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Family Health

How You Think About Time May Be Why You Feel Like You Don’t Have Enough

Sep 9, 2019

Time is precious for working parents — there is always so much to do and only so many hours in a day. 

If this sounds like you, improving your time-management practices might help. And if that’s what you need, you’ll be able to find lots of advice no matter where you turn. 

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But consider this. A parent’s experience of “not enough time” is not only about time management. It’s also about the way you think and feel about time. 

Here are some questions that may help you reflect on the emotional and psychological factors that affect your experience of “not enough time” as a working parent.

Is excess stress affecting your experience of time?

Sure, time management can be stressful for working parents.

But when we’re operating under the influence of chronic excess stress, any challenging experience can seem more difficult and negative. If you can learn how to understand, address and recover from excess stress, you may feel less stressed by time, even if your time demands don’t change very much.

Are you creating stress for yourself by how you think about time and how you manage it?

Think about your relationship with time, and consider the following:

  • Are your goals and expectations for time management unrealistic? Are you trying to do too much? If so, think about what is absolutely necessary and what would just be a bonus, and start with the essentials first. If everything feels essential, have an honest conversation with yourself and ask if that's absolutely certain. 
  • Are you creating distress comparing yourself to other people who appear to be better time managers? It's easy to fall into this way of thinking, but pulling back on this competitive impulse will allow you to adequately assess what you have the bandwidth for. Because no two people are alike, and — yes — you will always be able to find someone who is doing more, or manages their time better. 
  • Are you a perfectionist about time? If you create a list of ten things to accomplish on a weekend, and get nine of them done, that’s pretty good. But if you’re a perfectionist you might still feel it’s not good enough! Allow yourself to be a 7 out of 10, or a 9.

Is your experience of time affected by differing cultural norms and expectations?

Various cultures have different expectations around time. This can happen between different ethnic cultures, but also different workplaces and different families. If your time issues are affected by cultural expectations, is there any way you can address that?

Can you compartmentalize your challenges around time?

Take a look your biggest challenges around time. Which parts can you control and which ones are beyond your control? Try to devote your energy to influencing the areas you have control over. Because it's an uphill battle trying to control situations that can't be controlled. 

Are you fully aware of how you spend your time?

In the end, how we spend our time is a reflection of what we value. Most of us have an internal compass or awareness about which tasks and activities are most important. But sometimes we get so caught up in just getting through the day that we forget to listen to that internal compass. Try keeping a time diary for a couple of days. That might show you that you are spending a lot of time on tasks and activities that, when you stop and reflect, aren’t really that important or valuable to you.

Relevant Reading: How to Create Quality Time With Your Kids When There's So Little Time

Prioritize family time and time for yourself

Sometimes we think that doing something fun — either for ourselves, or with our kids — is something you do when the “important” business of life stuff is done. But enjoyable activities are actually among our most important priorities. It’s not just because our children need our time. It’s good for us as parents! A recent study found that parents reported feeling greater subjective well-being when they were with their children.

Enjoyable activities and good times with our children give us positive energy that helps us be better, happier parents and people.

Now ask yourself: do you have a healthy relationship with time?

Article Author Dr. Ester Cole and John Hoffmann
Dr. Ester Cole and John Hoffmann

Dr. Ester Cole is a psychologist in private practice in Toronto providing services to school-age children, youth, families and schools. She was the Chair of The Psychology Foundation of Canada and the Parenting for Life program, and the past president of the Ontario Psychological Association and the Canadian Association of School Psychologists. She has published and lectured widely, and has been active on committees provincially, nationally and in the American Psychological Association.

John Hoffman is one of Canada’s top parenting and child development writers. He has written extensively for The Psychology Foundation of Canada for 22 years, including web articles for Stress Strategies and Staying on Top of Your Game and booklets for the Parenting For Life, Kids Have Stress Too! and Stress Lessons programs. He was also a featured writer and columnist for Today’s Parent magazine for over 20 years. 

Follow The Psychology Foundation on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and visit psychologyfoundation.org to access 24/7 A Resource for Working Parents.

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