You have worked out your attitude and decided on your approach, so when exactly are you going to act?
This could prove crucial.
According to the Collins dictionary, time is:
“The continuous passage of existence in which events pass from a state of potentiality in the future, through the present, to a state of finality in the past.”
So that’s all clear then.
One thing is for sure, we have real trouble dealing with it.
The unemployed person has too much time on their hands, and the stressed executive hasn’t got enough of it.
Your view of time can make a big difference, so let’s try to get a grip on how time works.
1. TIME DIFFERENCE
Life expectancy in the UK, Japan, Canada and many other developed nations now exceeds 80 years.
So that means you have about 1,000 months, 4,000 weeks, or 27,000 days to get your stuff done.
If you are 40 years old, you can cut those figures in half. So you have 500 months left to lead a fulfilling life.
Does that sound like a lot?
Or a little? 320,000 hours left.
38 million minutes.
Once you start hitting the calculator, you’ll be less inclined to waste time.
It is precious stuff, and you will spend a third of that asleep. You can’t be excellent all the time, but you can think about time and how you wish to use it.
2. THE CULTURE OF TIME
In his book When Cultures Collide, Richard Lewis explains how different cultures view time. Americans regard time as linear. Time is money and can be divided into clear chunks, each with a price.
Latin people see time as multi-active. They use a latticework of human interactions to get things done, regardless of specific meetings and timetables, which is why they are often late.
Eastern cultures see time as cyclical. Everything goes round in a circle.
There are clearly divided views on whether being punctual matters or not. So when considering timing, the first thing to bear in mind is the culture of the person viewing time.
3. THE FUTURE IS BEHIND YOU
In the western world, we believe that the past is behind us, and that the future is in front of us.
The Malagasy of Madagascar have a rather different perspective. They see the future as flowing into their heads from behind them, with the past stretching out in front of them.
According to their worldview, the past is visible because it has already happened, which means they can see it. By contrast, the future is unknown, so it must be behind them, because they can’t see it.
To most westerners, this perspective may seem odd, but in many respects their view makes a lot more sense than ours.
Time is truly how you choose to see it.
4. THE YEAR THAT NEVER IS
The author Douglas Adams had an interesting perspective on time. He said: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
Many people, and entire companies, wonder why they never seem to get much done. Here’s why.
In January the year is just getting started. February it’s half term. In March everyone goes skiing. April has Easter, May has two Bank Holidays, and in June the schools break up.
In July everyone is on holiday, in August the whole of Europe is shut, and in September people are just getting back into their stride. October is half term again, in November everyone has flu, and in December they are all in the pub.
That’s how the years fly by. Understanding how time dissipates is the first step towards making good use it.
5. EVERYTHING AT ONCE
The eternally wise Albert Einstein taught us: "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."
Think about it. It is a man-made construct to help us organize things. You have a choice about how you use time, and how you decide your timing. But there is a catch.
As Daniel Levitin points out in his book The Organized Mind: “Attention is a limited-capacity resource.” That is why multitasking is a myth. It doesn’t work because there is a switching cost between each task.
We think we are multitasking but in fact we are just flicking between all the jobs and losing even more time. As Gloria Mark, professor of informatics at University of California, Irvine, explains: “Ten and a half minutes on one project is not enough time to think in-depth about anything.”
Do one thing properly. Then move on to the next.
INPO stands for In No Particular Order.
Some people are obsessed with sequence. Where there is an irrefutable logic, the order in which you do things might well be important. But sometimes, it just doesn’t matter.
As Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, said:
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading." Some people are paralyzed by inaction because they don’t know where to start.
The cure is to start anywhere. This applies equally to large volumes of work to do or one single daunting task. The order doesn’t matter, and the timing doesn’t matter.
Just get started.
In his book #Now, Max McKeown introduces the concept of Nowists. Nowists don’t worry about the past or the future. They concentrate solely on positive action now.
They frequently practice what he calls precrastination. They move the priorities of the future into the present by starting things early. In fact, unlike those who continually put things off, they actively want to start on new things – the opposite of procrastination.
Even under-confident people can do it. Author Daniel Levitin calls this “acting as if”. If you don’t have confidence, you can still act as if you do. If you haven’t completed a daunting task, you can still act as if you have. Successful athletes act as if they have already won, by picturing themselves having done so.
Project yourself forward in time and visualize the successful end result.
Some people, as well as companies, institutions and governments, reckon they can foresee what’s coming. They are usually wrong.
Interestingly, the majority of forecasters usually commit two sins. First, they get their predictions wrong and, second, they get away with it, because no one ever checks whether what they said actually came to pass.
The most accurate prediction you can make is that your prediction will be wrong. As Sir Humphrey Appleby from the comedy Yes Minister wryly observed: “I foresee all sorts of unforeseen problems.”
The apparent benefit of hindsight is no more helpful. We learn very little from history, and yet our desire to pretend that we do leads to a collective blindness about the past.
As Nobel Memorial prizewinner Daniel Kahneman points out: “Hindsight perpetuates the illusion that the world is understandable.”
9. DON’T WASTE A CRISIS
"There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” That was the plaintive cry of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as his diary filled up incessantly. He had run out of time.
Individuals have no control on the timing of events. What you can control, however, is your attitude to them. Author Max McKeown believes that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Right-minded people turn an apparent crisis into a decisive turning point that forces a choice between inertia and thinking round problems creatively.
A crisis is not a disaster. In fact, the stress of one can be the best friend of progress and forward motion. So, when faced with a crisis you should ask yourself: how can I use this to inspire a new approach?
10. POSTCARD FROM THE FUTURE
If you really want to stretch time forward, try writing yourself a postcard from the future.
It is a year from now, or ten. Whatever fits your ambition. Write and tell yourself what has happened. See if you like it. Then work out what you need to do to make it happen.
This technique is a bookend to the premortem recommended by scientist and psychologist Gary Klein. When an organization has almost come to an important decision but has not formally committed itself, the decision makers gather for a brief session.
They are asked to imagine that it is one year later and that the idea has been a complete disaster. They then have to write a short history of what happened.
The premortem can prevent many a disaster. By contrast, a postmortem is always too late.