Too much to do, not enough time, Too much time, not enough to do.
Updated: Feb 23, 2021
If you relate to either of these situations, you’re not alone. For many of us the last year has thrown our usual structure firmly out of the window.
We may have found that we suddenly have a million things to do and not enough time to cram it all in. Or, perhaps it’s the opposite, because we simply can’t do the things we would normally be doing, we may have found ourselves with more time than we want or need, leading to feelings of boredom and restlessness. Whether you’ve got too little or too much time on your hands, life can easily become about just getting things done, ticking off the to-do list and nothing more, and with that we lose the sense of joy, purpose and connection that is so important for our physical and mental wellbeing.
At times like this, thinking about our day-to-day activities and approaching them with a bit of planning can be helpful. Reflect on what needs to be done but also, crucially, what you’d like to be doing with your time. What’s important to you? Perhaps you want to be investing more energy in your career, doing more exercise or creative activities, something educational, more family or community-oriented activities or things geared toward connecting with others? When you’ve figured out what’s important to you, now think about how you can bring that to life in meaningful activities. You may need to be creative and think outside the box a little - if what’s important to you is travel, perhaps the closest you can get right now is learning about different countries – their culture, cuisine, traditions – be that through a YouTube documentary or a virtual tour, or if you want to explore a change in your career, perhaps for now its looking at the myriad of online courses (many of which are free) offered by websites like Coursera and edX.org.
Think small – it doesn’t have to be something big - if improving your physical health is important to you then running up and down the stairs a few times or doing 5 star jumps both become meaningful activities; if improving your child’s health is important to you, making a healthy meal for them becomes a meaningful activity.
As well as thinking small, think about breaking activities down to help you organise your time. Rather than listening to the whole of the podcast in one go, if you haven’t got time or struggle to concentrate for a long time, why not plan to listen to half of it one day and the rest of it the next? You can use a planner such as this one developed by ThinkCBT to help you think about how to organise a range of activities that enables you to tap into a sense of enjoyment, wellbeing, achievement and connection with others. Each of these aspects is important for influencing our mood – loss of any one of them from our routine is likely to impact how we feel. If planning a schedule ahead of time isn’t possible or desirable, the planner can also be a used as a kind of checklist to reflect on the range of activities you are doing and how your current activities may be influencing how you feel.
Meaningful activity helps us to tap into our sense of purpose, one of the four pillars of the science of training the mind, as identified by Richard Davidson at the Centre for Healthy Minds. Based on the latest neuroscientific research, you can read more about the four pillars here.