How To Overcome The Feeling That You’re Wasting Time
Three ways to deal with time anxiety.
I’ve always struggled with one thought: “It’s too late.”
Too late to publish a book, too late to start a company, too late to learn a new language. The number of skills I haven’t acquired and opportunities I didn’t take because I thought it was already too late is, frankly, infuriating.
This is called time anxiety.
While it continues to be a daily struggle, I’ve recently started to overcome it and thought I’d share what I’ve learned.
Why You Feel Time Anxiety
To overcome time anxiety, it’s crucial to first understand what it is and what drives it.
While death anxiety is the fear of running out of time, time anxiety is the fear of wasting time.
It often surfaces as an obsession to spend time in the most meaningful possible way — you demand what you do with your life actually matters.
It can take several forms:
- Current time anxiety is a daily feeling of being rushed that makes us feel overwhelmed and panicky. Some people even experience anxiety attacks because of the day-to-day stress caused by this.
- Future time anxiety is thoughts about what may or may not happen in the future, which can cause worry and “what if” internal questions.
- Existential time anxiety is the sense of time slipping away never to return, which many experience in a more acute way when they think about death.
According to Dr. Alex Lickerman, author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self, many time anxiety issues stem from asking yourself questions like, “Am I creating the greatest amount of value with my life that I can?” and “ Will I feel, when it comes my time to die, that I spent too much of my time frivolously?”
Time anxiety isn’t rooted in a belief that you’ve yet to discover your life’s purpose — it just means you place an extreme importance on the value you create with your life.
But, paradoxically, this over-optimization may actually limit the value you create with your life.
When you constantly try to calculate the best potential outcome through your personal perception of possible, you limit yourself.
To overcome time anxiety, it helps to shift your focus from outcomes to output and spend your energy on things you can control.
According to Tanya J. Peterson, the author of The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, it’s important to accept a simple truth:
Time exists and you can’t change that. It will move forward, and so will you.
While purpose in life is an important factor in the psychology of happiness, spending too much mental energy on finding it rather than doing what makes you happy can be anxiety-inducing.
Once you acknowledge this reality, there are three steps you can take to reduce time anxiety while still finding meaning in your day-to-day life:
Define What “Time Well Spent” Means To You
Sit down and think about what makes you happy and gets you in the flow, without overthinking the outcome of that activity.
Focus on your output and how it makes you feel to work on producing it.
For example, instead of thinking about happy you would be to publish a book, ask yourself if you really enjoy writing.
Rather than dwell on how proud you would be to run a marathon, question whether you like running.
Create a short list of activities you enjoy and that bring value to yourself or the world and focus on those.
Make Space For “Time Well Spent” Moments
Making space for something is not the same as making time for it.
Look for areas where you can incorporate “time well spent” moments into your life.
Maybe on your way to work?
Maybe at home, after the kids are asleep?
Or maybe spending time with your kids is the activity you want to make space for?
It’s OK if you don’t have as much time as you’d like for these moments — the point is to design a space dedicated to your “time well spent” activities.
As the prolific writer Maria Edgeworth said, “If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.”
Eliminate Time-Consuming Distractions
The moments you spend mindlessly scrolling social media or watching random videos contribute to time anxiety.
Do a quick audit of your content consumption patterns and try to cut down the amount of time you spend in an input rather than output mode.
The feeling that you’re wasting your time won’t go away overnight — it’s something I continue to struggle with myself.
But the above strategies will help. They’ve made a huge impact on my own life and I hope they do the same for you.
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