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Episode 34 Transcript - Why We Feel Burnt Out


Hello there. I'm Jacek Olender, and this is Poloop Angielski Podcast. For more materials for learners of English and the transcript of this episode, go to my website I know, I know, I promised in the previous episode that I would be taking a two-week break, and it turns out that the break was over a month long. My apologies, but I've been extremely busy and, with some personal stuff going on, I had no opportunity or energy to squeeze in some time for preparing and recording new episodes. Actually, today's episode is exactly about being busy and exhausted. Have you ever felt like there is just not enough time in the day? That you are constantly rushing from one task to another, with no time to enjoy the things that really matter to you? If so, you are not alone and this episode is for you.


Onward, a British think-tank, that is, a group of experts in a given subject who work together to answer some problems and then give advice or recommendations, for example, to the government. So, this kind of organisation, this think-tank called Onward, has recently published a report entitled Burnt Out Britain, in which it explores how people use their time and how it impacts their social connections and well being. Somebody's wellbeing is feeling comfortable and healthy and happy. We often blame our hectic life - hectic life is another way of saying that your life is very busy. So, we blame our hectic life, too much work and too little sleep for not being able to live at a much slower, enjoyable pace. But the reality seems more complex and the report challenges myths about sleeplessness, overworking and busyness. When we challenge the myth, we contradict wrong common beliefs. So what are these common wrong beliefs?


Myth number one, we are not getting enough sleep. Experts actually warn of the sleeplessness epidemic. And many of us feel tired and exhausted because of insufficient sleep. However, the reality is more nuanced. So, not that simple. The report finds that people today, at least in Britain, are getting 30 minutes a day more sleep than five decades ago. In 1974, on average, men slept for seven hours and 57 minutes, and women slept for eight hours and 11 minutes. In 2014, men were sleeping eight hours 32 minutes, so over half an hour longer, and women for eight hours and 38 minutes just a little bit less than half an hour longer. The benefits of longer time in bed are not ,however, shared equally. As you might expect, parents have the lowest increase in sleeping. Also overworked women sleep around an hour less than those who work normal shifts. Myth number two: we are working too much. While it's true that many people feel exhausted because of being overwhelmed with professional tasks, the report shows that, on average, we are not working more than before. In fact, men working full time have seen the working hours fall just a little bit, on average, we work two minutes less. And Myth number three: we are more rushed than ever. In the past, having free time was a sign of wealth and status. Now, the opposite is true. The busier we are, the more we are perceived as important and richer. So it seems only natural that if we ask people how busy they are, they tend to often exaggerate their busyness to big up their own sense of worth and make others believe that they are successful in life. But even though people are incentivized to talk about the lives being more hectic than in reality, the share of people saying they're often rushed, has actually fallen in the last two decades from 20% to 17%. But the share of people saying they almost never feel rushed has fallen too, and in between these two extreme groups, there are those who feel rushed sometimes whose share has increased from 49% to 59%. So, more of us say we sometimes feel rushed, but we shouldn't forget that there is a pressure to report being rushed off our feet. Now, if you're rushed off your feet, it means that you're busy. So, busyness is a sign of success and wealth. So, people might be overreporting that aspect of their lives.


So, if we are not necessarily sleeping less, working more and living more hectic lives than before, why is it that we feel so exhausted? The answer lies in better understanding how we use our time, at least according to the report published by Oonwards. The report tries to help us with this by breaking up our time into four parts, necessary time, contracted time, committed time, and free time. Necessary time includes things we must do, such as sleeping and eating. Contracted time is composed of things we have agreed to do, such as paid work. Committed time is made up of things our personal situation or circumstances require us to do, such as childcare, housework. And finally, free time is made up of things we want to do, such as meeting friends watching Netflix series, or listening to Poloop Angielski Podcast. Seriously, I wonder in which category would you put studying English? I guess it depends on individual circumstances. When we take a closer look at each of these parts, we can see that our time is increasingly being taken up by family life and technology, leaving us with less time for self-care and leisure. Although we are sleeping more, some of us are spending less time looking after ourselves. So it's family life and technology that eats into our leisure time. So, what is the mechanism? Seeing that our free time is coming under increasing pressure, sensing that we have less and less time for leisure activities, we are trying to overcompensate. We are trying to cram in different activities all at once. The phenomenon known as multitasking, which actually is not really doing a few things at the same time, but it's rather constant or frequent switching from one activity to another. The report looked at how our days are broken up into these distinct episodes, such as cooking a meal, watching a movie, working in the office, etc., and it turns out that in 1974, an average man could expect his day to consists of 18 distinct episodes, and in 2014, so 40 years later, the figure was 31. Women saw a similar increase, from 23 in 1974, to 37 episodes in 2014. What it shows is that activities are more and more fragmented, we do more activities, and each of them lasts a shorter time. Transitioning between activities, takes a lot of energy and reduces the quality of the activities themselves. These energy costs add up, they accumulate. So each interruption, each transition, each attention switch from one activity to another depletes, reduces your total energy levels, leaving you more tired. And at the end of the day, you feel exhausted and burnt out.


The question is why we jump from one activity to another instead of focusing for longer periods of time on one thing at the time? Well, I've already mentioned that we want to recapture some free time, or rather get the feeling that we recaptured some free time for ourselves. So, we try to use every opportunity to fill the gaps with ,what we see as, time for myself: 10 minutes for reading a book between shopping and cooking. 20 minutes of Netflix fit in, after putting the child down to bed. "Thank God episodes are so short," you think to yourself. Actually, streaming platforms are well aware of that, and that's why many series are divided into ever shorter chapters. But the need to recapture some of the free time doesn't tell the whole story. The fragmentation of our daily activities wouldn't be possible without technology. We cram in short activities because we can. Mobile devices allow us to switch to free time activities all the time, we constantly interrupt our necessary, contracted, or committed time activities with a little bit of free time activities. A short peek into my social media feed while in the office, watching TV between peeling potatoes and frying a steak, or reading a couple of paragraphs of a book on a Kindle app would not be possible without the screens that are with us all the time. Modern technology is interwoven with all our activities, which means they are an integral part of them. The result is the blurring of boundaries between the activities, blurring of the distinctions between various things we do, which leads to exhaustion, less joy from these activities, and lower efficiency. in whatever we do.


The report says that we need to take back control of our time. How to do it?. I don't know. It's well above my paygrade to give you advice on that. But, for my part, I decided to stretch out my activities, spend more time on one activity at a time, avoid short snippets of information, focus on longer articles instead, and watch movies with no interruptions. Maybe I will do things I love doing less often, but I hope I will do them with more engagement. And, as some of you might have noticed, I've stopped using Instagram to share words and expressions from current news stories. I think it would be better for you to read articles and watch in depth reports about those stories than just focus on one expression or word for a couple of minutes. I don't want to contribute to the fragmentation of your daily lives, but rather help you recover energy which you can use for whatever makes you happy, which I hope includes learning English. Thank you very much. Speak to you next time. Bye!

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