Time Poverty: What To Do If You Feel Time Poor

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Time is money. Yet, why is it that so many people focus on how they spend their money, but not how they spend their time?

In today’s fast-paced world, research shows more and more people are persistently feeling “time poor.”[1] While time poverty to some people may not seem as important as material poverty, time poverty causes several negative implications from lower well-being, physical health, and productivity that cannot be ignored.

Nearly 50% of Americans report feeling they “don’t have enough time these days”, according to a 2015 Gallup poll.[2]

And yet, despite constantly feeling like there’s not enough time in the day, many continue to work long hours, sacrificing valuable time with friends and family in the hopes of finally catching up on their busy schedules.

What Is Time Poverty

Time poverty is not having enough discretionary time.[3] Discretionary time is the amount of time available to do activities to build your social and human capital, such as spending quality time with loved ones.

Discretionary time is impacted by the need for people to devote significant portions of their life to necessities like sleeping or work responsibilities (both paid and unpaid).

Time poverty ultimately can make you feel overwhelmed, with seemingly too many things to do in too little time. Juggling both time necessities vs discretionary time can make many feel constantly under pressure, forcing individuals to have to make decisions and prioritize certain aspects of their life over others.

Cause of Time Poverty

Time poverty can look different depending on the unique individual and their particular life circumstances.

For instance, research found that parents tend to have less leisure time (up to 14 hours less time per week) than individuals without children.[4] Moreover, single-parent households have even less leisure time than two-parent households or childless households.

In general, women also tend to have less leisure time than men because of various unpaid work responsibilities (i.e. chores and childcare). Therefore, not only does being a parent minimize your amount of leisure time but being a woman can also decrease your leisure time.

This explains why working moms are so time poor as they must find the time to balance both making a living via their careers and spending time caring for their children.

A manager can also experience significant time poverty. This is because, not only does a manager hold the responsibility to effectively manage their team to ensure they are productively completing their work tasks, but the manager also has their own responsibilities they must complete outside their leadership role.

Failure to effectively dedicate time to their team can cause many problems such as employee dissatisfaction, confusion, and lack of productivity teamwide. Yet, too much time spent on leadership and not on the manager’s work responsibilities can make it appear that the manager doesn’t get any work done at all.

A third example of poverty of time is individuals working multiple jobs to support themselves financially; therefore, not having adequate leisure time outside of all their working hours.

While each of these three examples shows varying examples of time poverty causes, common themes like an undervalue of time vs money and a lack of sensitivity to small losses of time over money are common themes in cases of time poverty.

In other words, people tend to value material resources or money over time-related resources. This is due to time resources being invisible and intangible compared to material resources, making it more difficult for humans to quantify how valuable time is in their lives.

The beauty of time is that we are all given 24 hours a day of it. Therefore, by effectively being able to learn how to gain more time like the way you make money, individuals can gain back more quality time to improve their overall quality of life.

The Impact of Time Poverty

Time poverty can negatively affect many facets of our lives. Four main consequences of time poverty in our life include impacting our physical health, mental health, relationships, and work performance.

Physical Health

The poverty of time makes for less time available to devote to our physical health and well-being. Research found that time-poor individuals had different eating and physical activity habits than non-time-poor individuals.[5]

While time-poor individuals are less likely to purchase fast food, time-poor individuals are less likely to engage in active travel (i.e. walking or biking to work, if possible). As a result, less active travel and ultimately less time spent exercising and improving physical fitness can negatively impact one’s physical health.

Mental Health

Time poverty inevitably can put mental strain, stress, and pressure on individuals. A Harvard Business School study evaluating why time poverty matters found that poverty of time can greatly reduce one’s psychological well-being.[6] This can play a role in reducing one’s subjective level of life satisfaction and mental health as more and more time is spent on working longer and harder at the expense of one’s mental health.


Further research links poverty of time to negatively influencing the quality of an individual’s relationships.[7] Less quality time with friends, family, and even time to form new relationships can make an individual feel more isolated and lonely. And yet, with more time spent on work-related tasks, this results in sacrificing your time maintaining and forming new relationships to keep up with life’s necessities like work demands.

For example, this can mean less time spent with your own children, thus needing to rely on childcare services to properly watch and care for your children while you are busy with work. The poverty of time thus not only affects the individual but can negatively impact the current and future relationships of the individual.

Work Performance

An individual’s work performance can also suffer at the hands of time poverty. Research supports that time-poor individuals suffer from reduced productivity at work.[8] Therefore, a lack of adequate focus and time to effectively complete work responsibilities can negatively impact both employee and employer.

Not only is the employee not working to their greatest potential, but the employer is reaping the repercussions of time poverty as the employee (and potentially many other employees within the company) does not work effectively as they could to benefit the employer.

How to Stop Being Time Poor

While being more efficient with your time is easier said than done, you may be surprised to learn all the little moments of time you waste throughout any given day that can easily add up and contribute to being time-poor.

Two ways to stop being time poor are by focusing on being more intentional with your time and making quality time a priority in your life.

1. Be intentional with Your Time

Life consists of a million and one different responsibilities and distractions. By not being aware of where your time is going, you can fall victim to constantly feeling time poor.

Your decisions in what you choose to do (or not do) will impact the amount of time you have in a day. While some things like sleep and time dedicated to working are necessities, you’d be surprised by how much time is wasted in a day.

For example, all those times you scroll on your phone throughout a given day add up. While it may seem harmless to check your phone for 5-10 minutes every hour, this can add up to 90-plus minutes wasted every day just checking your phone. Therefore, every minute counts and the time wasted every day can add up quickly if you aren’t aware of it.

In order to be more intentional with your time, and to reduce the amount of time you waste, it’s critical you take charge of your time. How you take charge of your time is entirely up to you depending on your individual needs.

That being said, various methods can help you be more intentional with your time, such as:

  • Planning and Scheduling Your Time: Consider planning out your day’s priorities the night before or the morning of.
  • Time Blocking: Try using a digital or physical calendar broken down by the hour to block off windows of time throughout the day you’d like to complete certain tasks.
  • Getting Rid of Distractions: Distractions are a huge time-sucker. Try to evaluate what distractions are in your life (for many it may be your phone) and try to distance yourself from those distractions to stop wasting valuable time.

Want to learn more about how to stay focused? Check out our article on “How to Focus and Stay Sharp (A Comprehensive Guide)” to gain back valuable time in your life.

2. Make Quality Time a True Value in Your Life

Everyone has a finite amount of time on Earth. While this may seem morbid, the reality is we all have the same limited time constraints of 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with an average life expectancy between 70 to 80 years of age.

To make the most of your time, you must value quality time. How you spend your time with someone or doing something is more important than the quantity of time you spend on something. For example, what’s the point of spending hours with your family if all you’re going to do during that time is worry and think about work?

Some ways you can strive to value quality time in your life are:

  • Being Mindful of the Present: Train yourself to be more present in your life, rather than allowing one area of your life to influence another. For example, when you are spending time with your family, be present and in the moment rather than focusing your thoughts and attention elsewhere.
  • Meditating: Meditation can be a great way to train your brain to be in the present moment.
  • Reflecting: Reflection is another way to help value the quality of time in your life. Reflection allows you the ability to learn more about yourself, consider where your life is going, and question if you like the path your life is taking. Journaling is a great way to practice reflection.

Final Thoughts

We all are given the same 24 hours each day. What you do with your time is completely up to you. This sense of accountability and responsibility that your time is entirely yours can be both overwhelming and freeing.

Those who constantly waste time or don’t value their time can easily make excuses like “I don’t have enough time” as a way to justify or excuse why they don’t spend more time on valuable areas of their life like their health and relationships.

However, if you are feeling time poor, that doesn’t mean you have to live your life constantly feeling one step behind. By being more intentional with your time and valuing quality time, you’ll begin to learn ways to make better use of your time so you improve your overall well-being and dedicate more time to what matters most in your life.

Featured photo credit: Wilhelm Gunkel via unsplash.com


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