You may never have heard of it, but it’s a safe bet that time confetti is slowly eating away at your work/life balance. “Time confetti” sounds nice – fun, even – but what it describes definitely isn’t. It’s the fracturing of time into many unenjoyable little bits when you try to do too many things at once. This confetti can leave us feeling stressed and feed a whole host of problems – from difficulties disconnecting from work, to feeling unfulfilled in our free time and burning out. Here’s what you need to get your time confetti under control.
The term “time confetti” was coined by author Brigid Schulte to describe all the small scraps of free time she experienced in a day. When combined, these brief slots of leisure time added up to 27 hours a week – but Schulte had been convinced she had no free time at all, since these small moments were filled with household chores, replying to emails, childcare and running errands. Most of us allow time confetti to erode the free time we have – and if left unchecked, it can easily encroach into both our personal and professional space, significantly adding to our stress levels.
Let’s say you’ve got home after a long day. You’ve made dinner and eaten it, and now you have an hour to relax before bed. But in that hour you receive two emails; you reply to one – it’s from work, it might be important. You get a few Twitter notifications, and scroll through your feed for a while. Then a Slack notification pings, and you read the new message – just to stay up-to-date. Then you receive an alarm reminder that you have the dentist tomorrow, so you make a note of that in your diary.
These small, seemingly insignificant actions mean that your one hour of leisure time has become broken into multiple tiny episodes, or pieces of time confetti. As a result, you don’t really enjoy it or relax. Instead of using it to read a book, call a friend or relax in an intentional way, that leisure time was mostly spent replying to messages, reading unimportant updates, or thinking about something that will happen tomorrow.
Whenever we try to do more than one activity at a time, we end up not enjoying either. If we don’t give ourselves proper time to relax, our bodies and brains never get the chance to recharge and reset and we feel tired, anxious, unfulfilled and on edge.
So, how can we reclaim fractured time and defend against time confetti? Getting the most out of our free time means focusing on what matters, removing distractions and interruptions, and creating a few protective boundaries. Some of the best steps you can take to stop time confetti ruining your leisure time include:
Many of us simply aren’t aware of how much time confetti is wrecking our downtime – and it’s hard to be more intentional with our time if we don’t understand what we’re actually doing with it. Thankfully, you can get an automatic tracking tools to do the hard labor for you – capturing the time you spend in apps and websites to help highlight when and how work creeps into your personal space. With this insight, you know where you need to set boundaries and make behavioral change.
Many people find their ‘free’ time is filled with an endless array of chores: cooking dinner, cleaning up, doing laundry, driving kids around… As Brigid Schulte found, one of the best ways to solve this problem is to reset expectations – to draw up a list and share chores equally. This applies professionally, too; if you’ve taken on too many responsibilities, share them out. Don’t give your time away without a fight.
Setting boundaries is central to keeping time confetti under control, so try creating time-bound periods to contain common culprits like communication. Setting yourself set times to manage emails – ideally limiting yourself to checking them twice a day – is a good way to contain them. It’s also useful to use the last ten minutes of your workday to plan the next; it’s a useful “shutdown routine” that helps you draw a line under the day’d work and step into relaxation mode.
When you’re enjoying leisure time, put your phone away to avoid distractions. Block email and Slack notifications outside of work hours so you’re not tempted to take a cursory look whenever your phone lights up. Just as you don’t relax while you’re at work, you shouldn't work while you’re relaxing. It’s OK not to be constantly contactable.
When you stop work to take a break, make sure it’s a deep break. Don’t just spend that time replying to emails or checking social media; instead, use that time to intentionally disengage with work so your brain can recharge. Go for a walk, make a healthy snack, listen to a podcast, stretch – do something that takes you away from your desk and screen, and allows you to feel connected to the present.