So often we hear the phrases “I’m so busy”, “I don’t have time for that”, “I haven’t had a minute to myself all day”; often we hear these phrases from our own mouths. We seem to live in a society where everybody is getting busier and busier, and free time seems to gradually be turning into a luxury of the past: the average person reports they have just 4 hours and 14 minutes of free time a day due to the constant conflicting pressures of work, education, relationships, domestic chores and staying fit as well as the time needed for eating, showering and sleeping. However, while just over 4 hours doesn’t sound like very long, let’s break this down. In 4 hours and 14 minutes you can go for a run, catch up with a friend over coffee, finish reading a chapter of a novel and even after all that find time to binge-watch a couple of episodes of your current Netflix obsession. In reality, while it’s still not much, we have a lot more time for ourselves in our typical 24 hour day than we may realise, and arguably even more free time during the weekends (on average). So why do we always feel like we never have enough time to relax?
I dislike the obsession with blaming so much of society’s “problems” on the rise of social media, but in this case I can’t help but feel technology is playing an increasing role in the way that we often perceive ourselves as being so busy, and the fact that we feel as though we’re seldom able to completely unwind. Our work lives are no longer so neatly defined: even after we’ve left school or the office (sometimes already late into the evening), we’re being interrupted in our domestic and social space with email alerts, calls from colleagues, and the pressure to “just quickly check these figures” using our laptops or phones at 2am. As a consequence, we are rarely switching off from our work due to the fact that technology enables us to be so interconnected – while this can be positive, there is also the danger of futile attempts at multi-tasking and the feeling of being burnt out and exhausted by the end of the week due to a lack of focus upon our own needs.
Similarly, many of us rarely take the time to focus on one task at a time: we scroll through social media while we’re on the bus or having lunch, we check our messages while walking, we have multiple tabs open at once on our devices keeping our brains distracted and our minds unable to fully interact with the present. It is this lack of silence, of putting away our phones, that arguably contributes to the feeling that we are always involved with something, and thus never relaxing. Many of us turn straight to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat as soon as we get through the front door and joyously reconnect to our wifi, instantly responding to and engaging with a multitude of events and people before we’ve even sat down. Of course, not all of us are like this, but I worry about the rising trend of having a device in one hand at almost all times, rather than allowing ourselves to be fully engaged with the present moment and our current surroundings.
So how can we attempt to combat the emotions of restlessness that so often accompanies the rising domination of technology in our lives? From the personal changes I’ve made in my own life, I’ve found attempting to be as present as possible in everything I do has made the biggest difference. Yes, share those memories and experiences on social media, but take a picture or video or send that message and then put your phone away. Stop scrolling endlessly through apps while you’re walking and instead focus on the nature around you: take the time to appreciate the beauty of the world around you and give your brain a break from the constant absorbing of information. Focus on the sensations around you, the smell of the earth after the rain, the way the evening light turns the summer sky a dusky pink, and allow yourself to fully enjoy it. When you have free time, revert to more gratifying, wholesome ways of relaxing: enjoy a meet up with friends, but properly engage (don’t check your phone every half an hour), read a book, bake a cake, have a long bath, learn an instrument or new sport or simply go for a walk. Invest in yourself during your free time, maybe use it to pursue a hobby or passion, and you will feel far more rewarded than if you spent the hours vicariously living through the experiences of others and refusing your body a chance to focus on a single task, and to switch off.
Some people thrive off being busy, and there is no denying that so many of us struggle to balance all the demanding aspects of our lives on a day to day basis for various reasons other than technology – I don’t wish to condemn this concept at all. However, the next time you hear the words “if only I had the time” form on the tip of your tongue, take a moment to re-evaluate your priorities and the way in which you interact with your surroundings and commitments: you may not have endless hours, but you have enough.