Time Anxiety: How to Handle It And Boost Productivity

Time anxiety - how to handle it

Are you struggling with the persistent feeling that you’re wasting your time? Do you have this recurring thought that time is slipping away or that it’s too late to accomplish what you want in life? Maybe you always miss your work deadlines, worry about running late, or not achieving what you plan to?

If this sounds like you, you may be suffering from a fear of time called “time anxiety”. If not addressed, it can cause serious mental health conditions and negatively impact your productivity at work.

While it’s natural to feel anxious in today’s productivity-driven world, it’s important to acknowledge that time exists and there’s nothing we can do to change that! Accepting this fact can help you regain the mental clarity and peace that will enable you to combat your fear of time.

Below, we explore this topic further by looking at the:

  • types of time anxiety
  • symptoms of time anxiety
  • how to overcome time anxiety

What Is Time Anxiety?

Time anxiety is the feeling that you have or fear you may experience that there isn’t enough time to accomplish your goals or you aren’t maximizing the time you have. Unlike death anxiety – which is the fear time is running out – time anxiety is the fear that the time you do have is being wasted.

It’s an obsession whether you’re spending your time productively.

Time anxiety is no fun and can haunt you, burden you with guilt and make you feel like you’re not working fast enough or working on what’s truly important. For example, when you want to step away from your desk, you may feel like you’ll waste time that could be spent on productive work.

That fear and pressure to not waste time but rather make the best of it builds until you no longer know where or how to get started with work.  

If your struggles with time anxiety are left unchecked, you can end up developing mental health issues like panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression. All of which can affect your performance at work, your life at home, and your social life.

What Causes Time Anxiety?

Now, you may be wondering, why do I feel anxious about time? Several situations might lead to increased anxiety over time. Getting to the root cause of your anxiety is the first step toward overcoming it. Let’s take a look at some of the causes:

  • Poor time management. Did you know that 82 percent of people don’t use a time management system? Effective time management at work is an everyday struggle for most of us. At first, we feel like we have plenty of time to complete tasks. But as the deadline approaches, we realize that we are not even close to finishing the task.
  • Have a lot on your plate. The astronomical busy lives we lead can be overwhelming and stressful. When you have too much work to do with limited time, it provokes a desire to rush from one task to another. This may lead to anxiety and panic attacks, decision paralysis, procrastination, and an increase in time anxiety.
  • Distractions. Studies show that 10 percent of employees only do half an hour of proper work due to distractions. Most blame these distractions on social media, chatty workers, and even the weather. The situation is worse in an always-on culture, especially for those who work from home. This results in being stuck between tasks, and never finishing your to-do lists, leading to more pressure and anxiety.
  • Lack of planning. Most of us are not in the habit of planning ahead of time. Planning creates a clear path of what you need to prioritize within the limited hours of each working day. If you fail to plan, chances are you’ll waste time on trivial things that won’t add any value to your life.

Types of Anxiety

Time anxiety can take several forms. These include:

  • Daily/current time anxiety
  • Tomorrow/future time anxiety
  • Existential time anxiety

Daily time or current time anxiety

This is the feeling that there aren’t enough hours in a day and you aren’t maximizing the time you have. You always feel rushed, stressed, and overwhelmed. All the things you need to accomplish every day heighten daily time anxiety.

Tomorrow time or future time anxiety

With this type of time anxiety, your mind is always riddled with “what if” types of questions: What if something bad happens? What if I fail? What if I’m not well prepared? What if I feel embarrassed?

Future time anxiety relates to what might happen in the future or what you should have done in the past but didn’t.

Existential time anxiety

With the short time we have on earth, you may start to question whether you are fulfilling your purpose. You wonder: am I doing meaningful work? Am I making an impact at work, at home, or on society? What does my entire life amount to? Am I making progress?

These questions might weigh heavily on you and can make the situation worse, especially if things aren’t working out the way you wanted.

Symptoms of Time Anxiety

Time anxiety can show up in several ways. According to Dr. Alex Lickerman, the author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self, the most common time anxiety symptoms include:

You constantly feel rushed

Do you feel the need to rush from one thing to another or one destination to another, without being able to so much as take a breath, fueled by the feeling that you never work quickly enough to accomplish your targets?

You are worried that you won’t be able to do something or do it well enough, or you always find yourself struggling to find free time.

You worry about being late

Dr. Lickerman explains that time anxiety can lead to a “preoccupation with being late.” Naturally, no one wants to show up late to a Zoom meeting or an event. But stressing over lateness can leave you constantly on the edge.

Fear of being late can negatively affect your mood. If you run just a few minutes late, you get stressed, agitated, and angry.

Often, you may find yourself constantly checking the clock and planning out the best route to your next destination. While this strategy might offer some relief, it distracts you from the work you’re currently doing.

You stress over not being able to finish everything you planned for

Lickerman claims that this type of time anxiety is related to our goals. Put another way, it’s the anxiety you feel when you fail to complete all your tasks. This anxiety can happen during your free time, such as on weekends or vacations.

For example, you plan for a road trip during the weekend. You get all excited on the days leading up to that period of having fun and enjoying yourself. However, on that morning, anxiety hits. You feel anxious knowing that you have a limited amount of time until the weekend is over.

You end up spending your entire time worrying about the limited time and all the activities you have pending. As a result, your time feels wasted, and you don’t even enjoy the weekend getaway.

You stress over missing out on life opportunities

In most cultures, society expects you to reach certain milestones, such as marriage, promotion, starting a family, etc. by certain ages. If you attain this age without having accomplished some of these milestones, the pressure for time sets it, and you start to worry that you will never catch up.

This leaves you feeling desperate and overwhelmed. However, if you redirect your attention and focus to the time that’s ahead of you, you’ll realize that you can still reach those milestones.

The Downsides of Time Anxiety on Your Productivity at Work

Time anxiety can negatively impact your productivity at work. Some of the undesirable results include:

  • Difficulty focusing on one thing. Single-tasking is the most effective way to not only do things efficiently but do them well. If you’re constantly splitting your attention, you’re unable to concentrate on the task at hand – and this can drastically reduce your efficiency, hence lower productivity.
  • Making avoidable mistakes. Since you’re constantly rushing, you’re likely to make short-term decisions to score wins quickly, which could result in mistakes. For instance, the pressure that you need to have achieved certain financial milestones by a certain age can get you involved in get-rich-quick schemes, causing you to lose all your money. If it weren’t for time anxiety, you probably would’ve done due diligence and researched a viable investment option.
  • Negative attitude at work. The constant worry about your performance and productivity at work caused by time anxiety may lead you to develop a pessimistic attitude about work. That pressure to produce the best work keeps you on edge and can make you snappy with coworkers. This can lead to strained workplace relationships and social anxiety disorders.

9 Tips to Overcome Time Anxiety

As you can see, the impact of time anxiety on your productivity at work isn’t exciting. The good news is that there are numerous strategies you can implement right now to deal with time anxiety. What works for you depends on your situation, personality, and stage in life.

1. Set Clear Priorities

When you know what you’re working towards, you’ll feel like your efforts have purpose and meaning. This can increase your motivation, work performance, and overall well-being. That’s why it’s advisable to reflect on your tasks and prioritize accordingly.

A to-do list can prevent you from falling into common productivity pitfalls, such as focusing only on tasks that have an impending deadline and ignoring the important ones that will bring value to your life.

When you prioritize, you know what needs to be done first. You can try the Eisenhower Matrix time management method, which helps you decide on and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance.

Eat the Frog is another effective productivity hack that lets you focus on the biggest, hardest, and most important task first.

2. Practice Time Blocking

Time blocking is the most common time management system that can boost your productivity by up to 80 percent. With this technique, you list your tasks, prioritize them, and then define time blocks. This could be short 30-minute time blocks or 50-minute time blocks dedicated to completing a specific task.

Time blocking minimizes distractions, improves workflows, and can help prevent burnout and mental fatigue. Since you’ll already have your day planned out, you won’t feel rushed all the time.

3. Avoid Procrastination and Distractions

Understand that interruptions are part of life when working and will always affect you. However, you can structure your day in a way that reduces the opportunities for interruptions, which could lead to procrastination.

These include disabling notifications on your devices and apps during deep focus time. You can also minimize interruptions from coworkers by sharing your calendar or keeping them updated on Slack.

Even if you feel procrastination creeping in, getting started on the things you intended to do can build momentum toward attaining your targets.

4. Live in the Present

When your mind starts to spin out of control, interrupt your thought process with mindful practices, such as meditation and breathing techniques. This will help clear your mind and find mental peace.

Alternatively, try imagining the worst-case scenario and have a mindset that everything has a solution. For example, if you fear missing a deadline, what’s the worst that can happen? You could request an extension or seek help from coworkers.

5. Learn to Say No

Most of us are conditioned to the ‘hustle mentality’ which makes it tough to say no. But when you constantly put your priorities on hold to help other people, you’re setting yourself back from reaching your goals.

Having clear priorities and blocking your day in your calendar helps boost your time management techniques. It also allows you to communicate your availability with others, hence finding time to achieve your targets.

6. Accept Where You Currently Are and Adjust Your Goals

Don’t give in to society’s expectations of where you should be in life right now. When you accept where you are in life, you won’t have the pressure to live by other people’s expectations.

Acknowledge that you don’t have control over time but can, indeed, control how you spend it. Perform a self-review, and list your priorities and goals, and work forward from there. You may have to adjust your goals so that you work with the time you have left instead of regretting not doing enough in the past.

7. Structure Your Days Properly

Another effective tip to escape the time anxiety snare is to make a daily plan. Structuring your days to ensure you’re spending time on the right things creates a sense of control and reduces the chances of being stressed.

Make it a regular habit to create weekly plans with fewer but smarter daily goals that align with your current goals and priorities. When everything is structured, you drastically increase your chances of success, which can boost your motivation and reduce time wastage.

8. Schedule Frequent Breaks into Your Work Days

Research by thewellbeingthesis.org shows that a relaxing break can help reset your mood, facilitate recovery, support your well-being, and increase your productivity. These breaks, whether micro-breaks (5–10-minute breaks), lunch breaks, or longer breaks, have been shown to have a positive connection with well-being, engagement, and productivity.

To make them more effective, disconnect from any work apps or devices during your breaks and just focus on something that helps your mind relax, like yoga, dancing, or a short walk.

9. Talk to a Mental Health Professional

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 19.1 percent of the population (40 million adults).

If you are struggling with time anxiety, but nothing seems to work, it’s advisable to consult professional help. They will help dissect your feelings and suggest new ways to work through your fear of time.

It’s also a good idea to join a support group and share with others who understand your situation.

Conquer Time Anxiety by Tracking Your Time

Here’s the thing about time: it’s the most valuable resource, and we can never control it. What you can control is how you spend it. You don’t need to stress over maximizing your time every day – just learn to manage it efficiently.

That’s where Traqq comes in. It takes guessing out of estimating how long you take to complete projects. As you track your time while working, you start to understand that certain tasks take longer than others. After a while, you can review the historic data and formulate better work schedules.

Traqq captures how you spend time on the various apps and websites you use, which can prove valuable when trying to identify distractions that steal your time. With the time tracker, you can easily track your performance and identify areas you’re struggling with.

And the best part? It runs in the background, so it doesn’t distract you. You can analyze its powerful reports and find ways to use your time purposefully, design more productive days, and overcome time anxiety.

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