We’re all slaves to time. We acknowledge it the moment the alarm goes off in the morning. We nod to it when it whispers that it’s “probably time to go to bed”. We curse it when we wake in the middle of the night to find ourselves humming Coldplay’s latest tune or idly pondering the efficacy of wormeries. Mounting tasks during the day remind us that the fickle mistress of time is in short supply. Our children growing out of their clothes or parents suffering ill-health remind us that she waits for no man.
A bit alarming? That’s why it’s healthy to remind ourselves every so often that time is just a measure – just a way for us to create order from the past through to the present and into the future. Let’s remember that our view of time is a human definition. It’s one definition. You’ll get a very different opinion on what a day looks like from a mayfly.
The other useful definition of time is your personal version. Your view of your day to day life is entirely unique, and is created by you according to your character and environment. Yes, your day is dictated to by grand designs such as day and night and by smaller designs such as work tasks you need to do – but every second you exist, you are making personal choices that affect the quality of your life.
What type of decision-maker are you?
Philip Zimbardo’s interesting TED talk about the psychology of time places people into three categories. He suggests that every decision we make is affected by the category we sit in.
Past dwellers make decisions based on past experience, such as “I would eat this doughnut but last time it made me feel guilty, so I won’t.”
Present dwellers live in the now, making decisions based on the moment – “sod it, I love doughnuts [nom nom nom].”
Future dwellers anticipate consequences and act as a result. “I like doughnuts but this will make me fat whereas I want to be slim”. This attitude is a goal-scorer and is often adopted by high-achievers. The negative side is that sacrifices often get made along the way, such as sacrificing family time for success.
Zimbardo suggests that this time perspective influences every decision you make, and, although we’re prone to adopting just one view, we should aspire to adopting all three and creating an ‘optimum mix’. Balance your ambition with spontaneity and fun. Balance your fun with the benefit of experience. It’s definitely food for thought.
Are you a white rabbit?
The Duchess! The Duchess! Oh my dear paws! Oh my fur and whiskers! She’ll have me executed as sure as ferrets are ferrets!
If you regularly say “I don’t have time”, “there aren’t enough hours in the day” or “where does the time go?” then you’re a white rabbit.
Oh! The Duchess, the Duchess! Oh! Won’t she be savage if I’ve kept her waiting!
If you’re a white rabbit, consider the idea that you might be thinking incorrectly about time. Take a moment to digest that there is no such thing as ‘clock time’ – just real time.
Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!
It’s not morbid to consider our mortality. David Bowie had around 3,588 weeks, Marilyn Monroe had 13,104 days, Anne Frank had 139,776 hours. We don’t know how many units of time measurement we’ll have, but we do know there’s a finite number, and we possess the ability to shape them. Lesson? Don’t rush from event to event. Learn to respect time.
Practical time management advice to make your life easier
Let’s not finish with death [insert appreciative applause] but let’s get practical instead. How can we manage our work time in a way that nudges us towards an appreciative life? There is no right way, it’s entirely personal of course – but if you’re keen to smell the roses, give these a try:
- Write lists. Don’t store your to-do list in your head, it encourages tension. Liberate headspace and write it down.
- Use reminders. Technology is great for alerts but set reminders for nice things too. “Stand up. It’s time to go and feed the ducks for 30 mins”. There you go, your stress level just reduced and you made a duck happy.
- Focus on one thing at a time. If nature had meant us to multitask, she would have given us [insert another hilarious quip here]. On a serious note, if you allocate time to tasks, you’re more likely to do them. Delegate if you want to – nobody’s going to die.
- Eliminate time wasters. Write down the things that regularly waste your time. Stick that list up on the wall and you’ll tolerate them less. Look, you just ignored the phone and the earth is still turning. Not only that, but stuff is getting done.
- Visualise. This might be a bit ooky-ikey for some, but if you have a big task, project or chunk of work that is intimidating you, try to visualise your ideal outcome for a couple of minutes before you sit down to do it. This strategy helps you focus and will physically gear your little grey cells for action.
Remember that in your life, you make the decisions. When it comes to time, it’s yours alone – and only exists between your ears. Time to stop reading and start doing. That might just mean feeding the ducks.