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Time famine: “STOP” before time stops out!

Time famine, this term first emerged in the scientific literature around 1999, refers to the universal feeling of having too much to do but not enough time to deal with those demands.

Concept of time famine:

Dr. Damanjit Kaur (MD Psychiatry)

We live in a society that’s addicted to movement and has increasingly prioritized doing over being. We have confused our productivity to our self-worth because of which we tend to overstretch ourselves in a way that leads us to have self-guilt for sitting, relaxing or not doing any work for a while. We mistake overloaded schedules for authority and fast food, quick results, and speedy service for substance. We feel that more is always more and more we do, it will increase the value of ourselves. And when we press upon time, everything seems to be urgent as if everything we do is a potential crisis. Studies show this crisis mentality, and the reward system that underlies it, reinforces the concept of time famine. We end up accomplishing less, because we’re too busy being busy. We try to find ways to save time but never have enough of it. Yet when we do, we can’t enjoy empty moments because there’s always more to do.

Time famine is less of a reality and more of a feeling. As the Buddha alluded to in the second noble truth, we are the cause of our own discontent. By glorifying busyness and behaving in the world as though there’s never enough time, we create the feeling of never having enough time.

The following bad habits keep us trapped in a time filling cycle…

Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO): because of the social media we have unlimited access to images of others living their best lives. We’re constantly preoccupied with the thoughts of work we could be doing that we’re not.

Reactivity to Stress: When we’re busy and feeling under pressure, we make poor decisions that lead to worse performance.

Addiction to Technology: When we do have a chance to rest, we reach out for our smartphones instead. This habit traps us in a cycle of doing, and the mind never gets to be still. We each have the same 24 hours in a day, and yet not all of us feel as though it’s not enough. The feeling of time famine isn’t the result of too little time, it’s the result of filling our time with activities that aren’t in alignment with our goals.

The idea of doing nothing is a bitter pill to swallow, but the art of doing nothing is good medicine. The Italians call it “il dolce far niente”—roughly translated “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Doing nothing, is an art of learning of taking a pause from the busy schedule. Why should we do it? Time famine can lead to mental health issues such as burnout, anxiety, and depression and physical health problems. By doing mindful pauses, Heart and respiratory rates slow down, the mind clears, and we become more productive.

How can we help ourselves to tackle time famine?

The key to negating time famine is awareness. Awareness allows us to clearly see how we’re using our time. Various ways for bringing awareness are:


help us to recognize FOMO, set boundaries at workplace, become less reactive to stress, and let go of our technology addiction.


There’s a well-known Zen joke that says everyone should meditate for 30 minutes a day. Those who feel they don’t have the time should meditate for one hour. It’s funny, but true. Intentionally inserting meditation into our otherwise busy days plants a seed that tells our subconscious we’re not actually that busy. Repeating this act daily causes the seed to grow. We begin to feel time is more abundant. With abundant time, we might expand our 5 minutes of meditation to 10 or 15. The cycle then continues.

practice less doing and more being by incorporating the following into your day:

Don’t hit the ground running. Take time in the morning to stretch out in bed, enjoy your coffee or exercise. Wait as long as possible before looking at your phone.

Take breaks during the day for things you love to do. Go for a walk, enjoy a slow meal, and seek opportunities to experience awe.

start saying “no” is to switch off your phone alerts. Constant notifications can be a powerful distraction from achieving your goals. It is believed that when we switch between tasks, it can take around 23 minutes to get focused again

we perpetuate the false belief that if only we work hard enough, there will come a time when we’ll no longer be busy. But the to-do list never ends. What will end someday is our time in this human body. If we cannot learn to claim contentment, relaxation, peace, and happiness right now, when will we?

So start today to learn to pause before time stops!

Dr. Damanjit Kaur (MD Psychiatry)

Faith Hospital, Chandigarh

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