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Why are We Pressed for Time?


October 2, 2012
By: Desiree Jury
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When Mama had a dinner for twelve, the English comedienne Joyce Grenfell sang in the 1950’s, she rested all day long, she rested all day long…

If only…

Ever wonder why, as a modern woman, you never have time?  And why there are so many demands pressing on you from so many different directions?

Analog versus Digital Time:

Over the last forty years, there have been fundamental changes to the way we experience time.  Previously, time was sequential.  Think of an analog clock with rotating hour and minute hands.  The present – “the time” – stands in a visible relationship to time past and future time.

Since the invention of the digital watch in the 1970’s, our experience of time has changed.  For many, there is only the present, only NOW.  The first-ever digital watch was made by Pulsar in 1970 as a real-life example of the digital clock they made as a prop for 2001: A Space Odyssey.  In 1968, it was the stuff of science fiction.

Before the social and technological upheavals of the 1960’s and 1970’s women lived in analog time, in a continuum of past and future.  They were expected to behave much as their mothers had. Their futures were laid out according to the expectations of their family, class and culture.  If you wanted sex, independence and adult status, you got married.  Family planning was frowned upon, work opportunities were limited and structured around family responsibilities.

Forty years on, women’s lives have gone digital.  They have a dizzying array of choices as to lifestyle, family size, education, travel and careers.  They are not limited by social structures, but they no longer supported by them either.

Grandparents are often absent, in a different state or indeed country, or working themselves.  Sole parents are not stigmatised as they used to be, but they can find it hard to cope in what has become a two-income society. Job security is long gone, replaced by “right-sizing” and the other euphemisms for redundancy.

Digital rules!

This shift from the traditional to the new and immediate accelerated with the arrival of personal electronic technologies: the personal computer (Apple I 1976); the cellphone (Motorola 1992); the Internet (mid 1990’s) and the smartphone (Nokia 1996).

For the first time ever, work, school, social and personal demands which had previously been structured and sequential – analog – went suddenly digital and it all happened at once. No longer was work left behind when you walked out of the office.  There was no such thing as privacy.  And with availability came expectation that these demands and requests for action would be attended to NOW.

Six Ways to Get a Grip:

Charlie Chaplin once observed that the trouble with modern people is that “we think too much, and feel too little.”

Somehow we need to regain control, and balance the time demands on our lives.   Here are some simple techniques- you won't need to buy a new car or take a vacation.  You're busy, so these suggestions are organised by the time you have available.

    Live in boxes: This is a powerful de-stressor. Focus wholly on what you are doing at any moment.  If you’re reading your child a bedtime story, clear the housework and the boss’s unreasonable demands out of your mind. But once you’re at work, focus 120% on doing a great job.

    Find something to enjoy every day: it doesn’t matter how small – a flower, the sheen of feathers on a bird, a smile, the play of light on a wet street. Reclaim the moment.

    Enjoy music, the natural antidepressant: for half an hour, you can soak in a world of beautiful sound. Music is good for the soul. For those of a classical bent, Haydn trios are a good start. He wrote them as relaxing music for his boss Count Esterhazy, a major multinational CEO of his day.

    Move that body: if you can find an hour, treat yourself to a workout at the gym.  Nobody’s watching, and the only person you’re competing with is yourself.  Shift exercise up the priority list (it tends to slither down past other immediate demands on your time).  Yoga is good.  Take a walk in the park, and really concentrate on the colours.

    The Lung of the Week.  (2-4 hours).  Designate a time for an activity – or lack of it – that helps you relax.  It might be steak and red wine with a favourite person on a Friday night.  Or a wander around the shops, followed by coffee.  Whatever restores the emotional groundwater.

    Curfew your cellphone. If at all possible, switch it to silent between 10pm and 6am.  There needs to be time in your life just for you and those dear to you. Other people can wait.

If all else fails, try getting up twenty minutes early. Enjoy a quiet time at the start of the day and watch the sun rise. After all, it’s the sun that started this whole business of measuring time in the first place.

Desiree Jury was born in New Zealand and holds both an MA and PhD in English from the University of Auckland. She is the author of Two Shadows, which is available from Amazon.com

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