The secret to time management – it can’t be done!

We have so much to pack into our days, weeks, months and I’ve been pondering, is this because we actually need to do more, or is something else going on? Could our conditioned perceptions of time, be affecting how we experience it and therefore how we experience our lives?

In a recent paper, “Buying Time Promotes Happiness”, published in the National Academy of Sciences Journal, researchers explored ‘time scarcity’, which they described as a new form of poverty, leading to reduced well-being and happiness and increased anxiety and insomnia.

Can we create the feeling of more time, by managing it and reducing our stress? Is it a commodity to be spent, saved and not wasted and what influences the belief that we don’t have enough time?

When time runs out

Business Insider article, by Richard Lewis describes how different cultures value time in very different ways. Britain and other Northern European countries, such as Switzerland and Germany and North America typically experience time as linear – it is finite and can therefore become scarce. The past is over and the present can be divided in order to control the immediate future. Earnings and earning potential are often calculated upon the value of an hour of a persons time. If time passes without decisions being made, or actions taken the belief is time is being wasted. 

If time is going to run out, there’s a pressure to use it productively. How many times have you heard people say “let’s just get on with it”, because they feel greater value when they are ‘doing’?

Manana or many tomorrows

Not everyone in the world experiences time in the same way. Have you experienced the frustration of the ‘manana’ culture when on holiday in Spain and the laid-back timetabling in countries like Greece? According to Lewis’s analysis, it’s because the Southern Europeans have a ‘multi-active’ experience of time. Their focus is upon how they feel about what they are currently experiencing, with a focus upon relationship – time is event or personality related, rather than compartmentalised and measured. And a cyclic experience of time is more typical in Asian countries, who see time as coming around again with the same opportunities and risks. 

If our cultural conditioning about time is different, it creates different expectations and experiences. Is it therefore possible for us to change our perceptions?

Present and Future

One of my favourite films is Arrival; aliens land all over Earth and Amy Adams character, a language specialist, is appointed to translate the aliens strange circular symbols and sounds. Learning their language affects her experience of time and her future begins to merge with the present. 

Language which reflects or affects our experience of time is not as unusual. The Chinese language does not have verbs and therefore words do not have future tense. In this article , Keith Chen, a Behavioural Economist suggests that in some languages people are “slightly nudged every time (they) speak, to think about the future as something viscerally different from the present.” So, if our language doesn’t give us this nudge, is our experience of time altered?

If our experience of time is tied up with our cultural experience, then is it possible for us to challenge and change our perception of time so we can move from a scarcity mindset to abundance?

Your Feelings About Time

Ankush Jain in his book Sweet Sharing describes how his ability to manage time improved, when he noticed the feelings generated by his reaction to situations. He gives an example of reacting angrily or with frustration to emails and then spending/wasting time distracted, or moaning to a colleague. Once he noticed his feeling, he was able to manage his behaviour and as a result spent time on getting things done, instead of reacting. 

Our desire to ‘manage time’ is about the need to feel productive, it’s also about discipline and choosing our priorities, in line with what we hope for in the future. If we manage our behaviours, is it possible to make a shift to feeling and being more productive, which leads to the feeling and belief that we are managing our time more effectively?

Our experience of time, our productivity and perceptions of scarcity are all influenced by our past experiences, our culture, feelings and behaviours. Tips and techniques for managing priorities, making choices and decisions are extremely helpful, however, I think there’s a huge value in being aware of our perceptions and behaviours as managing these (rather than time itself) can be the catalyst for efficiency and focus.

Want some practical tips for increasing your focus and productivity for the week ahead? Read this blog, which explains my method for reviewing the past week, which helps me to prioritise my focus for the week ahead.

Lyn is running a Time Management workshop for the Somerset Chamber of Commerce on 12th March 2020. Break down your perceptions and feelings around time, so you can change your habits and behaviours. As well as learning practical tips around how to chunk your time and choose your priorities. As a result you will focus upon what’s important and become more productive. More info here

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