Most days time is my enemy. I need another three hours each day to get everything done. Work and life are both pretty hectic schedules for me. I deluded myself that when my children grew up that I would find more free time.
Is time your enemy too?
While a lot of us regard time as an enemy when we get more of it we consider it a luxury.
When your boss says, “That work I needed for tomorrow, I can’t look at until next week. Why don’t you get it to me Monday?” Those extra days are a luxury.
My Mum is well read and would always have a relevant quote when I was struggling with an issue.Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst. Click To Tweet
Sounds relevant to my problem today. Safe to assume that things weren’t much different when William Penn wrote that in 1682.
A strange relationship
We have a strange relationship with time. When you feel you have plenty of it, the world opens up. You find the motivation to act on this luxury and explore. And on the other hand, we revel in the luxury of it.
Contrast that to when you feel short of time. There are not enough hours in your day. It’s stressful and taxing. You start making decisions based on that anxious feeling that you lack enough time.
For me, it meant breaking my well-intended routines and reaching for that quick, unhealthy snack. The non-urgent but important activities got put on hold.
Things like preparing my fresh food, exercise, personal projects and relationships. Crazy stuff when I know that they nourish and enrich me.
One of the keys to managing my time better was to understand my relationship with it. Sounds too complicated? Let’s think of it this way, knowing how I respond when time is scarce lets me control my actions and panic less.
This is the key
How you think about time affects the reality of how you spend it. That makes the ability to influence your perception of time incredibly powerful.
Here are three surprising methods, backed by research, that will help expand your sense of time. When that happens, you will have the motivation to make better decisions about how you use the time you have.
1. Give your time away to others
One of the most counterintuitive things you can do to increase your sense of time is to give some of it away.
Researchers from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania looked at how we spend our time. Spending time on other people instead of spending unexpected free time on yourself, expands your sense of present and future.
In one experiment, participants had to perform one of two tasks.
Either write a short letter to a seriously ill child or count the number of times the letter “e” showed up in some text. The letter-writers reported that they felt like they had more time.
In a follow-up experiment, they had two groups. One spent 10 or 30 minutes “doing something for yourself that you weren’t already planning to do today.”
The other spent 10 or 30 minutes on someone else. Doing an unplanned, spontaneous act. The duration of the time spent didn’t matter but what they spent it on did.
And again, spending time on others expanded people’s sense of the future.
A sense of usefulness
They concluded that this expansion happens because helping people increases your sense of usefulness and effectiveness.
Decompressing in front of the television or getting a massage might be fun and relaxing, but activities like these are unlikely to increase feelings of self-efficacy.
Other research backs this up. Modern life has an increase in leisure. But this increase in leisure time has not increased people’s sense of time affluence.
Could this be due to people’s choice to spend that additional leisure time on themselves?
Instead, spend minutes on others to help that stressful feeling like you’re trying to squeeze your day into a shoe size that’s too small.
You don’t have to donate extraordinary amounts.
The researchers noted that little acts of prosocial behaviour are enough: “Carve out 10 to 15 minutes a day to do something for someone else.”
2. Seek Awesome
Think about a point at which time stood still or even melted away. Do it right now. A point when you were totally caught up in the moment.
There is a reasonable likelihood that you just experienced awe. Indeed, researchers from Stanford University confirmed in a series of studies that awe expands your sense of the present.
The feeling of awe, itself, is quite expansive. It’s what you feel when you perceive a kind of vastness that shifts your understanding of the world. It alters your perspective about your place in it.
I experienced a sense of awe at the birth of my children. You might experience awe from encountering immensity or beauty.
Things like seeing the Alps or the pyramids in Egypt or from experiencing a personal turning point.
In one experiment, participants watched two different commercials. The awe-eliciting commercials featured images like beautiful waterfalls and astronauts in space.
The participants reported feeling like they had more time than people who watched the happiness-eliciting commercials.
Researchers found that this expanded sense of time even increased people’s willingness to volunteer to help others because they felt less impatient.
Awe helps you live in the present, captivating your attention. This stretches out daytime because you’re not as concerned with how much of it you have.
You might think that awe-eliciting experiences might be hard to find, but small doses can be enough. Remember that even the one-minute ads that the researchers used in the experiment were effective.
Seek out things that make you go “Oh my!”
One of the best ways to do that is to get out and experience the beauty and wonders of nature. Experience new things such as travel, which helps you focus on the present moment and increase the chance of an awe-inspiring moment.
Or look up at the night sky.
3. Schedule good stuff
Enjoying the moment seems like an obvious answer to increasing our happiness and reducing anxiety over how we’re spending it. The problem is that we often deny ourselves those moments.We think we are too busy, creating an unhealthy feedback loop. Or we feel guilty, which lessens our enjoyment of it. Click To Tweet
In a paper for The Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers examined how rethinking time affects our happiness. They concluded that it also depends on our sense of control.
They wrote: “…having spare minutes or hours and perceiving control over how to spend those moments, correlates to a strong and consistent effect on life satisfaction and happiness.
Even controlling for the actual amount of free time one has. Feeling an expanded sense of present makes us happier because we feel like we’re not victim to forces totally outside of our power.”
Using daytime wisely requires managing our sense of control over how we spend our hours rather than letting time happen to us.
An excellent way to do this is to schedule things that you want to do as diligently as you might schedule a business meeting.
If you want to exercise or spend more time with a friend or read more, literally put it on your calendar.
The suggestion sounds almost too simple. And even a little too type-A personality or OCD. But the fact remains that we don’t follow through on our goals.
Research explains that even though our smarter selves know what energises and sustains us, “there is often a gap between where people say they want to spend their time and how they spend their time.”
Make it an easy decision
You can close the gap and regain a better sense of control by making your desired activity an easier decision. Design it, so you are less at the mercy of self-doubt, procrastination, and inertia to overpower you.
When you put something on a calendar, you’re more likely to do that activity. Partly because you’re less likely to have to make an active decision whether you should do it.
Because it’s already on your calendar. Think that the smarter past-you has got future-you’s back.
Fill in your time with what you want to do. Too often we fill our thoughts with regret on missed opportunities. Or how we will get to our goals when we have a spare moment. The spare productive moment is a rare beast indeed.
Chances are higher that you’ll have the time when you schedule it.
The secret to changing your temporal mindset comes down to convincing yourself that you have enough time.
A simple way to find more time is to stop procrastinating. What helps you to manage your time better? Drop a comment below, and let me know how you keep yourself on track.