Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines and is the author of two published titles on Amazon.
Time Traps, Time Famine, Time Confetti, and 5 Ways to Cope
Feeling overwhelmed at work or at any point of your busy life is not something to be ashamed of. Not having enough time to get things done is a common complaint that many people can relate to. In this article, I'll provide a few coping mechanisms to deal with the stress that lacking time inflicts upon us all.
Time traps, time famine, and time confetti are each phenomenon that we have to deal with every so often but we hardly have the time (sorry for the overuse) to think, let alone give a name to them.
Today, society throws at us countless distractions—from phone notifications to unexpected calls from colleagues to overt billboard advertising designed to catch our eye—and each of these gets in the way of us being able to focus and manage our time properly.
Too often, something catches us by surprise (could be a tweet, or a text message) and we end up spending way too much time than we initially intended—and we fall into time traps. Other times, we have way too much on our plate such as deadlines to fulfill, people to call, meetings to set, family members to consult—and we experience time famine.
In our effort to squeeze all our so-called "priorities" into a single chunk (could be a day, a week, or a few hours) we fragmentize our attention by dividing such a limited resource into too many individual things at once—that what we get in the end is time confetti. Let's briefly go over each term.
What Are Time Traps?
As briefly described in the previous paragraph, time traps may be subtle but are dangerous and detrimental to your well-being. A blogger named John Persico in 2011 described time traps as “things that unexpectedly capture our time or use up more of our time than we had originally allocated.”
While the connotation for the term time trap sounds negative, Persico adds that “many of us like to find some type of activity to spend our time on and for us, it is not a time trap… One person’s trap is another person’s passion.”
Some obvious examples of time traps include mindlessly scrolling on social media sites, obsessively checking and refreshing your email inbox, and hopping from one video to another while on YouTube.
Other less obvious time traps are doing work first thing in the morning just because it’s the first that comes to your attention (it doesn’t mean it’s the most important), saying yes to a meeting just to be polite or well-liked but not getting any value out of it, and spending too much time working out the kinks of a first draft of anything.
What Is Time Famine?
Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., seems to be the online expert on the phenomenon of time famine, or what he describes as “starving for more time to do everything we need to do.” I’ve been poring over some online references for time famine, but it didn’t take me too long to come across two distinct, magnificently written articles on the subject by Dr. Robinson.
In his Psychology Today article, he pounces upon our time-obsessed culture, which values doing more than it does being. He adds, “The more we do, the greater our worth. We mistake overloaded schedules for authority, and fast food, quick results, and speedy service for substance. Running with scissors, we treat the present moment as if it’s an obstacle to overcome . . . ”
The way he describes time famine is more like describing today’s individual as someone driven to eating time up as if he were in an all-you-can-eat buffet when the option to be a connoisseur has always been available.
The key message when it comes to time famine is that people today, especially those subscribing to the ideology of hustle culture, put too much focus on getting things done. And this, at the expense of savoring the experience or enjoying the journey.
What Is Time Confetti?
In our attempt to fit so many to-dos all at once, we spread our time into thin fragments or confetti. I first came across this term listening to an Adam Grant podcast, but it turns out that there’s also a known expert when it comes to time confetti, and she, like Adam, also did her own Ted Talk.
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The term time confetti was coined by Brigid Schulte, but Ashley Whillans describes it as “little bits of seconds and minutes lost to unproductive multitasking.”
Each few seconds or minutes don’t seem too bad, but collectively, that confetti adds up to something more pernicious than you might expect. A straightforward example is the whole duration of a work break, which, these days, aren’t very wisely utilized by people.
Someone who doesn’t fall into the trap of turning that 1-hour time off into time confetti would wisely remove himself from his workspace and get a breather somewhere with fresh air. More often, though, especially if you stay where you are, you are likely to:
- Spend a minute or two to check on a couple of emails;
- Take a minute to respond to one of those emails;
- Check three or four social media notifications;
- Scroll down the comments on one of the notifications that led to someone’s post;
- Check four text messages; and,
- Reply to all those messages.
I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you used a quarter of your entire work break to perform those quick tasks, which quickly added up to several minutes.
We can’t seem to escape the way human experiences are designed in this modern age. What can we do to manage the stress-induced from time traps, time famine, and time confetti? Luckily, here are five ways for us to cope.
1. Stop worrying too much about productivity.
I’m only four years removed from reading Chris Bailey’s book “The Productivity Project,” a workbook that I thought would revolutionize my lifestyle.
In retrospect, it did help me some for a while there—whenever I felt overwhelmed, I applied one or two of his productivity tips, and I was good. And the way he defined productivity was actually pretty smart. But now, thinking about my brief devotion to that book and what it represented, I cringe. How did I get so obsessed with doing when I could have paid more attention to being?
It was the hustle culture BS, the Black Mamba mentality (R.I.P. Kobe Bryant), the cultural obsession with productivity that really drove my engine for a while. And all for what? So I could skip a lunch invite from a college friend who wanted to catch up? So I could not show up for a family dinner because I was working on my side project?
Whenever you feel overwhelmed due to lack of time, remember this—each person has 24 hours in a day, no more, no less. Appreciate every second, minute, and hour. Productivity is great, and it might help you advance your career—but it can also come at the expense of living a good life or failing to appreciate the mundane things that you pass by along the way.
2. Adopt a hobby that is almost the exact opposite of what you spend the most time on.
Software engineers turn to playing music, mathematicians to stand-up comedy, doctors to painting. When you remove yourself from what you do for a living (even if you enjoy it a lot, or even if you do it very well), you should do so while turning towards something almost completely unrelated to it. The effect becomes all too refreshing, and at the same time, you are also taken from the environment that caused you to overload your schedule.
3. Try learning a very challenging skill.
Here’s one way to practice managing time and a way to permanently avoid time confetti—learn something very challenging. Usually, the most difficult things to learn take a lot of patience.
Take, for example, the sport tennis. Learning how to serve, do a forehand stroke, a backhand, footwork, learning how to toss the ball—each of these individual tennis skills takes a lot of practice for you to even be considered a beginner in the sport and start playing with others.
The goal is not to become very good at the skill—instead, it is going through the process of learning the skill that’s valuable here. When you learn to be patient about acquiring each of the individual skills that make up the general skill (in our example, tennis), you learn how to pace yourself and manage your time wisely.
You’ll put more value into concentrating and in doing each repetition as slowly as you can, at first—to eventually master the correct motion or routine.
4. Find friends who take it easy and who are not obsessed about "making it."
This coping mechanism is, to me, very underrated but effective. When you surround yourself with people who are obsessed about moving up in life or doing so much in their free time that doesn’t constitute leisure, you can’t avoid looking yourself in the mirror and asking, “What should I be doing? Shouldn’t I be doing more with all the free time I have?”
This mentality will put you in a cyclic trap, always looking at social media posts to see what your friends have been up to, and you either feel anxious or deal with the anxiety by keeping busy.
The solution? Simple. Find friends who don’t put that kind of pressure on themselves. Surround yourself with people who celebrate simple living, who don’t go out of their way to keep busy, and most especially are not insecure about their station in life or where their life is headed.
5. Appreciate the power of saying no.
This is said too much, too often in every time management course, book, article, and whatnot. But as you progress in whatever pursuit, you’ll eventually appreciate the power of ‘saying no.’ And it’s just not saying no to others when they coerce or trick you into a commitment—you have to learn to say no to your own wants or wishes that seem too impractical.
Learning how to prioritize is the most basic skill when it comes to managing time and overcoming time traps, time famine, and time confetti. Prioritizing includes giving up on things that matter less than the things that are extremely important to you, things that “keep you up at night” and “get you up in the morning.”
And I’m not saying that the most important things in your life are the ones you lose sleep over—what I’m saying is, you should give up on some other things (great they may be) so that you’ll have enough time for rest as you use up your day for the things that matter most.
The last thing you want to do is work on your top three priorities in the morning and another three priorities at night (kudos to all single working moms). The essence of time management is to provide quality attention, and you can only get that with good sleep.
The Key Takeaway—Take Care of Yourself
I’ll reiterate what I said in coping mechanism no. 1—each of us only has 24 hours in a day. Distractions are here to stay, but these can be managed. Being overly obsessed with productivity will easily lead to anxiety, disappointment, and emptiness. Therefore, if you were to take something out of this article, let it be this—learn how to take care of your mental health.
Being subdued by things to do and accomplish will put you in a never-ending cycle that harms your well-being and will lead to a life full of stress. Surrounding yourself with people who encourage leisure will help you learn how to pace yourself and will likely remove you from the trance of hustle culture.
Because there are people out there who will advocate for doing more, glorifying 10, 12, 14, 16 hours of work a day, and who’ll make you think that it is only by doing so much that great things are achieved. I’m not saying that they’re wrong—instead, I’m proposing an alternate reality for you—a reality where you control your time and don't let it control you.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 Greg de la Cruz