Time Confetti And The Broken Promise Of Leisure

Ashley Whillans

Reading by Liz Helgesen (Download file)

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It’s true: we have more time for leisure than we did fifty years ago. But leisure has never been less relaxing, mostly because of the disintermediating effects of our screens. Technology saves us time, but it also takes it away. This is known as the autonomy paradox. We adopt mobile technologies to gain autonomy over when and how long we work, yet, ironically, we end up working all the time. Long blocks of free time we used to enjoy are now interrupted constantly by our smart watches, phones, tablets, and laptops.

This situation taxes us cognitively, and fragments our leisure time in a way that makes it hard to use this time for something that will relieve stress or make us happy. Researchers call this phenomenon time confetti, which amounts to little bits of seconds and minutes lost to unproductive multitasking. Each bit alone seems not very bad. Collectively, though, all that confetti adds up to something more pernicious than you might expect.

Each interruption in itself is mundane and takes only seconds. But collectively they create two negative effects. The first is the sheer volume of time they take away from your hour. The second, more invasive effect of time confetti is the way it fragments the hour of leisure. It’s most likely that these interruptions are randomly distributed throughout the hour.

When we try to enjoy a birthday dinner, notifications about our friends’ tropical vacation photos make our pasta taste less delicious. When we try to choose a restaurant for our next date, the endless ocean of reviews and ratings leads us to spend more time choosing our meals than savoring them. When we try to have meaningful time off with friends and family, our alerts from work create guilt and dread over what we’re not getting done.

Thinking about work while trying to relax induces panic, because feelings of time poverty are caused by how well activities fit together in our mind. If we are trying to be a committed parent while our work email goes off, we can’t help thinking we should be working on our next deadline instead of being present with our child. This conflict makes us feel like a bad parent (“Why am I thinking about work while trying to hang out with my kid?”) and a bad employee (“Am I hanging out with my kids too much? Will that promotion go to someone else?”).

It also takes time to cognitively recover from shifting our minds away from the present to some other stress-inducing activity. People end up enjoying their free time less and, when asked to reflect on it, estimate that they had less free time than they actually did. That’s how invasive the technology time trap is: time confetti makes us feel even more time impoverished than we actually are.

When we feel time-poor, we take on small, easy-to-complete tasks because they help us feel more control over our time. We think, There! I made a protein shake and finished that errand. I’m getting stuff done! In this case, it’s a false sense of control that doesn’t alleviate the root cause of our busyness.

Time poverty feels the same for everyone, but time affluence looks different for everyone. It could mean spending fifteen more minutes strumming the guitar instead of scrolling through your phone, or it could be ten minutes of meditation, or a Saturday morning learning how to invest your savings instead of Slacking about work gossip. No matter what time affluence looks like for you, the happiest and most time affluent among us are deliberate with their free time. Working toward time affluence is about recognizing and overcoming the time traps in our lives and intentionally carving out happier and more meaningful moments each day.

Excerpted from here. Originally adapted from Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notions of time poverty, time affluence, time confetti, and the autonomy paradox? Can you share a personal story of a time you made an intentional shift from time poverty to time affluence? What helps you be intentional with your time?

Add Your Reflection:

6 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jan 2, 2021 George Blakey wrote:
    I had decided to read this piece while eating my lunch today but when I came to the line about spending "more time choosing our meals than savoring them" I suddenly realized by trying to multi-task I actually was not paying full attention to savoring my meal so I decided to stop reading and just enjoy my food without distraction, and return to reading after I was done. This is not exactly the same situation as the article describes but it was about focusing on one thing at a time, being fully present with it, and not allowing something else we might also like to do distract us from the present activity.

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    On Nov 26, 2020 Sandip sheta wrote:
    "Time is illusion"


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    On Nov 24, 2020 Sunil Mor wrote:
    Only 10% of our 24 hours every day must be reserved for going within to become soul conscious i.e.meditation.Surely and slowly with control on time proverty as one abondons body consciousness affluence starts happening. The secret may be an earnest desire with honest efforts to take its responsibility devotedly. Reap all the fruits of benefits with increase in time duration.

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    On Nov 24, 2020 Deepak Shah wrote:
    Yes, these all are symptoms of an unfocussed, discontent, desirous mind. We are trying to get joy, meaning, satisfaction etc. from outside, which is never. It's all mind game. It is said that to know the world, one has to know himself. Now technology is one more hurdle. one has to be smart for the use of technology. Am I using my time with the technologypurposefully? can I minimize it for the same productivity? Again productivity is machine concept, not suiting organic humans. Unless we change our lenses, we will be again and again in the same trap

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    On Nov 20, 2020 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    When my mind is divided between two cognitive polls like I want to do something leisurely and enjoyable such as reading a book and checking important email messages I feel trapped by time and feel time poverty. When I do something which I enjoy doing without technological interruptions and technological invasions I feel time affluence, a relaxed, gratifying and joyful state of mind. When my time is fragmented by two demanding tasks, I feel stressed out and not satisfied with either of the two tasks. Time confetti fragments the time of leisure, peacefulness and restfulness. Technology saves time but at the same time takes time away. It's like I have saved time but also I have lost time. Gain and loss at the same time! This is indeed the autonomy paradox. Good life is choice making. I use discretion when it comes to spending my time. I do not make everysituation urgent unless it is really urgent. I have intentionallyand wisely broken habitual patternsof automatically and mindlessly ... [View Full Comment] When my mind is divided between two cognitive polls like I want to do something leisurely and enjoyable such as reading a book and checking important email messages I feel trapped by time and feel time poverty. When I do something which I enjoy doing without technological interruptions and technological invasions I feel time affluence, a relaxed, gratifying and joyful state of mind. When my time is fragmented by two demanding tasks, I feel stressed out and not satisfied with either of the two tasks. Time confetti
    fragments the time of leisure, peacefulness and restfulness. Technology saves time but at the same time takes time away. It's like I have saved time but also I have lost time. Gain and loss at the same time! This is indeed the autonomy paradox.

    Good life is choice making. I use discretion when it comes to spending my time. I do not make everysituation urgent unless it is really urgent. I have intentionallyand wisely broken habitual patternsof automatically and mindlessly responding to tempting and distracting stimuli. It takes time to disengage from the grip of time confetti. I maintain a balance between demanding work and leisurely play. This is an ongoing process.

    As Ashley Whillanssays, " Working toward time affluence is about recognizing and overcoming the time traps in our lives." It amounts to controlling impulses that captivate my mind. It means cultivating the virtue of wisdom and the virtue of patience leading to wise choices and wise actions.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'



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    On Nov 20, 2020 David Doane wrote:
    I think we have less time for leisure than we had fifty years ago. Those notions of time trigger in me that my time is precious and it is very important to take charge of how I use my time. I made an intentional shift from time poverty to time affluence by intentionally having long periods of every day with no cell phone or other device or televisionturned on that is near me. What helps me be intentional with my time is knowing my time is precious and limited, knowing once time is used it's irretrievably gone, knowing ongoing input and distractions create unrest in me that I don't need, knowing I don't need constant access to others or need to be constantly accessible to others, knowing that I value time used for attention to and access to myself, and knowing I am in control of how I use my time.

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