What is time anxiety, how does it affect us, and how can we manage it?
Time anxiety can be managed and its effects mitigated
I’ve been a productivity nerd since I was in middle school and have read or listened to countless books and articles, blog posts, and podcast episodes, about productivity, time management, and organization. But for some reason I never heard–or at least I don’t recall having heard–the term “time anxiety” until recently when I read a book called In Good Time, by Jen Pollock Michel.
(As a side note, I recommend this book highly, especially for those who appreciate a faith-based perspective. Subtitled “8 Habits for Reimagining Productivity, Resisting Hurry, and Practicing Peace,” this book offers enough inspiration and food for thought that as soon as I finished reading it I started reading it again with a highlighter in hand. This episode is not about that book, but the book did inspire this episode.)
The first section of the book is called “On Time Anxiety,” and it’s there I first read this term. At one point she says, “Whatever our religious persuasion, today busyness is pushed upon all of us: as expectation, as duty. It’s life’s de facto characteristic. The days run swift and swollen like a river after rain, and time anxiety is one of humanity’s most chronic pains.”
This introduction to the concept of time anxiety piqued my curiosity, so I started digging in to read more about it. I thought I’d share with you some of what I learned.
What is time anxiety?
Since I hadn’t heard the term before, I was surprised to find that there’s a lot written about time anxiety. For example, following are some definitions and descriptions I found of time anxiety:
“Time anxiety is an ongoing feeling of fear and stress about the passing of time. These anxious feelings can range from being occasionally uncomfortable during busy weeks, to completely debilitating for someone who is overwhelmingly stressed. Time anxiety can manifest as a variety of different triggers at work.” [from Time Anxiety: 7 Causes and How to Overcome]
“time anxiety is the feeling that you’re wasting your time. You’re anxious over time when you think that it’s too late to accomplish your goals. In addition, time anxiety is when you’re obsessed about how you spend your time and whether you’re doing meaningful activities.” [from Time anxiety: what it is and how you can deal with it]
“time anxiety is the fear of wasting your time. It’s an obsession about spending your time in the most meaningful way possible.” [from Time anxiety: is it too late?]
“time anxiety is more than just a momentary spike in your workday stress. It’s an emotional specter that haunts your days, causes you to procrastinate on important tasks, and can even lead to burnout.” [from Feel like you never have enough time? Try these 5 ways to cope with the anxiety]
“Time anxiety is a nagging dread caused by the perception of time passing quickly. It’s the feeling of not having enough time to do everything you have to do and a fear that you’re not doing good enough with the time you do have.” [from 5 Tips to Overcome Time Anxiety and Boost Productivity]
On the Rescue Time blog, one post describes it this way:
“How often do you feel like you just don’t have enough time? Despite trying every time management technique and productivity strategy in the book, do you find it impossible to shake the feeling that time is slipping away? This is called time anxiety.”
The same article also notes different types of time anxiety (several other articles talked about these, too):
- “Daily time anxiety: This is the feeling of never having enough time in your day. You feel rushed. Stressed. Overwhelmed.
- Future time anxiety: These are the ‘What ifs?’ that ravage your brain. You feel paralyzed thinking through everything that may or may not happen in the future depending on your actions today.
- Existential time anxiety: This is the overall anxiety of only having a limited time to live your life. No matter how much you race ahead or push forward, there’s only one finish line.”
What causes time anxiety?
The resources I’ve mentioned so far and others I looked at talk about a number of potential causes of time anxiety, including
- Too much to do
- Lack of awareness of where your time is going. This is often the result of getting through your days reacting rather than proactively planning. As we’ll discuss briefly below, this cause can be addressed by developing habits of time tracking and daily planning.
- You don’t have clear priorities.
- Fear of living a life without meaning. (We just talked about this in episode 431.)
- Existential dread (“Why am I here?”)
One medical doctor, in a Psychology Today article, speaks of his struggles: “am I creating the greatest amount of value with my life that I can? Will I feel, when it comes my time to die, that I spent too much of my time frivolously? Certainly I can’t be concerned with creating value for others all the time. But if at the end of my life I don’t feel that I spent the better part of it making some kind of contribution, I worry my life will feel like a wasted opportunity. So much suffering exists in the world. To me nothing seems a more important goal—more weighty a goal—than trying to reduce it.”
How does time anxiety affect us?
An article titled Time Anxiety: 7 Causes and How to Overcome summarizes, in a work context, the types of symptoms many of the resources I consulted talked about:
- “Worrying about being late to work, meetings, or other events.
- Stressed by deadlines as they approach, or even when they are far out.
- Getting stuck by decision paralysis when choosing what to start next.
- Constantly rushing because you feel you aren’t doing enough, or working fast enough.
- Feeling like a failure because you’re falling behind or are worried that you will.
- Not taking breaks or time off because you feel you can’t afford to, or don’t deserve to.
- Developing chronophobia – an irrational, extreme fear of time passing or running out.”
In addition, writers noted those suffering from time anxiety ofter will experience feelings of overwhelm and stress, likely will procrastinate on important tasks, will feel uncomfortable with not finishing everything on their to-do list, and often will worry that they’re missing out on life’s opportunities.
How can we mitigate its effects?
1. Recognize, acknowledge, and name it. (“That’s time anxiety.”) Awareness is always the starting point for resolution.
2. Track how you actually are using your time. Laura Vanderkam’s time logs in I Know How She Does It, and how many of the women in her study cohort were accomplishing more than they estimated. Lessons learned from that exercise include:
- Give yourself credit for what you’re actually doing
- Take an honest look at what you’re doing lets you make conscious, intentional choices to change it if you want to.
3. One Clockify article suggests: “If you worry that you don’t devote enough time to meaningful activities, you should ask yourself what “time well spent” signifies to you. This applies to all segments of your life, like:
- Work: What kind of tasks make you feel good when you finish them?
- Family and friends: Who do you enjoy spending time with?
- Hobbies and free time: What are your most enjoyable hobbies or activities?”
4. Once you’ve identified what “time well spent” means to you, intentionally create ways to fit the most meaningful activities into your life. And rather than feeling like you need to do it all, focus on those few things that really count.
5. If you find yourself feeling you’ve missed out on life’s opportunities, pause to consider what opportunities you have taken advantage of–what’s good in your life? Remember that nobody can do everything. Can we celebrate and savor what we have done rather than lamenting what we let pass us by?
Some final thoughts
The Clockify article I mentioned earlier points out some facts about time that we need to remember–but that also are an underlying source of time anxiety: time exists; we can’t stop it or make it go slower or faster; we can’t change the past. Remember:
“Your time is your most valuable resource, and the reality is, you are limited to only so many hours a day. But reclaiming exactly how those hours are used can help you achieve your future goals, feel more motivated at work, say “no” to the things you don’t have the time or energy for, and ultimately, get more done every week with less stress.” [from Time Anxiety: 7 Causes and How to Overcome]
My favorite advice I read in preparing for this episode came from an article titled Time anxiety: what it is and how you can deal with it:
“When you’re anxious about time, you feel uncomfortable with time: either with the fact that time is passing, or because you have too much on your plate, which makes you overwhelmed. In some cases, you may reflect on your time on Earth and whether you’ve accomplished significant life milestones.
To overcome time anxiety, you need to accept what you can and cannot control about time. You’re the main designer of your future, so think about what matters the most to you, and make space for crucial activities in your life. Remember that you don’t have to deal with time anxiety on your own. If it feels overwhelming, consider seeking out some professional help. Moreover, work on your time management skills, as they can be very helpful when fighting time anxiety. In addition, you can also work on your ability to focus on one thing at a time — this will help you calm down and gradually let go of your time anxiety.”
What do you think?
Have you experienced time anxiety? How does it manifest in your experience? Did any of the potential “cures” resonate with you? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email m
Resources and Links
- TPW431 – The Meaning in Life
- Time Anxiety: 7 Causes & How to Overcome | Reclaim
- Time Anxiety: Signs, Causes, and How to Cope
- Time Anxiety | Psychology Today
- Time anxiety: what it is and how you can deal with it – Clockify Blog
- Time Anxiety: How to deal with feeling that there’s “never enough time”
- Time anxiety: is it too late? – Ness Labs
- How to work through time anxiety
- What Is Time Anxiety And How Can One Cope With It? | AttendanceBot
- 5 Tips To Overcome Time Anxiety and Boost Productivity
- Laura Vanderkam’s 2023 Time Tracking Challange with PDF log
- I Know How She Does It, by Laura Vanderkam
- In Good Time, by Jen Pollock Michel
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