Stress and Time Management:
A Mindfulness Approach

The interplay between stress and time management can be a viscious cycle. So many of us feel that we do not have enought time. This causes us a great deal of stress, which in turn can cause us to become less efficient with our use of time, which can cause even more stress.

But there is a very simple approach that can help you break this cycle and take control of stress through time management. It is called mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

Look out through your eyes right now and, noticing the words on this screnn, recognize that you are “seeing." Feel the contact of the computer mouse in your hands, noticing its texture, weight and form, and know you are “touching." Watching the thoughts floating in your mind, wondering what will come next, know that you are “thinking."

This lucid presence of mind that simply, effortlessly, notices what is true for you in the moment is called mindfulness." This dynamic state of attention is a deep, direct awareness of the present moment. It is your natural capacity and most crucial tool for discovering and sustaining balance.

How We Spend Our Time

Being mindfully focused is actually a more energy efficient state of living and working and can help you see more clearly the roles that stress and time management play in your life. The little bit of energy that you invest in staying mindful is far less than all the energy you burn up in the tension and distraction of ordinary mindless living. Just consider this: If you're an average American adult, over a lifetime you’d spend approximately :

  • five years waiting in line
  • four years doing household chores
  • three years in meetings
  • six years waiting at red lights

While many of us feel that all we do is work, if you are like the average person, your attention is focused specifically on work-related tasks for only about thirty hours per week, and you spend approximately ten (or more) hours per week doing things irrelevant to your job while you're at work, such as daydreaming and talking with your co-workers about non-job related things.

You spend nearly as much time--approximately twenty hours each week--with your attention turned toward leisure activities, spending about seven hours watching television, three hours reading, two hours in activities like working out or playing music, and about seven hours in social activities with family and friends, or going to parties or to entertainment. The remaining waking hours of your week are invested in basic maintenence activities such as commuting, eating, cooking, washing, shopping, puttering around, or in unstructured free time activities like just listening to music.

Reclaiming Our Lives

If you learn to bring greater mindfulness to even a fraction of these activities, you will add years of quality experience to your life and probably discover all sorts of time to do more of what you would like to in your life. Remember the old maxim: Choice follows awareness. Here is a handy life satisfaction quiz to get a quick idea of how much awareness you are bringing to stress and time management in your life.

Once we begin to cultivate mindfulness, we can reclaim our life from the sink-hole of wasted time, effort, and resources; rework; regret about doing things you really didn’t want to be doing but were too unaware to realize it at the time; missed opportunities; escalating problems; and dangerous accidents. By reclaiming the time and energy lost in these ways, mindful living is like having an “extended quality of life policy”!

While the viscious cycle related to stress and time management can sometimes feel overwhelming, practicing greater mindfulness can help you bring greater levels of balance to your life and take control of your time.

[Adapted from the book "Living in Balance" by Joel Levey
and Michelle Levey]

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