Work–Life Harmony

Work–Life Harmony

The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

—Stephen Covey, author on habits of successful people

Are you constantly short of time? Do you find that you run out of time to study, socialise, go to the gym, or to do the things that matter to you the most? Our lives are busy, often packed to the brim with a never‐ending list of to‐do items. Capitalist culture puts inordinate value on productivity. Throw in more time spent on our phones since the rise of social media and apps, and this has resulted in the general trend of many of us feeling even busier than before. We are in a time crunch.

Exactly how we spend our time matters for both our professional and personal lives. Time is so significant that psychologists have coined special terms to describe this time crunch, time famine, starving for more time to do everything. The opposite interestingly is coined as time affluence, a metaphorical type of wealth where we have the time to do the things we long to do.

In this chapter, we examine the science of time, research insights on creating a better work–life balance for us, the importance of play over productivity alone, and digital well‐being. The latter has massive drains to our time but, as with any tool, boundaries can benefit us.

Psychology of Time

Have you ever asked yourself, what is time? And how does culture impact our time use? Our culture does indeed impact how we use time. We have ‘clock time’ and within that a monochronic or polychronic time system. Monochronic time is where one activity or task is carried out at a time. Countries that utilise monochronic time include much of the Western world. Interestingly, monochronic time gets its roots from the Industrial Revolution, where the labour force had somewhere specific to be at each hour and minute of the day to meet large‐scale factory production. Polychronic time is the opposite to monochronic; cultures where people on the whole view time as a more fluid concept, going with the flow of time rather than strictly following a time schedule.

Our Time Perspective

We are born time travellers. We relive our past memories, ground ourselves in the present, and anticipate future rewards. And how naturally we can travel back and forth makes a significant difference in how we succeed in life and how happy we are whilst we are living it. Out attitude towards time, whether we have a bias towards getting stuck in the past, live in the moment, or are constantly future‐orientated, can predict numerous constructs, from our dental career to our well‐being and happiness. In fact, psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s pivotal research in the field of time goes one step further: our attitude towards time is just as defining as key personality traits, for example, optimism or sociability. It influences many of our emotions, motives, decisions, and actions (Zimbardo and Boyd 2008).

The way we use our time can give us meaningful direction, greater health, a more successful dental career, and more enjoyment in our relationships. Research on time explores how we each have an individual perspective on time, known as time perspective, thinking about the past, present, and future. Understanding our current time perspective and that of others is really crucial to our well‐being – the idea is simple but has consequences on our relationships and on the world that are fundamental.

All individuals have a bias towards a particular time perspective. This bias is often learned in childhood. The factors that influence our time perspective include our family, friends, and role models, culture, geography, climate, religion, social class, educational level, and political and economic stability. Individualistic societies (‘me focused’), such as common Western societies, tend to be future focused, whilst collectivistic societies (‘we focused’) invest more in the past. Our income also has an effect, with poorer communities tending to live more in the present. The crucial point to note, however, is that we can all change our time perspective.

Zimbardo describes five key types of time perspective. These are summarised in Table 11.1, along with the research findings according to each time perspective.

Table 11.1 Types of time perspective.

Time perspective Research findings Overusing this time perspective…
Past‐positive; focus on positives thinking about the past, for example, reliving fond childhood memories.
  • High levels correlate with greater happiness, high self‐esteem, friendliness.
  • Past‐positive, present‐pleasure, and future‐orientated related to positive social relationships. This may be due to reminiscing on positive times, living in the moment, and including people in a future you are creating.
  • No negatives in the research for this perspective.
Past‐negative; focus on negatives when thinking about the past, for example, regrets, missed opportunities.
  • High levels linked to trait anxiety, depression, and aggression.
  • Holman and Zimbardo (2009) found that a past negative bias was correlated with low support and high conflict with family and friends. The authors suggested this may be due to individuals feeling trapped with resentful thoughts and unable to forgive others.
  • Risk of depression.
  • Tips to moderate: reconstruct past negative experiences by discovering hidden positive elements; insert new slides in memory tray rather than reliving negative; recollect recent positive emotions.
  • Research shows memory of past is fragile and distorted and unreliable.
Present‐pleasure; focus on grounding ourselves in the present moment. We prioritise seeking pleasure. Known in psychology as present‐hedonism.
  • Moderately high levels result in greater well‐being and resilience.
  • At the extreme end; novelty seeking, aggression, alcohol and drug use.
  • When overused, may find it difficult to delay gratification and get tasks done.
  • Tip to moderate: set 20‐minute chunks of time to work followed by a pleasurable activity.
Present‐fatalistic; a belief that our life is already mapped out for us and we do not have any control over its course. Known in psychology as present‐fatalism.
  • High levels linked to high aggression, trait anxiety, depression.
  • Mello and Worrell (2006) found that people with this time perspective had much lower academic success than people with a future‐orientated perspective, perhaps due to procrastination.
  • Avoid putting yourself outside your comfort zone and learn new things due to a belief everything is predetermined; ‘fixed mindset’.
  • Tip to moderate: adopt a ‘growth mindset’ approach.
Future; focus on the future, for example, engaging with health‐related behaviours that have no immediate impact but offer a future benefit. Work towards long‐term bigger rewards instead settling for short‐term quick ones.
  • Moderately high levels correlate with greater success due to the ability to delay gratification.
  • High levels correlated with sacrificing family time, friend time, fun time, personal indulgences, hobbies, and sleep for success, living for work, achievement, and control.
  • Anxiety about future, lack of enjoyment in present.
  • Sacrifice friends, family.
  • Locked into a time crunch.
  • Overinvested in the future.
  • Tips to moderate: do less, not more; make conscious choices about what matters most; reserve at least one weekend day as a workless day; disconnect; try to minimise intrusion of work into your home life.

Now that you know your time perspective, which strategies can you use in Table 11.2 to strengthen a time perspective that you are perhaps not utilising so much? My experience of coaching dental professionals has highlighted that many of us struggle with prioritising the present orientation.

Table 11.2 Time perspective strengthening strategies.

Time perspective Strategies to strengthen this time perspective
  • Set goals for the future, for example, today, tomorrow, and within the next month.
  • Create a vision board.
  • Chart your progress towards your goal.
  • Practice mental visualisation.
  • Make to‐do lists, ranking most important to least.
  • Work towards long‐term bigger rewards instead settling for short‐term quick ones.
  • Ground yourself using mindfulness.
  • Try physical exercise that focuses on breathwork, for example, pilates or yoga.
  • Get engrossed in a book.
  • Go outside for a nature hike.
  • Practice sensual pleasures, for example, long shower, aromatherapy.
  • Play with your children.
  • Play with pets.
  • Plan for periods of spontaneity, for example, set aside a weekend day and make no plans for it.
  • Send a gratitude letter to a loved one.
  • Create a gratitude jar, with your gratitude points for the day, and reread them occasionally.
  • Make a travel scrapbook.
  • Call an old friend and reminisce about your shared past.
  • Place pictures of happy memories around home.

The Optimal Time Perspective

A balanced time orientation, rather than having a bias towards one particular time perspective, helps us to shift our attention easily between past, present, and future and adapt our mindset to any situation. The benefits are enormous: we develop a greater work–life balance as well as greater psychological and physical well‐being. What does this look like? Zimbardo’s extensive research proposes an optimal time perspective, summarised in Table 11.3.

Table 11.3 Optimal time perspective levels.

Optimal time perspective Levels
Past‐positive High
Present‐pleasure Moderate (but selected, self‐rewarding, and not impulsive)
Future Moderately high
Past‐negative Low
Past‐fatalistic Low

Time Perspective and Paths to Happiness

A biased time perspective can close potential doors to our happiness. Many of us as dental professionals may have a bias towards future orientation, which leads us to cultivate strategies to develop conscientiousness to study, grit, and set life goals. The journey may mean sacrificing our own well‐being, hobbies, family, and so forth to get there. A balanced time perspective provides mental flexibility and opens all paths to happiness.

We can utilise time to increase our levels of positive emotions. Figure 11.1 combines the work of Zimbardo with Sonja Lyubomirsky’s evidence‐based happiness strategies (Lyubomirsky 2007; see Chapter 2).


Figure 11.1 Ways to use time to increase levels of positive emotions.

Lasse Kristensen / Adobe Stock.

Apr 25, 2023 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on Work–Life Harmony

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