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How to Make the Day Seem Longer

02/26/2015 10:21 EST | Updated 04/28/2015 05:59 EDT
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Feeling like you only have enough time for the necessities of life, such as work, chores, parenting and other obligations? Welcome to the epidemic of time poverty.

In a survey among women that The Practical Woman's Guide issued in 2014, we asked if there was something respondents had always wanted to do but hadn't yet. Then, why not. And the number one thing holding women back from making their dream happen wasn't money, or fear, or not knowing where to start. It was time, by a wide margin. Weighed down by prioritizing family, spouses, parents, work, and just about everything else except themselves, these women couldn't wedge a little personal adventure time in edgewise.

The problem with time is, unlike money, you can't make more of the stuff. There are 24 hours in a day. However, our perception of time is elastic, hence when we phrase that as "only 24 hours in a day" we're already giving that day a sense of scarcity, which leads to a greater feeling of pressure to spend all of it productively. When we're stressed out trying to do too many things in one of our precious hours, acutely aware of every second as we tick off our to-do list, it's hard to remember how long and lazy that same hour felt when we were reading a book on the beach. And even harder to imagine finding enough of it to dole out to whatever adventure we've been longing for.

Worse: the more successful you are, the more time impoverished you're likely to be in actual fact, not just in perception. According to The Economist (December 20th, 2014), all that hard work at college and climbing your way up the corporate ladder results in more money but less leisure with which to enjoy it:

"Shifts in the way people work and live have changed the way leisure time is experienced, and who gets to experience it. For the past 20 years, and bucking previous trends, the workers who are now working the longest hours and juggling the most responsibilities at home also happen to be among the best educated and best paid. The so-called leisure class has never been more harried."

This is true for both men and women, but we girls still typically bear the greater burden at home and caring for parents, making us very harried indeed.

So what, you may ask? Isn't making time to do something exciting just for herself a

bit self-indulgent when a women has responsibilities? Well, here's the thing: expanding our existence by daring to try new things isn't just a gift to ourselves, it's a gift to everyone around us. Trying something new gives us capabilities and confidence, a crucial sense of self-fulfillment, and a sense that there are way more things that are truly possible in your life than we might have thought. That makes us more exciting partners, more inventive workers, more interesting role models for our kids. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

Not making time for these acts of self-expansion, even small ones, leaves us with a nagging feeling that however much we're getting done, something is missing. We might think that nagging feeling is worry about maybe having left the stove on, or that we've forgotten to feed the cat. But it might actually be your gut telling you to take a look at your priorities. And by "taking a look" I don't mean just slowing down to smell the roses, but bothering to really figure out why you're spending your time the way you do.

Here's a trick for getting to the bottom of just what you're spending your precious time on, and whether it's worth it: journal what you spent your hours on, every day for a week. Yes, that will take an extra five minutes out of each day, but it'll be worth it. And you can dispense with whole chunks under headings like "at work" and "sleeping." At the end of the week you can look at this list -- possibly with your partner if you have one -- and start asking the critical questions. What can I eliminate? What can I delegate? What's really essential versus not so much? And the biggie: Which of these activities pays me back by making me feel the way I want to feel and be the person I want to be?

It's so easy to get into an habitual grind of doing things because we always have; the chores we continue to see as ours even though the kids are old enough to do them; the desire to save somebody else time at the expense of our own; the effort needed to maintain some style of life for which we may have actually lost our enthusiasm.

Take stock and take heart. Once you focus on your time-spending like this you'll be able to budget it so it feels more like it's going to the worthy causes. And maybe even work a little adventure into the mix.

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