Can you spare three minutes to read this?

You can?

That’s great!

Because I would like to share what I recently read about “time pressure” and why it seems to be on the rise in these modern times.

Initially, I thought that I knew the answer; the pace of life accelerating, with people working more and relaxing less than they did twenty years ago.

At least, that was the impression I got from the mass media.

Digging deeper into some research I found however that there is very little evidence that people nowadays work moreand relax less—than they did in earlier decades.  In fact, some of the studies suggest just the opposite.  If  you actually work longer hours than your parents did, you are an outlier.

So, why do we report feeling so pressed for time, then?

The answer is simply supply and demand.  As time becomes more valuable, time is seen as scarcer.  And scarcity and value are perceived as conjoined twins.

Surveys around the world have shown that people with higher incomes report feeling more pressed for time, though there are other plausible reasons for this, including the fact that the affluent often work longer hours, leaving them with less free time.

The alarming part of one study, however, is that by simply perceiving oneself as affluent might be sufficient to generate feelings of time pressure.

In one experiment, DeVoe and Pfeffer (University of Toronto) asked 128 undergraduates to report the total amount of money they had in the bank.

All the students answered the question using an 11-point scale, but for half the students, the scale was divided into $50 increments, ranging from $0–$50 to over $500; whereas for the others, the scale was divided into much larger increments, ranging from $0–$500 to over $400,000 (= financially poor conditioned group).

Most of the students who used the $50-increment scale circled a number near the top, leaving them with the sense that they were relatively well-off.  And this seemingly trivial manipulation by labeling led them to feel that they were rushed, pressed for time, and stressed out more than the other half of the students in the financially poor conditioned group.

Merely feeling affluent led students to experience the same sense of time pressure reported by genuinely affluent individuals.

Using other methods, researchers have confirmed that increasing the perceived economic value of time also increases its perceived scarcity.

is time really money?

This causal effect might also help to explain why people walk faster in wealthy cities like Tokyo and Toronto than they do in cities like Nairobi and Jakarta.

And on the level of the individual, this explanation suggests that as one’s income increases over the course of one’s life, time seems increasingly scarce, which means, as one’s career develops, one might have to compel oneself to slow down.

So, if feelings of time-scarcity stem in part from the sense that time is highly valuable, then, perhaps one of the best things we could do to reduce this sense of pressure might be to give our time away.

Indeed, new research suggests that giving time away to help others can actually lessen feelings of time pressure.

Have you experienced any positive effect that “giving time away” or “slowing down” had on your personal feelings of time pressure?

Chime in with your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

“You cannot control time, but you might keep an eye on it.” — F.A. Porsche (that Porsche 911 designer who moved on and designed watches)

“If you live in a city with a population of over one million, a pause will seem twice as long as it does to someone who lives on a farm or in a small town.” — Stefan Klein—The Secret Pulse of Time

“A minute is always a minute, however the perception of a minute depends on which side of the restroom door you are.”  — Unknown

5 Comments

  1. Hi Andy,

    Oh dear… I took 4 mins. Wasted one minute of my precious time to read… haha

    My wife had been working until 12 midnight to 1 am each day last week and this week will continue. Morning start time is 9am for her.

    I use to work very late also. It is a curse I suppose. You need enlightenment and lots of wisdom to eventually overcome this curse “slave of work!” I manage to break free since few years ago.

    • Hi Rolf,

      Very funny. I do apologize for wasting your precious one minute. Let me make it up to you. Just do not read my next post and you will save not one minute, but unbelievably at least two minutes. How is that for a great investment return?

      Does your wife feel productive while working 15 hours a day? And who is her irresponsible boss who allows her to work such long hours? Are you not able to enlighten your wife as well?

      And Rolf, coming back to your lost minute. Maybe it is time for you to ‘sharpen your axe’. May I propose a speed reading course for your kind consideration. haha.

      • Hi Andy,

        I am just kidding about the Importance of the 4 mins.

        As for my wife’s work, she promised that it is only this few months where projects pile.

        Yet, I reckon it’s a curse of poor management that resulted in her hectic work life for decades.

        Why not I help. Yes I did, otherwise it can be longer work week annually. Guess it takes time…

  2. I am full of admiration of those giving away their time for charity sake and expect nothing out of it. Also to those put in the extra hours for the society – teachers in remedial classes, volunteers, etc etc. Kudos to these tireless group of people who are willingly sacrificing their rest time for greater good and not asking the question “What’s in it for me?”.

    • Hi Money Honey,

      I do respect them too. Without them our society would be much less compassionate.
      Could it be that subconsciously they actually do get something out of it even without asking for it? Like recognition, appreciation, real satisfaction and reduced time pressure?

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