There's no doubt modern technology helps us to save time and has made our lives more convenient – but, the lesser acknowledged reality is that technology is also taking our time away – eroding our leisure hours with every ping, click and double tap. Lurking beneath the surface of our smartphones is the fact that, like our tech, we're always switched on. And that's never been truer than when it comes to our work/life balance, or lack thereof.
Whilst you may argue 'I always have my evenings and weekends!'... when you break it down, is that actually true? We may get that 'Friday feeling' after clocking off at 5pm ahead of the weekend, but do we ever really clock off entirely?
If you find yourself replying to work emails while you're eating your dinner or making a doctor's appointment while walking the dog, then the answer to that question is no and you might be falling victim to 'time confetti' (which sadly has nothing to do with the glitter-filled party poppers we know and love).
The term time confetti was first coined by Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love & Play When No One has the Time, who describes it as trying to do "Everything. All at once. All the time."
"I was feeling absolutely stretched – working full time plus at a demanding job, trying to be a present mother, trying to keep a house running, dealing with all that life throws at you," Schulte tells Cosmopolitan UK. "And I was cleaning up after my son’s 11th birthday party. We’d had poppers full of confetti – bright coloured bits and scraps of paper – and it just hit me – that’s what my time feels like. That’s what my life feels like. Bits and scraps of time, rushing from one thing to the next."
Sounds relatable, right? Time confetti can also "be described as tiny chunks of time here and there, in the form of minutes and seconds, lost to non-productive multi-tasking" explains Karen Kwong, Executive and Leadership Coach, Founder of RenOC and Co-Founder of Corporate Wellness Partnership.
"I liken it to being a non-mindful, non-intentional way of frittering away moments of time here and there," she adds. "Think about an hour you might set aside to watch a TV programme. You check your phone – might answer a couple of quick emails, read another and decide to put that off 'til tomorrow because you’re irritated. You might quickly scroll through a couple of Instagram posts, like a few puppy pictures and mildly get angry at some influencer’s post."
"That’s what my life feels like. Bits and scraps of time"
While that sounds like a typical night for most of us, Kwong points out that the problem is this: "You’re not really watching the TV programme, nor are you working, nor are you really engaged in anything and yet you are in everything, sort of."
She continues, "You are not particularly present in any way, and that can really impact our well-being because our mind is not in the moment at any place. It is constantly in a state of flux and stress – thinking about what was, and what might be but not in the present."
Is time confetti a bad thing?
But, some might question, isn't time confetti just a fancier name for harmless multitasking? And, shouldn't we be making the most of our free time to tick off that ever-growing 'to do' list? It's a feeling that many of us can relate to, especially when we're confronted with the 'hustle culture' that's become commonplace on social media. In fact, a recent study revealed that two thirds of women feel they are not able to do, be or achieve enough.
"The idea that we can or should be productive 24/7 is one of the greatest lies of the modern era," stresses Schulte. "We aren’t machines. We can’t be, nor should we try to be 'productive' 24/7. That will only lead to mindless, endless busyness. Yes, you may be checking a bunch of things off your 'to do' list, but do you even know why you’ve put all of them on your list [in the first place]? Do you really need to? Where does all the busyness and frantic 'productivity' lead to?"
Schulte's thoughts are echoed by Kwong, who emphasises: "The conversation needs to change so that we don’t perceive leisure time as something that is a 'nice to have' but an absolutely necessity for our well-being."
So, how do we actually put an end to time confetti, and instead put our well-being first? "The solution is simple but hard to do in practise," says Kwong. "We need to be more mindful, intentional and purposeful in how we use time." To achieve that, Kwong suggests making a list of the actual free time you have each week and then being honest with yourself about how you spent that time – including all that mindless scrolling on TikTok.
"The idea that we can or should be productive 24/7 is one of the greatest lies of the modern era"
Once you've done that, Kwong recommends writing up a second list to hone in on what you'd rather be doing in that time and then making a conscious effort to be fully present while you do it. That's not to say you need to lock away your phone and forget the outside world entirely though, as Kwong explains. "Acknowledge that some communications will continue to play on your mind" and if you do find yourself scrolling or responding to messages, set a deadline for when you'll stop.
"Whatever you choose to do, do it with presence and no interruptions," she stresses. "In doing so, you are allowing your mind to focus on the one thing and calm the adrenaline within the body, steering your mind and body away from the fight or flight instincts that you might have."
Image Credits: Pinterest