Stress and Time Management: Are We Getting It Right?
In our time, there is a great concern in the collective psyche about stress and time management. It’s one of the great preoccupations — and addictions — of our era.
CBC Radio host Michael Enright recently interviewed Brad Aeon , of Concordia University School of Business, an expert on time and productivity. He stresses that our society is obsessed with being more and more productive — and that it’s hurting us a lot. As he states:
“We tend to judge other people and their status by the number of hours of work they put in every week.
Work 80 hours a week? You’re a good person.
Work 20 or less? You’re a slacker.”
According to Aeon, the productivity bar goes constantly up. This is because we tend to look at people we label “overachievers”, and use them as the standard for what average people are supposed to do in a day. But as Aeon points out, these overachievers are often not the typical person: they are often very well off with access to much support that others may not have.
The Obsession with Doing More and More
From the perspective of psyche, why are we so obsessed with doing more and more? How has such endless pressure and anxiety found its way into our everyday awareness and our fundamental life choices?
Aeon sees this attitude as rooted in a sense of guilt and inadequacy, which we are somehow trying to overcome or compensate. This would seem to be at the heart of “the Protestant Work Ethic”, as Max Weber called it — although it affects us regardless of religion!
The whole complex around stress and time management certainly has a deep hold on us. It’s easy to find statements in psychological writings like this: “Poor time management can be related to procrastination, attention problems, or difficulties with self-control.” Sometimes that’s true enough, but Aeon provides us with a useful contrast:
[M]any people believe if they become more productive and do everything right, they’ll finally be happy…. [But there] is no end to the quest for efficiency and time management, meaning you’re never going to be satisfied with your current level of productivity.
What’s at the root of this driven-ness, that pushes us to do more and more and more?
Stress and Time Management: Keep on Running (On Empty)
Such pressure can certainly be rooted in the fear of job loss, but often it’s rooted in even more fundamental things. At its most virulent, it can be rooted in feelings of inner hollowness, powerlessness, and the fear that my life is inconsequential, as measured against the lives of other “more significant” people.
Before we let ourselves be pushed around by this pressure, it’s wise for us to take into account Brad Aeon’s haunting words: you’re never going to be satisfied with your current level of productivity. To stay on this treadmill means that we have to run on it ever faster and faster, or face the anxiety and depression that comes when the addiction isn’t fed.
Self-Acceptance, and the Call to be Oneself
There is always going to be pressure from economics, but that’s only part of the pressure around questions of stress and time management. There are bigger issues that we have to confront.
Jungians know that a prime factor is whether we accept and have compassion for ourselves. To accept and love myself means to move into a psychological place of embracing what I am, and accepting and welcoming the fact that I am not someone else. This is not always an easy task — but it’s the only route to feeling a sense of contentment and value in your life.
Hand in hand with such acceptance is the awareness that there is something uniquely valuable in me, that wants to be lived out — that only I can live out. Only a major life transition can enable us to be finally free of the endless, deadly trap of weighing ourselves against others.
This task of accepting and valuing myself, and finding my own unique identity and meaning is far from easy. It’s the work of a lifetime. Often, /a-midlife-transition can be of vital help in creating an environment where we can find this.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst