Between the lockdowns, curfews, and lack of commutes, we’ve been handed the gift of time. But, all this new free’d-up time isn’t being spent on leisurely activities, like (zoom) socializing, meditating, or developing that million-dollar idea we had in college. Why?
Time confetti, a term coined by Brigid Schulte, is the phenomenon of fragmenting our leisure time into small, unenjoyable moments, thanks to unproductive multitasking. Time meant to be spent away from our desks becomes filled with annoying, little chores. Multi-tasking, you know, when you’re trying to enjoy an episode of Ozark, while sending a client e-mail and analyzing your stocks. One activity interrupting the next, interrupting the next. Is this not the enemy of leisure? It doesn’t seem like these interferences can cause so much damage, but just like confetti, it can collectively make a huge mess.
To Be Free Or Not To Be, That Is The Question
We all deserve uninterrupted leisure time after working our 9-5’s, but this is rarely the case anymore. Why? Time confetti’s BFF, the autonomy paradox. This is the idea that modern technology gives us the autonomy to choose when and howlong we work, but ironically, also means we are working all the time. The WFH era certainly hasn’t helped.
We’re sure you’ve put the (tiny but significant) pieces of confetti together. Modern technology makes us all multi-tasking aficionados, which translates into the most epic, and depressing case of time confetti.
Why Do We Care?
Now that we have established that time confetti is prevalent in our modern world, let’s talk about why it’s even bad. Ashley Whillans, author of Time Smart, spends all her free time researching…free time. She lays out two consequences of time confetti, under the assumption that you have one hour of leisure time per day:
One…You have less leisure time in a literal sense. Take a look:
Source: Behavioural Scientist
As you can see, 6:20 minutes were stolen from your leisure time, and not to mention the cognitive dissonance you would actually have in the other 53:40 minutes.
Two... Your leisure time is less enjoyable. To show how, Ashley grouped interruptions into five events—email, Twitter, Slack, alarm, and texts—and randomly distributed them throughout the hour. Take a look at the…plot chart? Graph? Box trot? Who knows.
When we fragment our free time, figure 1-1 quickly starts to look like figure 1-2. We bet the last way you want to spend your free time is looking at that stressful graph.
This is what most people’s free time looks like nowadays. Our leisure time is interrupted by uninteresting tasks, while our uninteresting tasks don’t get the time they deserve. We bet that Slack message is full of typos.
Even if you have the strength to hold off on your Hinge notifications, it’s still cognitively taxing to know about all the possible matches to attend to. You feel like you should be doing something else, instead of being present in what you actually are doing. And, according to Whillans, “it takes time to cognitively recover from shifting our minds away” between tasks. Interruptions undermine the quality of our free time.
Feeding the Time Famine of Modern Life
According to the study “Buying Time Promotes Happiness”, in the last few decades, “incomes have risen in many countries, potentially exacerbating a new form of poverty: From Germany to Korea to the United States, people with higher incomes report greater time scarcity.” The study goes on to say that a primary cause of lower well-being and increased anxiety and insomnia is a lack of time.
So, as global wealth is rising, time wealth is not. Luckily, there are some solutions. Instead of our usual monthly purchases on material things we don’t need, let’s all take this month to shift those expenses to time-saving services.
In other words, spend money to buy free time. Right now, evidence suggests that that’s not how people are spending their money. This same study showed that people from “various economic backgrounds benefit from making time-saving purchases, causing improvement in daily mood.” Goodbye Aritzia, hello GoodFood.
Look into a pre-cooked meal delivery service, house cleaning service, grocery delivery, laundry service, or out-sourcing to-do lists.
Luckily, writing these newsletters is how we like to pass our free time. Ta-Ta for now.
“People end up enjoying their free time less and, when asked to reflect on it, estimate that they had less free time than they actually did. That’s how invasive the technology time trap is: time confetti makes us feel even more time impoverished than we actually are…no matter what time affluence looks like for you, the happiest and most time affluent among us are deliberate with their free time.”