxiety.
There are two primary reasons, either it is the fear of running out of time or the feeling that you waste your time. We all know that our time is limited. If it is the real driving force of the fear, then you should focus on how you can lengthen your life span. For instance, become healthier and spend time more meaningful.
If you are not happy with the things you spend your time on, you should figure out what exactly. Are you not happy with your career? Then it's the right moment to alter the course of it. It is almost never late. Better try than regret later that you did not. One of the common regrets is that people wished they quit earlier. If you waste time on entertainment, consider cutting it down. When I started to track the time I spend during the days, I saw that I spend 7-8 hours a week on social media and 2 hours reading. I understood that I use social media for reading news, so I just started to do it directly on the websites and as the consequence, I cut the time I spend on social media and increased my reading time.
If the source of anxiety is that you do not keep up with your expectations then act on it. Either lower your expectations or improve your performance. For instance, I used to compare myself to my peers. If I felt that I am behind, I would feel that I do not keep up. My warning meant that I can do better and I do not fulfill my potential. Lowering expectations was an easy route, thus I worked on my performance to feel better and silence the warning.
Another reason, one of the most obvious, can be that you simply procrastinate and there is no progress in your life. In that case, you can either accept it or get things going.
Step 2. Plan and set the goals
In order to make an effective and working strategy, first, think about what you should do to consider you spent your time wisely. Is it one of your old dreams that never came true? Define it, plan the steps, and get going. Setting specific goals is important. I discussed this topic in detail in this post. The purpose of this part is to have actionable steps for your goals and act on them.
Step 3. Take the actions
This step is the hardest but the most rewarding. If you do not start, it worsens the feeling. Getting started becomes harder. You think it's too late which makes the feeling worse. When you are on track, there is no reason for the warning and you don't feel negative about it. It acts on the reasons discovered at the previous steps. If the reason is eliminated, the warning itself is gone.
Luckily, there is a very effective rule to get going: start small. Set the smallest step you can perform. The idea is to form a habit to implement changes you planned. For instance, I always wanted to be more organized and disciplined. I always wanted a blog to write and share my ideas. However, it was still stale and without progress. Time passed by and my anxiety level would increase to a level where you do not have any motivation. All I could think about is that I waste my time and do nothing.
The small step I implemented was to start and end my day with a 5-minute routine. My morning routine includes checking what is planned for the day and the evening one to plan the next day. That routine led me to create actions for my goals. Actions led me to think about macro and micro goals. Keeping up became my habit, I did not want to miss a day where I do not plan and execute my tasks. The idea of the smallest step possible originates from many philosophies. A famous Chinese proverb says:
A journey of a thousand li begins with a single step
James Clear defines this rule as one of the first steps to build a habit in his Atomic Habits book. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. One of the few real self-help books that does not just hype on common knowledge, but gives you a real insight and a step by step process to get going and build habits you want to.
Time anxiety is a useful feeling. It tells you that your life expectations and your actions are not aligned. First, understand the source of the feeling. Second, plan the strategy. Finally, execute it. There is no point to understand your source of anxiety if you do not act on it. The only truly important step in the process. If you want to improve your life and become happier, you have to make the effort. I feel that most people miss the final step. They think, they plan and never proceed to implement the changes. Take your life in control and take the steps now or regret it when it's truly late.