Success Builders Inc. Article of The Month
June, 2002
Having The Time of Your Life

By Barbara Poole, M.S., MCC

One of the things my father used to tell me as I was growing up was that time would seem to speed up as I got older. As a child, this was welcome news. I remember feeling like I would never grow old enough to be in the fifth grade, and that if I every did, I would surely be able to sit back and rest on my laurels, knowing that I had reached the top of the elementary school food chain.

My, how times have changed. And what I wouldn’t give for a taste of those days that seemed to drag on forever. Dad was right about time. It does seem to go by faster as we get older, and it certainly becomes a more precious commodity as the years go by.

Our perception of the pace of time has been ratcheted up yet another notch recently as we’ve turned the calendar on a new year and a new century. Want proof? Try asking ten acquaintances a simple question like how they’re doing. You’re likely to get answers ranging from “fine, but very busy,” to the wrenchingly honest, “I’m completely overwhelmed!” Or, as a friend of mine responded the other day when I asked her how her life is, “full to overflowing.”

Einstein told us that time is relative. I remember doing a graduate school experiment designed to evaluate relative perceptions of time under different conditions. I had two groups of people listen to tapes for exactly three minutes each and tell me how much time they thought had elapsed. The difference was that one group listened to some lovely classical music for that three minutes, while the other group listened to some screeching noise that sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard. As you would expect, the first group estimated the time at about three minutes, while the second group said their tape lasted for eight minutes.

You’ve no doubt had the same experience surrounding a summer vacation. The week leading up to your departure seemed to drag on forever, while the week of vacation was over in a flash. No sooner had you parked your toes in the sand then it was time to pack up and go home.

Despite these tricks our perceptions play on us with respect to time, the reality is, each of us has all the time there is. I have the same 24 hours a day that you have, that Bill Gates has, that the Queen of England has, that those second graders who think they’ll never get to be fifth graders have.

So what’s our problem with time? Is it not the same resource it has always been? Again, things are relative, which means it depends on how you look at it. While we still get 24 hours each day, we try to jam more into it than ever before. All of the tools that we’ve created to make our lives more efficient have only exaggerated this dilemma. We have cell phones with Internet access, pagers with e-mail messages, palm pilots linked to notebook computers that can send faxes from the passenger seats of our cars while we impatiently tap our fingers at the red light. We are speed demons and we are always on.

In his book Time and the Soul, author Jacob Needleman describes our feeling that we don’t have enough time as “the new poverty,” suggesting that we have lots of material things, but no time to enjoy them. He suggests that we have chosen to overemphasize material success and accomplishment, without realizing that we would pay for these things at the cost of our time.

Ultimately, of course, our experience of time is really about our choices. Despite what all the time management courses out there would have us believe, we can’t manage time. We can only manage ourselves and the choices we make with respect to time as a resource. Try these techniques for reorienting your perceptions and use of time:

  1. Leave your watch off for a day. And while you’re at it, turn off your technology. Sound contradictory? On the contrary, there’s no better way to get a sense for your body’s own natural rhythms related to time. Allow yourself a day to wake naturally, eat whenever you want, sleep when you get tired, and do only what you enjoy. You’ll discover how your natural time clock is set, and what it feels like to step into the “flow state” that occurs when you operate by your own time vs. clock time or what others expect. You may discover some things about your own natural patterns that you can incorporate when you reconnect with the clock.

  2. Create “time zones” that allow you to balance your activity. Author Julie Morgenstern suggests creating a time map that allocates specific spaces in your schedule for your core life activities. In Organizing From the Inside Out, she recommends creating “zones” for self time, family time, work time, relationship time, financial time, community time and education time. Once these zones are created, it’s important to honor the boundaries around them, rather than allowing them to bleed over into one another.

  3. Cultivate selectivity. The ultimate key to living well in the information age may be developing a keen sense of selectivity that helps you choose what you will and will not include in your life. This is a skill that will become increasingly important as technology continues to develop and we move to a place of being continuously accessible and having instant availability of information at all times.

You baby boomers out there might remember a song from one of my favorite musicians, James Taylor. It goes, "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time…….try not to try too hard, it's just a lovely ride."

©Barbara Poole, Success Builders, Inc., 2002

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