It’s common in today’s busy society to feel rushed and overloaded. Even when we actually have enough space in our schedules for all that we’re doing, we may still feel that there is too much going on and we’re on the brink of losing control of it all. Maybe we tell ourselves that things will get better when the big project at work gets finished or when the charitable fundraiser that we’re organizing is over. But then we discover that we’re still feeling much the same afterward.
Modern technology has plenty of time-management tools to keep us organized—task planning software, a calendar in the email program, and smartphone reminders of upcoming appointments. Even our plain old sticky notes, pocket-size notepads, and ballpoint pens are much more than our ancestors had before the modern age, back when they wrote with quill pens and wouldn’t have wasted valuable paper and ink on anything that wasn’t going to be kept for years. We have labor-saving devices they could only imagine in their dreams. So why do we feel as if we are, to borrow a phrase from a simpler era, burning the candle at both ends?
Yes, many of us are in fact busy at work and in our family lives. But a large part of that overwhelmed feeling, I suspect, is that our well-organized schedules have created a social environment where we feel obliged to account for every minute. Although our modern-day jobs can’t reasonably be compared to the hard physical labor necessary for survival in the small villages of the past, our schedules are far more regimented.
A farmer in olden times might have risen at dawn, trudged out through the snow to milk the cows, and then moved on to the next chore. No scheduling reminders were needed because the chores stayed about the same from one day to another, with slow seasonal changes, and didn’t have to be completed at an exact time. By contrast, today’s workers get up when the alarm buzzes and spend most days checking off the tasks on carefully planned lists. This is a much subtler pressure than a peasant farmer’s need for a good harvest to avoid starving over the winter; but it is pressure nonetheless, and it should not be ignored.
Because our social environment is the main cause of our rushed and overloaded feelings, just making a few small changes in what we experience every day can go a long way toward dispelling those feelings. For example, my husband recently pointed out that I had been making myself feel more rushed by keeping a notepad on my desk to jot down my work hours before entering them into the timesheet software. Although the notepad was useful, the drawer would be a much better place for it, to keep it out of sight so it wouldn’t be a constant visual representation of having to track my hours.
I took his advice and moved the notepad to the drawer. Then I bought a small battery-operated flameless candle to keep on my desk instead. When turned on, it flickers like a real candle and brightens my work area on dreary days. And because it never burns down, the candle provides a strong symbolic representation of having plenty of time.
When we get busy with work and other responsibilities, it’s easy to forget how many choices are always open to us regarding the little details of our environment. Asserting our personal power doesn’t necessarily require drastic changes in our lives. Simple acts can be enough to feel much more in control—clearing away clutter, buying or handcrafting a few decorative items, and organizing one’s personal space more comfortably. Such things may not seem like they amount to much, but given time they can bring about a significant shift in perception.