Do you feel like there’s never enough time in the day to get your work done? Do you get the sense that life is just passing you by? Are you concerned about meeting deadlines and experiencing decision paralysis?
Don’t worry — this isn’t the beginning of a pharmaceutical commercial.
But those are symptoms of time anxiety, a phenomenon you may have experienced at work or home. Time anxiety is especially common in entrepreneurs, who are forced to wear multiple hats and complete a seemingly endless list of tasks while running their business.
Of course, time anxiety can happen to anyone, and it can lead to extra stress at work. Here’s a closer look at what time anxiety is, possible underlying causes, and proven ways to help you deal with it.
What is time anxiety?
Time anxiety refers to feelings of stress and fear associated with time passing, or the sense that you don’t have enough time to accomplish whatever it is that you need to accomplish.
At work, you can experience it as discomfort when you have a lot on your plate, worrying about being on time, or even a sense of panic that makes it hard to focus on a task. It can also manifest in non-work related activities.
The passage of time affects people’s lives in many ways, and that means there are a lot of ways time anxiety can appear. As such, there are several types of time anxiety, including:
- Daily time anxiety: Feelings of worry associated with not having enough time right now. In other words, the sense that you have too many things to do today and not enough time to complete them all.
- Future time anxiety: Also known as anticipatory anxiety, it’s worrying about something bad happening in the future. At work, this can look like the fear of being late or missing a significant deadline.
- Existential time anxiety: A fear of time running out or the sense of dread that happens when we think about our mortality or limited time. It can feel like time is slipping through your fingers or your life is passing you by.
Symptoms of time anxiety at work
The symptoms of time anxiety can vary greatly depending on the person or the situation. Here are some of the most common ways you may recognize time anxiety at work.
- Stress regarding deadlines: This often arises as deadlines come closer, but you can experience it even when they’re far away
- Constantly worrying about being tardy: Fear of being late to work or meetings
- Feeling like you can’t get everything done: The ongoing sense that it’s impossible to finish the tasks on your to-do list in the time you have
- Inability to make decisions: Feeling frozen and experiencing decision paralysis
- Ongoing sense of being rushed: Rushing through work and tasks because you have feelings of fear or guilt about not accomplishing enough or working fast enough
- Overworking/not taking breaks: The feeling that you don’t have time to take breaks or don’t deserve time to rest because you’re not finishing everything on time
- Feeling as if you’re too old or too late: The belief that you’re too old to start something new or reach an achievement, or that you haven’t reached the right milestones for your age
While time anxiety is common enough to have its own term, it’s not a medically diagnosable condition. It may be tied to generalized anxiety disorder for individuals with time-specific triggers and can contribute to feelings of burnout.
Time anxiety vs. chronophobia
In more extreme cases, time anxiety can develop into chronophobia. The Cleveland Clinic describes chronophobia as an anxiety disorder that involves a more intense discomfort and even dread when thinking about time.
Symptoms of chronophobia include:
- Racing thoughts
- Obsessive behaviors, like constantly checking the clock
- Panic attacks in more severe cases
The good news is that there are plenty of steps you can take and strategies you can use to learn to deal with time anxiety effectively. But before you start changing your routine, it’s helpful to consider the underlying causes of time anxiety.
Potential causes of time anxiety
Time anxiety doesn’t look the same for everyone. One reason for that is it can have different causes. Here are some of the most common reasons you may experience time anxiety.
Lacking a sense of meaning
Not having a clear sense of meaning or purpose in your daily life can make you feel uneasy about the passing of time. This cause is commonly associated with existential time anxiety, where it feels like time is slipping away.
No system for tracking time
One survey by Acuity Training found that 82% of people don’t have a time management system in place, which means most people probably don’t have a good idea of how much time they spend on each task they’re responsible for.
If you don’t know where your time is going, it’s easy to feel like you’re not in control of it, which can create anxiety at work.
Working without prioritizing
Without priorities, it’s easy to fall into the habit of treating every email and Slack message as urgent. This type of system can easily spiral out of hand and make it seem like you don’t have enough hours in the day to finish everything.
Learning to prioritize tasks by importance can empower you to devote your time to the tasks that will have the highest impact at any given moment.
Related mental health issue
While time anxiety isn’t a medical condition itself, it may be connected to one. Specifically, it can be a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
People with an anxiety disorder often experience feelings of impending danger and have trouble focusing in the moment or controlling their worries. If those worries get attached to time, they may experience their symptoms as time anxiety.
People with ADHD can struggle with planning, organizing, prioritizing, and completing tasks. This can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed that get exaggerated when there’s a time component, such as a deadline.
People live and work in an age of social media comparison. The problem is that you may be comparing your everyday life with a carefully curated picture of someone else’s.
It’s apples to oranges. You may experience guilt for not being as organized or efficient as a peer. Or you may see your friends move forward in their careers and start comparing your progress to theirs.
How to deal with time anxiety
First and foremost, know that you’re not alone. The Hustle asked founders and entrepreneurs to share their tips about dealing with time anxiety. More than 300 responded in two days.
People shared experiences that included feelings of guilt and stress and time-related anxiety attacks. They also provided valuable insight into the strategies that were most helpful for reducing any symptoms of anxiety and improving overall feelings of well-being.
Here’s what they had to say:
Find a time management technique
First up, you want to try managing your time instead of letting it manage you. The Acuity Training survey lists the Eisenhower Matrix as the most successful technique. This involves sorting your tasks by importance and urgency.
Experiment with a couple until you find a system that’s right for you. Most of these techniques also help with prioritization, a skill you can develop to reduce time anxiety.
Schedule your breaks
Regular breaks from work can help you avoid burnout and let you review and adjust your priorities if necessary. That said, it’s easy to say you’ll take a break and then keep working when the time comes.
To avoid this, Athina Zisi, chief operations officer of iGaming company EnergyCasino, recommends scheduling breaks to ensure that you take them and “do activities that help you relax and clear your mind” so you can come back and work more productively and efficiently.
Set time boundaries
There are two ways to set time boundaries. First, you can set a time boundary for certain tasks. For instance, give yourself one hour to work on that sales pitch and then move on to something else.
Second, carve out time in your day that’s protected from work. Make it a habit to get out of the weeds and look at the big-picture perspective — perhaps by engaging in creative exercises or even just going for a walk to clear your mind.
For bestselling author Catherine Nikkel, this type of boundary is “a morning routine with zero work,” which lets her start her day from a more present and focused state as opposed to rushing into a long task list.
Other entrepreneurs like to make time for meditation, going outside, and being with loved ones.
Explore your thought patterns in therapy
Several entrepreneurs recommended exploring professional help. In particular, many people talked about the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a method that helps you understand and change any underlying beliefs you have that contribute to your time anxiety.
You can’t stop the passage of time, but you can gain a sense of agency over how you spend your time. Taking steps to protect your breaks and proactively managing your time while working can do wonders for your well-being.