After almost three weeks off work thanks to an unusually lengthy Christmas break, I still found myself feeling exhausted upon returning to work this week. Initially, I dismissed it as the shock to the system after weeks of lounging around, and then I thought I might have Omicron, but I soon realised that I was, in fact, run down.
How did this happen? I spent the past few weeks sleeping more than usual and eating well, and I hardly did anything sociable thanks to our perpetual state of semi-lockdown. I should feel more rested than ever and yet, the bags under my eyes and sore throat tell a different story.
Apparently, my sense of burnout despite making time for self care is more common than I had realised. It's all due to a phenomenon being dubbed “time confetti”, which is our tendency to break up our free time into tiny little fragments, that actually contribute to mounting stress levels rather than allowing us to relax.
Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed who coined the term, describes time confetti as the tendency to try and do too many little things during periods of free time, making it unenjoyable and leaving us feeling frazzled.
It may be that you're trying to achieve all those niggling household errands at any spare moment, or that you're so aware of how precious your free time is, you put too much pressure on yourself to do everything on your bucket list to make the most of it.
Our phones don't help matters. Every notification we receive during our leisure time diverts our attention away from the original relaxing activity and towards unproductive multitasking, which is strenuous on the brain. This particularly resonates with me. Thinking back, I can't think of a single relaxing activity (a dog walk, a hot bath or a movie night) when I didn't have my phone glued to my left hand ready to distract me every few minutes.
In her paper, Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life Harvard Business School assistant professor Ashley Whillans writes that we have to overcome what she calls time traps by building up our ability to protect our free time. Much like you gradually build up your fitness level by training in the gym, Ashley recommends small and deliberate efforts to cultivate free time by carving out meaningful moments throughout the day.
Whether it's turning your phone off, taking tasks one at a time and allocating breaks between each one, or getting better at blocking out distractions, Ashely explains that each person must explore the best way to alleviate their own sense of business.
At first, we'll probably get distracted, but over time, these moments will become more focused and ultimately, more freeing.
This was originally published on Glamour UK.