How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most

Cassie Holmes is a professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where she is an award-winning teacher and researcher. Holmes’ work on the intersection of time and happiness has been widely published in leading academic journals and featured in outlets such as NPR, The economist, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Washington Postand more.

Below, Cassie shares 5 key takeaways from her new book, Happier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most. Listen to the audio version – read by Cassie herself – on the Next Big Idea app.

Happier Hour: How to Beat Distractions, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most by Cassie Holmes

1. Time poverty is a serious problem.

Time poverty is the acute feeling of doing too much and not having enough time to do it. In a nationwide poll, nearly half of Americans said they felt lack of time. Mothers tend to feel more time-poor than fathers, and working parents feel particularly impoverished, but all types of people lack time, including those who don’t have children and those who don’t work for pay. And it’s not an American phenomenon: people all over the world report being hectic and not having enough time.

Given the prevalence, it’s important to realize that the effects of feeling rushed are severe. Studies show that when we feel short of time, we are less healthy (e.g. exercise less), less kind (taking less time to help others), less confident and less happy.

2. To combat time poverty, one option is to do more.

Research shows that there is a solution to time poverty Not make fewer. In fact, spending time in certain ways can increase your time time prosperity. Here are some activities to counteract the feeling of lack of time:

  • move – Exercise is an effective way to increase self-efficacy (ie, the confidence to achieve anything you set your mind to). Although you might shy away from a morning run when you don’t have time, pass by manufacturing Taking the time to exercise makes you feel like you have all the time you need to achieve what really matters.
  • Practice kind actions – When we are in a hurry, we often do not brake for others. However, our experiments show that when you spend time helping others, you feel surprisingly successful. Giving time can give time back—and make you feel like you have more of it.
  • experience awe – Studies show that feeling awe can broaden your perspective and sense of time. So build a deep sense of human connection, get out into nature or book tickets to a concert. You’ll be glad you took the time.

By dedicating time to such activities, we see that – to be happier – we have all the time we need!

3. More time does not promise happiness.

Early in my career, feeling extremely time-poor with a high-pressure job and a new baby, I thought the solution was obvious: quit. That way I would have more time for my family and for whatever else I wanted. I believed that with more time I would be happier. However, before I gave up the career I had worked so hard for, I realized that this was a theory worth testing.

“With nothing to show how they spent the hours of the day, people lacked purpose and were dissatisfied.”

I recruited a few of my favorite employees to study the relationship between the number of free hours people have in their day and their happiness. The pattern of the results was surprising – it showed an inverted U-shape, like an arch or a rainbow. On the one hand we saw the well-known loss of happiness caused by too little time, which is driven by increased feelings of stress. But on the other hand, we also saw a drop of happiness. There was such a thing as having too much time! As we delved into this pattern, we found that people want to be productive and hate being idle. With no evidence of how they spent the hours of the day, people lacked purpose and felt dissatisfied.

As someone who is finding meaning in my work, these results have taught me that quitting to have more time would not make me happier. They also showed that (except at the extremes) the level of happiness we feel is unrelated to the amount of available time we have. The true answer to happiness is not to be rich in time, but to make the time we have rich.

4. Be invested while carry out selected activities.

Research shows that almost half the time we are distracted and not thinking about what we are doing. This means that even if we spend time in pleasurable activities, we could very well be missing out on potential joy.

To be fair, it’s easy not to be careful. Often the activities that make us happiest are simple, ordinary experiences. Because they are so “everyday,” we expect them to continue to happen every day, so we take them for granted.

However, if you count how many times you can still do this activity in the future and calculate the percentage of total times in your life, you will realize how limited and precious those times are.

“Often the activities that make us happiest are simple, ordinary experiences.”

For example, when I realized that my daughter and I probably only have 35 percent of our total coffee dates together (and she’s only 7 years old!), I feel compelled to carve out and protect that time in my schedule. It also keeps me alert during those moments when we enjoy each other’s company, with warm drinks and nibbling on flaky croissants. During that half hour, I put my phone away and work through the to-do list in my head. This is our time and I don’t want to miss a second of it.

5. Think about the end of life.

What legacy would you like to leave behind? How would you like to be remembered and described after your death? Though a seemingly morbid exercise, projecting onto the end of your years and looking back at the life you aspire to live clarifies your values ​​and purpose. In fact, our research shows that people who take a broader perspective of time—thinking in terms of years rather than hours—experience more happiness and purpose in life because they’re spending time doing what’s important, not just what appears urgent.

As you decide how to spend the hours ahead, think of the life you will look back on happily and with no regrets. A contented life begins with a happier hour.

To hear the audio read by author Cassie Holmes, download the Next Big Idea app today:

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