In the industrialized world, few people have to deal with the grim problems of material poverty. Eating too much is a bigger threat than starving. Your home may be small, but it likely has a roof. Basic needs are generally satisfied.
Time poverty, however, is a real crisis. As lifestyles have become more complex, the cost is often in hours and minutes, not dollars and cents. The excess leisure time that technology had promised about never came. Instead, we just found new ways to gain stuff and let time slip out from our grasp.
The Myth of Time
The problem with the time poverty crisis, is that it doesn’t actually exist. Society creates the illusion and people buy into it. The time poverty is a reverse mirage. You see the desert when there is an oasis beneath your feet. Unfortunately, this time myth is so pervasive it can be difficult to break.
The time myth is based on seeing time as a resource. As if time can be harvested, spent, wasted or utilized. These are all based on conventions in our language. To say someone is wasting time not only makes an assumption about the value of their activity, it is making an assumption about the nature of time itself.
Time is not a resource. It is completely inside your mind. You can’t experience time, only right now. You simply have memories of the past and projections of the future that leads you to suspect time exists. It is your focus on these concepts of time, which don’t appear through the senses, that make it real.
Even if you look beyond this abstract perspective, time is not a resource. Twenty-four hours will pass in the day no matter what you do. You can’t store or collect time, nor can you grasp it in this moment.
Escaping Time Poverty in the Real World
This perspective of the illusion of time, while significant, is often too abstract to be practical. Many people can intuitively understand that time gets warped in our language, but how do you really escape it? Rejecting the basic conventions of time’s passage would be a severe limitation, some might say the beginnings of insanity.
Luckily, there is a way you can see past time poverty without rejecting the basic building blocks of society. The first is simply to accept time as a social construct. It may be a useful measurement, but don’t make it more real than it is.
Keeping this intellectual distance from the concept of time is necessary to apply the other steps in escaping time poverty: quality of now, rejecting the pressure and global prioritization.
Quality of Now
Time poverty, if you accept the myth of time, is a lack of time. But because time itself is a myth, this cannot really be true. I would instead define time poverty as being a lack of quality in the now. If your time is being invested in pursuits that lack quality, you will feel deprived even if the amount of time is unchanged.
The first way to increase quality of the now, is simply to look for it. Eckhart Tolle recognized this in The Power of Now . When you stop planning, projecting and remembering and focus only on what is happening right now, worry dissolves. The oasis is beneath your feet, the desert was just too distracting.
The second way to increase quality deals with the method of interacting with the world. Become deliberate in what you do. This could be seen as a parallel to the first suggestion. Focusing on the now is mostly blocking out thoughts through effort. Whereas, doing in the now is task oriented.
Manufacturing quality of now isn’t easy and takes mental effort. That is why it cannot be the final practical solution to the time poverty problem. Next you need to free yourself from the chains that keep you poor.
Rejecting Time Pressures
There aren’t enough hours in the day. Even if you love what you do and are engaged in the moment, part of the problem comes from time pressures. These are external obligations, responsibilities and duties that make demands of your time.
The way to counter these time pressures, is to accept the myth of time and accept your ability to make decisions. I hate it when people complain about all the things they have to do. I often inform people I’m busy (a tactic against time thieves), but I do my best not to complain about things I must do.
The truth is you are free to do whatever you like. Don’t show up to work tomorrow, don’t exercise, don’t sleep and don’t eat next morning. There are consequences for decisions, but that’s all time pressures are, decisions. To make them more than that gives them mastery over you.
Even accepting freedom from time pressures isn’t enough. Global prioritization is needed to reclaim the time stolen from you.
Most people are good at prioritizing areas of life. What food to eat that fits your diet or taste buds. What work to do that fits your job description and value you add. What clothes to buy that meet your budget and style.
Where some people fail is in global prioritization. This involves taking an incredibly zoomed out view to weigh all the benefits and costs in every area of life. While the first two suggestions for clotting the time bleeding out of your life were changes in attitude, this is an adjustment to how you operate.
I don’t complain about not having time to spend with friends because socializing is part of my value equation. I recognize that it is necessary and give it a value to compare with my studies, business, exercise and everything else. From this value I can determine what is most important for me to do right now.
When you look at the big picture, unimportant stuff falls away. This is because every life aspect is given value. They may not have equal amounts, but no aspect of life is rejected when setting priorities. Life imbalance happens when your priority thinking becomes too narrowed on one area. Time poverty happens when you believe the myth of time and fail to see the wealth beneath your feet.