How to Overcome 3 Things That Make You Feel Rushed for Time

Filed in Productivity and Time Management by on August 21, 2017 • views: 1158

One of the most common complaints I hear from other writers is this:
I don’t have enough time to write.

Why is it we feel so rushed for time these days? Are we really that much busier than we used to be a few decades ago? Is it technology, or just the way we’re looking at things?

My research has shown that it’s all of the above. I go into this subject in detail in my new book, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, but for now, here are three of the most common reasons we feel so stressed about time, and what we can do to relax and enjoy more productive writing sessions.

1. Our Emotions, Particularly Stress

Think back to an experience you really enjoyed, like a fun date, a live concert, or quality time with your kids. You may have glanced at the clock and been surprised at how much time had gone by.

On the other hand, activities you don’t enjoy—waiting in line at the DMV or the doctor’s office, for example—make time seem like it’s crawling by.

Scientists have found that emotions—particularly stress and it’s close cousin, fear—can have a big impact in how we perceive time. In one experiment, researchers showed each participant one of three different types of movies:

  1. a scary one,
  2. a sad one, and
  3. a neutral one.

Then they asked everyone to complete a separate task measuring perception of time. After the sad and neutral films, participants were able to guess how much time had passed in the subsequent task with reasonable accuracy.

After the scary film, though, they guessed wrong; they thought that the subsequent task lasted longer than it really did. Their state of heightened arousal sped up their internal clocks.

This and other research shows that when we’re stressed out and worried, we can feel even more like time is getting away from us, or like we don’t have time for one more thing, even if it’s as important as writing.

Action Step: Take Time to Relieve Stress

The answer seems simple: manage stress. But we all know it’s not that easy.

What works for me is a) sticking to a scheduled writing time, and b) performing some sort of stress-relieving activity for 5-10 minutes before beginning.

If you make a deal with yourself to stick with your writing time no matter what, you take the stress of “choice” away, which can be a good thing. If you don’t have to choose whether or not to write, you don’t have to worry about it.

It’s like having to go to work every day. It’s not something you debate about, you just go. If you can see your writing time the same way—even if it’s only 20 minutes a day—you’ll remove some of that stress that can make you feel pressed for time.

Next, if you do something relaxing before you get started, you’ll calm your emotions. This will make it seem like the time you do have is more substantial than it would seem if you stayed stressed out.

Some simple yoga stretches, five minutes reading the work of a master author, or just some time in a comfortable chair with a relaxing cup of tea can be enough to slow everything down and allow your emotions to even out.

You may think that your writing session is too short to fit in that 5 minutes of stress relief, but try it—it’s likely to make you much more productive the rest of the time.

2. Attention Level

Another common difficulty that writers and other creative artists face is resisting distraction. Our cell phones, tablets, and computers provide an endless source of it, and the brain naturally seeks out the rewards of those coveted “likes” and “retweets” and responses from friends and loved ones.

This, too, can affect your perception of time, mainly because your perception is swayed by your attention level. If you’re really focused on something, time seems to slow down, and your emotions calm down at the same time. If you’re distracted, on the other hand, time is always racing by.

Researchers have proven this in a few studies. In one experiment, they found that the more difficult the task, the worse students were at accurately judging how much time had passed. They thought it might be because more of the brain was involved in the task, so less was available to accurately judge the passing of time.

Yet it can be difficult to get that level of attention if you’re consistently distracted by one thing or another. That creates the feeling that you’re just not getting the time you need to truly focus on your story.

Action step: Bring your full attention to your writing.

You know your writing project requires your full attention, but how often do you really give it that? Even if you respond to just one interruption—a text message, email, or phone call—studies show it can take up to 23 minutes for you to bring your focus back to the task.

That means you have to get serious about limiting distractions during your writing sessions. You can’t continue to fool yourself that you can “multitask” and answer texts and emails (or even requests from family) while also working on the next scene in a novel.

The only solution is to turn everything off, isolate yourself, put a “do not disturb” sign on the door, and make sure you won’t be interrupted. If you take steps to create a truly focused writing session, you’ll be able to bring your full attention to the task, and you’ll emerge feeling like you accomplished what you set out to do—and we all know how good it feels to come out of a productive writing session.

3. Technology

You suspected it was true, and you’re right—the presence of technology in our lives is making us feel like we have less time than we’d like.

We spend our days on our computers, smartphones, and tablets and communicating through social media. This increasing reliance on gadgets makes it feel like time is flying by faster than it used to, according to psychology researcher Dr. Aoife McLoughlin of James Cook University in Australia.

In one of her studies, for example, those who were frequently online tended to overestimate how much time had passed, and were also more likely to feel like time was running out, compared to those who rarely used technology.

Writers who are highly reliant on technology, then, may feel like there’s no way they can fit in a half-hour to write, when they actually could if they just looked at things a little differently.

Action step: Practice boredom.

Because we have constant access to technology, few of us really experience boredom these days. We don’t even allow two minutes to pass in the grocery line without pulling up our text messages or YouTube videos to keep ourselves busy.

Yet boredom is key to creativity. Scientists found in studies that “priming” participants with a boring activity (like reading a phone book) resulted in the participants performing higher on subsequent creativity tests.

You need boredom to create “space” in your mind—and that space is the solution to the “technology rush.” Once that space is there, your imagination becomes free to play.

Spend at least 30 minutes (an hour, preferably) each week inducing boredom. I suggest going to the park with only a notebook and pen (no technology). You may choose to go to a café, or an art museum, or on a walk. The important thing is to go to a location that has few distractions.

Allow yourself to be bored. Once you do that, new ideas are likely to bubble up. Write these down on your notebook, and review them later for pearls that you may be able to use in future stories or other projects.

You’ll not only enjoy an uptick in your imaginative activity, you’ll also help break that habit of technology-induced stress and time scarcity. When you spend even just a half hour doing nothing, you’re giving your brain the opposite message that technology gives it—that you have plenty of time, and that you can relax and fill that time with your own creative ideas

Do you always feel rushed for time?

Read more about regaining control of your time in “Overwhelmed Writer Rescue”—available now wherever books are sold! Order the book here (or anywhere books are sold), and get your FREE chapter here!

Droit-Volet, Sylvie, Sophie L. Fayolle, and Sandrine Gil. “Emotion and Time Perception: Effects of Film-Induced Mood.” Frontiers in Integrative Neurosci- ence 5 (2011). doi:10.3389/fnint.2011.00033.

Brown, Scott W. “Time perception and attention: The effects of prospective versus retrospective paradigms and task demands on perceived duration.” Perception & Psychophysics 38, no. 2 (1985), 115-124. doi:10.3758/ bf03198848.

Foroughi, C. K., N. E. Werner, E. T. Nelson, and D. A. Boehm-Davis. “Do Interruptions Affect Quality of Work?” Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 56, no. 7 (August 2014), 1262-1271. doi:10.1177/0018720814531786.

McLoughlin, Dr. Aoife. “Wired Society Speeds Up Brains … and Time – JCU Australia.” Home – JCU Australia. Last modified November 19, 2015. wired-society-speeds-up-brains-and-time.

Gasper, Karen, and Brianna L. Middlewood. “Approaching novel thoughts: Understanding why elation and boredom promote associative thought more than distress and relaxation.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 52 (2014), 50-57. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2013.12.007.

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Comments (4)

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  1. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve felt bored. Or relaxed. Or organized. Even sitting outside yesterday to experience the shadows from the eclipse felt like time stolen from items on my To Do list. At least I did take that time….we’ll call that progress.

  2. You always help me to refocus, Colleen, and this post really hits the mark! One thing I know for true: I can’t do anything well when stressed. Particularly write! Writing fiction takes a mindset, and a stressed one just won’t do.
    One thing I’ve perfected is no distractions when I’m writing. Phone and tv off. Notifications off. When going into that fictional world in my mind, I just can’t be pulled out to this reality. At least, not if I want to write well 🙂
    I just can’t wait for your book! It’s going to be fab!

    • Colleen says:

      So true, and for writers “stressed” seems to be the go-to state of being! (ack!) Wonder if they could invent writing isolation tanks? ;o) Thanks on the book!