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Here's why you feel busy all the time

It's not just you.

DAVID NIELD
15 SEP 2016
 

Not having enough hours in the day seems like a problem that most of us are struggling with these days, but are we actually getting busier, or just feeling busier?

The leading hypotheses suggests that it's a change in lifestyle, rather than extra working hours, that's to blame. After all, many studies and reports say that the majority of us are working fewer hours than we used to, and taking more holidays too... So what's going on?

 

In short, while there's no definitive answer, our heavy reliance on technology - in both our personal and professional lives - makes things seem hectic, even when they shouldn't be.

An overwhelming amount of information (thanks, internet), an 'always-on' attitude, and the way smartphones keep us connected to one another around the clock are all reasons for why we can't relax as much as we should.

The rapid advance of technology has brought benefits but also "resulted in information overload, blurred the boundaries between work and non-work time and enabled more sophisticated monitoring and surveillance of employees", suggests a 2012 UK report.

So even when we're not working, we feel like we are.

Last year, psychologist Aoife McLoughlin from James Cook University's Singapore campus published research backing up this idea. She found that using modern gadgets like smartphones can actually make time appear to go by faster.

"It's almost as though we're trying to emulate the technology and be speedier and more efficient," McLoughlin told ScienceAlert. "It seems like there’s something about technology itself that primes us to increase that pacemaker inside of us that measures the passing of time."

 

Perhaps an overabundance of leisure options has an effect too, as suggested by a 2003 US study (which actually pre-dates Netflix streaming by four years, so do with that what you will).

Basically, having so many leisure options - things to see, places to go, books to read, movies to watch - makes us feel like we've got less leisure time, even if the reverse is true. It's related to the paradox of choice: while having lots of options seems like a good thing, it can actually create anxiety. 

Another possible reason for why we feel busy all the time is that being busy is associated with success and fulfilment in most modern societies.

Because of this, we're more likely to fill our time to show others (and convince ourselves) that our lives are on the right track, and that we're doing 'better' than those around us. Some studies have even shown that we prefer to be busy.

Time management author Tony Crabbe says the problem with feeling too busy lies in what he calls our "infinite world". In essence, many of us have gone from working in fields or factories for a set number of hours a week to lives where we're checking our email all the time.

Crabbe says the pressure to ultimately get through both an infinite amount of work and an infinite amount of leisure options makes us feel more pressured and harassed than ever before.

There's undoubtedly some truth in that: when was the last time you realised you'd dealt with everything in your inbox and listened to everything on Spotify? (Both are probably equally as impossible.)

It wasn't meant to be this way. In the last century, experts predicted that we'd all be working much less thanks to technological advancements, but the arrival of the internet and robots and algorithms doesn't seem to have reduced our workload just yet.

Or perhaps they have, and we just haven't noticed.

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