Time Poverty: A 21st Century Problem

5 things I have done to make sure I don’t let work rule my life.

The year is 2019. The world is working, waking up at sunrise and collapsing into bed with a weary expression each evening. Every time zone follows this pattern; populations living to work whilst working to live. The corporate world devours your soul, spitting out a shrivelled shadow of your former self who can’t remember when they last had the chance to read a book or talk to their significant other about something aside from paying bills or what to have for dinner. We are all time poor and the effect is crippling.

No thanks, not me. This is not my 2019. Time poverty is not going to dictate my life.

People always say they’re envious at the amount of the world I get to see and the fun things I’m able to do (albeit witnessing through digital spectacles; always to be digested with caution); many say I’m “lucky”. Suitcase emojis galore. Yet… it isn’t luck. It’s the choice I have made. A choice that comes with its negatives (stability and job security being the most prominent), but a choice that is all mine.

This train of thought all began with travel. I know a lot of my peers can financially afford to get away; travel is cheaper and more accessible than it’s ever been. A £250 return ticket to the US can be found easily. That’s the same price as two return trains back up home to Sheffield. This week I saw a £500 return to Bali. 30kg bag included too(!). And when I suggest such trips to my friends whilst they emphatically express their desire to go somewhere, do SOMETHING; the problem is never that they can’t afford it… They can’t get the days off work; they’ve used up all their annual leave till 2027, no one they know would be free to go with them. The list of time related excuses is endless. But does it have to be that way? 

Now, it’s slightly ironic because I really love my work. I rarely get out of bed and dread the day I have in front of me. Yes; a large chunk of this is because I work for myself and take on projects that really mean something on a personal level working alongside inspirational individuals in the exhibition world, but it’s also because my life outside work is enjoyed; every moment. How can anyone resent going to work if it helps to facilitate a life that they adore? This is something that a lot of people seem to forget.

I’m in a fortunate position where I have been able to transition my skills and experience into a freelance and contracting context; I know it isn’t the easiest thing for everyone (although something being difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done…). I didn’t decide to go it alone because it’s easy; actually, it happened because my priorities turned out to not really be how much I earn, though of course financial security is desirable, but the flexibility, freedom, intellectual stimulation and… time. After-all, what’s the point in having all that money if you’re too time poor to spend it anyway?

2019 has been about finding that balance again; challenging myself professionally and personally whilst making sure I have enough time and opportunity to enjoy life outside work. Sure, I’ll have those fortnights where I might not get any sleep, I sometimes work over the weekends and can be found typing away at admin until the early hours from time to time, but that’s my choice, a price I have chosen to pay. And that pro-choice stance is one of the reasons why I decided to hand in my notice as full-time Head of Business Development at a sales company early this year.

The five decisions I made to decrease my time poverty:

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1 – Becoming Freelance

Six months ago I handed in my notice as a first step to redress that work/life balance that I had lost over the last few years. Now, I feel empowered and liberated. I’m able to invest my time in projects that I am really passionate about, whilst equally having the ability to say, actually, I’m not going to work that week because it’s my 30th birthday and I’m going to enjoy it. Working for myself gives me that motivation to not only get the best out of every single day on a business level, but makes sure that I’m constantly professionally challenged. Freelancing has pushed me to thrive.

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2 – My Free Day

Those that know me well will appreciate that I have a very busy calendar; when I’m not working I’m enjoying friends or travelling or going to see a show with my flower, but my Free Day is one day a month where I don’t book anything in my diary at all; just so that I can see how I feel when I wake up and where the day takes me. Time poverty isn’t just about work commitments; social schedules can also end up ruling your free time until you’re so exhausted that one day you’ll just not be able to get out of bed. It doesn’t mean that time spent with friends and family isn’t thoroughly enjoyable, but it’s crucial not to fill every second of your time and leave nothing just for yourself and how you might feel that morning. Just to note, a Free Day is not a life admin day. Non merci. Keep those shirts un-ironed until a working from home lunch-break or whilst you’ve got your boiled eggs in the pan.

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3 – Personal Challenges

Regular stimulation is crucial to pushing yourself to make the most out of your time. Intellectual stimulation in your personal life is no different, so I make sure I’m constantly challenging myself. This ranges from regular pub quizzes, weekly escape rooms and setting monthly challenges (YesMay, AvengersApril, PaleoJuly and NoMilkMarch to name a few!). Not only does it make you feel stimulated but also extremely satisfied. Time well spent; give it a go!

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4 – Travel the World

Again, a form of stimulation, but this time of the cultural variety. From now on I’m trying to visit 5 new places a year; to bask in the local culture, learn about social diversity and eat a lot of strange things. This can be anywhere from a part of London I’ve never been, to a weekend away in Denmark’s second city. It doesn’t have to break the bank to be culturally educational; the inspiration and wisdom that travel encourages is unparalleled and enriching. 

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5 – Healthy Exercise

Life is all about balance and having a healthy relationship with exercise is no different. Whilst neglecting my running shoes a little too much so far this year, in the past I have been an exercise enthusiast, where it actually began to dictate my day even more than my job did. I was running 5km every morning and trying to go to the gym for at least two hours daily. 2019 is the year of me not being tied down by my exercise commitments, but making them complement the rest of my life. Having regular bouts of exercise is also incredibly important to clear your head – it helps to put things into perspective and ensures you make rational decisions… key in keeping your precious time as useful as possible!

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The five steps above may seem obvious, but they have enabled me to pull away from my own restraints of time poverty. I will no longer let anything else dictate my work/life balance in the long term but myself; and enjoying life doesn’t have to be expensive. It could be a walk in the park to see the terrapins. A Boris Bike (Sadiq Cycle?) trip around the city after work one evening. A cheap and cheerful £17.99 return to Europe for the weekend.

It’s cliché, but you only do get one life and it’s up to you to make sure you don’t let routine, the fear of change and your own restraints stop you from living it. Take those shackles off and do something about it.

The year is 2019. The world is working; don’t let time poverty control your life.

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