Aspiring to Time Affluence: Top Strategies to Overcoming Time Poverty



Published On

August 23, 2021

Aspiring to Time Affluence: Top Strategies to Identifying Time Traps and Overcoming Time Poverty

Ashley Whillans is a Harvard Business School Assistant Professor, in the Negotiations, Organizations & Markets Unit and Author of Time Smart.

“Part of living a time-smart life is having a North Star and making sure that you move the pieces of your life around so that you can truly live a life with intention that is concordant with your values and what you really care about.”

— Whillans

The Truth About Time Poverty

There’s an 80 percent chance you’re poor. Time poor, that is. Four out of five adults report feeling that they have too much to do and not enough time to do it. People who experience less time affluence also experience less joy each day. They laugh less. They are less healthy, less productive, and more likely to divorce. In one study, stress related to time poverty produced a stronger negative effect on happiness than unemployment.

How do we choose wisely so we can live a happier, more successful life, time affluent life?

Ashley Whillans, Harvard Business School Assistant Professor in the Negotiations, Organizations & Markets Unit, provided a simple answer during a recent expert speaker session for TIGER 21 Members: “Prioritize time over money one decision at a time.”

A happiness researcher, Whillans first defined happiness as an individual’s overall feeling of satisfaction in life, as well as the amount of positive mood experienced on a daily basis. “Time poverty” can have strong negative effects on happiness. “These feelings of overwhelm, which are so pervasive, not only undermine our happiness, they also erode the quality of our social relationships, make it difficult to exercise, and to spend time on activities that bring us joy and meaning.”

There are many strategies for overcoming time poverty or improving “time affluence” and taking back time that is lost on mindless tasks, unfulfilling duties, and chores.

3 Ways to Think About Time Poverty Management Strategy

  1. Finding Time – The first strategy is finding time. Conduct a time audit to track how time is spent, noting levels of enjoyment, meaning, and productivity.
  2. Funding Time – Funding time means “buying your way out” of unenjoyable activities. Spend money and outsource any disliked tasks to increase your time affluence and get time back.
  3. Reframing Time – Finally, we can change how we feel about time. Simply taking moments to appreciate “the preciousness of time” can change our relationship with it and lead to more time affluence.

Begin by Developing a Time-Centric Mindset

Consider whether you value time more than money or money more than time. Would you rather work fewer hours and make less money? Or are you willing to sacrifice time — working more — to have more money?

Research shows a shift in mindset to valuing time over money promotes:

  • Happiness
  • Social connections
  • Relationship satisfaction
  • Job satisfaction
  • Helping others

The secret to a happier life is simple: Prioritize time over money one decision at a time.

5 Time Traps to Be Aware of

Whillans outlined five time traps that increase time poverty and leave us feeling stressed, exhausted, and unfulfilled. Understanding time traps helps us build time mindfulness, overcome time poverty, and achieve time affluence.

  1. Constantly Connected to Tech – Technology saves time but also takes it away. Tech makes it easier to work, yet we work longer hours, and long blocks of free time are constantly interrupted by smart phones, watches, tablets and laptops.
  2. Obsession with Work and Money – We have a cultural obsession with work and making money. We incorrectly believe that money, not time, brings greater happiness, and that if we work and make money now, we’ll have more time to relax in the future, resulting in more time affluence.
  3. Undervaluing Time – Because of our cultural obsession with money, we protect it in counterproductive ways. We seek the best deals and lowest prices which contributes to time poverty and unhappiness because we don’t calculate the time costs of being so cash conscious.
  4. Busyness as a Status Symbol – We often look to work for meaning, more so than to our families, friends, communities, and hobbies. The importance we place on work leads to busyness: staying busy to appear important.
  5. Idleness Aversion – We are uncomfortable with stillness, misunderstand the value in disconnecting and are unable to enjoy the present and do nothing. This results in creating time stress for ourselves.

6 Strategies to Overcoming Time Poverty

  1. Address Your Why – When you catch yourself wasting time, ask why you are engaging in the activity. Do you enjoy it, or are you procrastinating on doing something else?
  2. Schedule Slack Time – Schedule blocks of “slack” to recalibrate and reset time between leisure activities and work.
  3. Create Intentions – To achieve goals, engage in strategies that help with follow through.
  4. Engineer Defaults for Time Affluence – Make it easier to engage in behavior that increases time affluence by setting up technology so that it no longer sends immediate notifications or constantly interrupts.
  5. Recognize and Fight Urgency on Non-Urgent Tasks – Recognize the difference between urgent tasks and important tasks.
  6. Make Leisure Time Leisurely – Focus on enjoying leisure moments rather than wondering if the money spent was worth your leisure activities.

Time and money have a lot in common. Both are measurable and both are scarce. We want more of each and are often stuck choosing between the two, constantly making trade-offs and compromises. These decisions powerfully shape the happiness we derive from moments, days, and our entire lives. Having a playbook to address these issues can help a great deal with managing time and living a joyful and successful life.

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