Let’s talk about how we spend our days. Or, more specifically, how we schedule them.
It’s easy to think of our waking hours as blocks of time. Eight hours spent at work, broken up into smaller portions and scheduled out. Then we head off to live our personal lives, scheduling dinners, hobbies, happy hours, concerts and everything else. (Or, ahem, just rewatching a few hours of “The Office” on Netflix.) Rinse and repeat tomorrow.
It can start to feel like we’re just living in a routine, scheduled by however much time we think we can allot to a given activity.
But what if we’ve been looking at our days all wrong?
This week, Smarter Living is publishing a series of stories focused on how we spend our time — or, more precisely, how we spend our attention. So much of what we think about, like productivity, effectiveness or just getting things done, is focused on how we manage our time. But each day this week we’ll have a story that tries to reframe that mind-set and make you consider how you spend your attention, instead of just filling blocks on a calendar.
For example: We’re kicking off the week with an absolute blockbuster, must-read story today from Charlotte Lieberman that looks at why we all procrastinate. But instead of listing off productivity hacks or time-management mantras, we examine the emotions that are at the root of procrastination and how we can focus that energy in more healthy (and, yes, productive) ways.
Dr. Fuschia Sirois, a professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield, told us that procrastination people tend to “engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.” Note what she did not say: that we procrastinate because we’re bad at to-do lists, scheduling or are just plain lazy.
Later this week we’ll have stories on how to stay focused when your routines become boring; what we can do to fight back against the modern distractions stealing away our attention; and why we sometimes pre-crastinate.
To wrap up the week, on Friday we have a story from the organizational psychologist and S.L. regular Adam Grant that serves as a guide to reframing our thinking on what we choose to invest ourselves in. This passage from that story sums it all up:
We live in a culture obsessed with personal productivity. We devour books on getting things done and dream of four-hour work weeks. We worship at the altar of hustle and boast about being busy. The key to getting things done, we’re often told, is time management. If you could just plan your schedule better, you could reach productivity nirvana.
But after two decades of studying productivity, I’ve become convinced that time management is not a solution — it’s actually part of the problem.
Visit nytimes.com/smarterliving throughout the week to read all of our coverage.
Have a great week!
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Why You Procrastinate. (It Has Nothing to do With Self-Control.) If procrastination isn’t about laziness, then what is it about?
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Tip of the Week
This week I’ve invited the writer Rachel Chernaskey to tell us why we should find time to laugh. (LOL.)
Here’s what I’d guess is a familiar habit: You pop open Instagram, scroll through an endless feed of memes, then resurface an hour later feeling guilty about your utter lack of productivity.
Guilt-trip no more! Those laughs you’re allowing yourself are deeply beneficial for both your physical and mental health. And in our age of stress-inducing news cycles and social media obsession, we should all probably be making more time for a good old-fashioned laugh.
To wit: Research shows laughing can boost your immune system, reduce stress, help protect against illnesses like heart disease and help you earn better test scores. One Norwegian study from 2016 showed having a good sense of humor might even mean living a longer life. Giving yourself a laugh will make you feel better immediately — literally — thanks to the sudden burst of endorphins that occurs.
Try budgeting in more time during the week simply for a dose of humor — maybe even in a nondigital activity, so you can reap those benefits sans screen-time hangover. (Easier said than done, I know.) See a live comedy show. Hang out with a particularly funny friend. Read a newspaper’s comics or a magazine’s cartoons. If you don’t have any time in your schedule to do any of that, not to worry. Funny memes will do the trick, too.