Forget resolutions, ease time management stress by doing less, says researcher

Eat less. Exercise more. Support charities. Improve finances. Volunteer. Travel. Spend time with family. The list goes on.

New Year's Day marks a fresh start and new resolutions for many, but a Montreal-based time management researcher at Concordia says its time to rethink that annual tradition.

It's time for "anti-resolutions" instead, said Brad Aeon, a PhD candidate at the John Molson School of Business who focuses on the psychological impacts of time management theory.

"When we make a new resolution, we decide to spend more time going to the gym, developing a new skill, developing a new habit and all those things take time," he told CBC Montreal's All in a Weekend.

"Why not do the exact opposite? Why not disengage from the activities or commitments that we already have? You know, just to have more free time or more time that we have just to ourselves."

Every year, he added, millions of people make new resolutions, but, every year, "millions of people complain about not having enough time."

Beating time-management stress

While 50 per cent of working, childless adults complain about not having enough time, Aeon said 60 per cent of parents complain about the same thing.

One woman recently told Aeon that she works 35 hours a week and her kids are all grown up, but it's actually her volunteer work at a legal clinic that was eating up all her time.

That's when he got to thinking — a lot of our time-related stress is self-imposed.

Aeon said work hours haven't changed much over the last half century. In fact, people, especially men, have more leisure time than they used to. 

"I find it amazing that most of the people that I know that complain about working too much actually impose that overwork on themselves," he said. "And it's the same thing with our leisure."

Let go of the FOMO

One of the big differences between now and 50 years ago, he said, is people have more flexibility mixed with a deep-seated fear of missing out — a modern-day phobia known by its acronym as FOMO. 

Graham Hughes/Canadian Press

While people once had to be home at a certain time to catch their favourite television program, today's technology lets us binge watch series after series for hours on end.

So much so, that some resort to "speed watching" by increasing the frame rate up to two fold, he said.

In that way, people even put pressure on themselves to stay updated on popular programming and, Aeon said, "making new resolutions is another form of self-imposed time pressure."

Trying to reach new goals is good, he said, but only if you have the time.

"Time pressure is not good because it has huge repercussions on mental health," he said. "We impose too much time pressure on ourselves."

Instead of wearing workload as a badge of honour, Aeon, who has been scaling back his own weekly work hours, suggests scheduling in some regular procrastination time.

He says he tries to spend two to four hours a week just lying on the couch or looking out the window — just doing nothing.

"I know there's a huge pressure for us to always act busy," he said. "But I think we should resist that as much as we can, because it's not good for us."