Have you ever wondered what time feels like? Do you feel it pass in seconds and minutes, or do you blink and it’s all gone?
Can you make reasonably accurate estimates as to how much time has passed (5 minutes, 10 minutes, 2 hours) or do you rely on a visible clock/countdown timer to do that? Do you blink and 2 hours have gone past, but it did not feel different from the other time you checked and it was only 5 minutes that had passed?
For a significant proportion of the population, the catch phrases and colloquial expressions they use when talking about time are because they hear these things said, not because they can feel the passage of time. And when you don’t feel time flow, it becomes nearly impossible to regulate, manage and plan the execution of tasks appropriately without running into trouble.
Time blindness (better named Time Agnosia) can affect a person in several ways:
- overpromising/overscheduling because you’ve misgauged the amount of time a task would take
- never quite finishing your scheduled work/constantly being behind schedule
- burned food and ruined processes (because you planned to do something else for 3 minutes, but your estimate of how long three minutes should be was wrong, and 10 minutes had gone by)
- anxiety about timed events
The coping strategies may be a lot more familiar:
- dread to do something else while waiting, because you’re afraid you’d lose track of time, so you spend the 40 minutes between two meetings doing nothing or sitting in front of the screen.
- large visible (and sometimes loud) clocks everywhere possible
- hourly or 3-hour alarms to subconsciously alert you to the passage of time
- being super early to nearly everything (because you’re terrified you’d lose track of time, so you set out almost an hour before you need to) as an antidote to being super late on the few times you are not early
Time feels like quicksand, pouring through our fingers, leaving us grasping at nothing as we struggle to make sense of how much has passed and how much is left. It feels like a trap: and the never ending cycle of trying to fit into a society that thrives on time is a struggle that about 1 in 4 individuals face.
In this article, I’d explore how to create Time Pillars and Anchors that help to boost productivity and reduce time-induced stress and anxiety.
Some of the techniques I’ve found useful revolve around focusing on what is important, rather than the ever elusive Time. The better I can adapt them to myself, the more useful they become
For example, the much beloved Pomodoro technique works better for me when I adapt it to suit the task in question: my alarm is set to go off at the time I should have ordinarily finished the task (or a major step), rather than an arbitrary 20 or 25 minute block (less risk of breaking my concentration, making me irritable, or me ignoring the alarm).
Every once in a while, especially after I’ve just come through a season of significant change, I run a Time log exercise, where I log in my tasks, activities and rest periods over the course of 4 – 6 days to catch a sense of how much time it takes me to get certain repetitive tasks done. This Time logging, though stressful, gives me a fair sense of how long the tasks actually take, and is one of the hooks to how I am able to schedule without overbooking.
Second major hook is to keep it visual. Tomorrow is too abstract to be conceived, so visual calendars are a life saver.
You want something that can display a daily/weekly/monthly view (Google calendar is surprisingly good at this), so you get a sense of how full the days already are, and avoid over-commitment
Pro-tip: if it looks too full, you are very likely headed towards burn-out. Rest/recovery time is just as important as productive time
Third hook: Time Anchors
A time anchor is:
– a non-negotiable event
– that connects 2 or more of your senses
– has a tangible deliverable/outcome
– leaves you with a sense of accomplishment
Time Anchors become the fixed pillars of reference in the murky day-to-day flow that help you
– see/determine whether you are on track with everything else
– plan your activities in time blocks
– make sure routine tasks get done
Your time anchors could be anything: self-care time, a reminder to make a daily/weekly call, an event with your classmates/family/work team, a favorite TV show etc.
Fourth Hook: Time Pillars
Time Pillars are external commitments that you are less likely to be able to shift, AND are so important to you that you do not miss them e.g. a standing weekly/daily meeting at work, a weekly/monthly event with your classmates/family/team/friends, a commitment to your clients etc.
Time Pillars are time anchors with a lot less fluidity, and both of them can be set up to work hand-in-hand to give structure to the chaos
- Review your priorities. Figure out what commitments are important to you and which can go. You might want to make a list, and THEN rank the items on the list
- Itemize the demands/components of the acknowledged priorities. What is bare minimum? What is negotiable? What can be delegated? What can be reassigned?
- Schedule your priorities. I can’t stress this enough. We so often end up overwhelmed because we are trying to prioritize a schedule, but our priorities (the things that mean the most to us) are nowhere on that schedule. Make sure ONLY the important things go on that schedule.
- Make it easily referenceable. Put it in a place you can easily refer to it, doublecheck a detail, re-orient yourself if you feel lost. Then, stick to it.
- Set up the reminders and/or alarms. Do NOT skip this step.
Alarms and reminders are the ways your automated system of pillars and anchors can help you make sure you stay on track without the need to rely heavily on an often dysfunctional executive function.
Alarms do not have to blare at a high decibel to be effective. If you have built yourself a distraction-free system (which I highly recommend), then you can use silent alarms/reminders quite effectively, as they would have less audio/visual clutter to cut through to catch your attention.
- Tweak this system as necessary. Times change, commitments shift, seasons roll around. Review your systems periodically to make sure they work for the demands of your life at the present, and not just for the person that you used to be
Did you find this helpful? You might also like Principle of Chaotic Habits. Also, consider: