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Posts tagged ‘inner time’

The biggest misconception in time management

I found this post on a discussion forum on the web:

“The idea of “Time Management” is one of the biggest misconceptions of all.  There are only twenty-four hours in every day and we can’t stretch or shrink time.  Thus we can’t ‘manage’ time, we can only manage ourselves in relation to the time we have.  Time is unique because it is finite.  Time is the only resource that must be spent the instant it is received.  Many people miss the point about effective time management.  Good Time Management techniques will save you at least one hour a day and maybe more, but the real question is; what will you do with the extra time?”

Perhaps the main proposition here is that (1) time management is a misconception because (2) there are only 24 hours in a day and (3) we can’t stretch or shrink time.   But if we all have 24 hours in a day, what do we mean when we say “I don’t have time!”?  Obviously we’re not talking about clock time, but we are expressing something. And if time “must be spent the instant it is received,” what do we mean when we say time management can “save you at least one hour a day”?  So I agree that there is considerable confusion in the way we talk about time and time management.

For sure, our Western cultures teach that when we talk about time, we usually mean physical time or its measurement, clock time.   And perhaps the only way we can change physical, or event time itself is to travel near the speed of light in some kind of rocket.    So, yes, in the sense that we don’t (except during space travel) change physical time itself, we do not ‘manage time’.

But does time management only work with physical time?  Besides clock and physical time, there is also psychological time, inner time, felt time, experiential time, or a number of other terms pointing to another, inner type of time–time as feeling or experience.

This third face of time is probably the most important for our happiness, although it’s also probably the face that is least known, least understood, and most undervalued. Here I will call it felt or experiential time. Felt time includes all the different ways we feel or experience time. We may feel time move quickly when we’re having ‘a great time’. During some of the best moments of our lives, things slow down or even seem timeless, with little or no feeling of time passing. On the other hand, we feel time ‘drag’ or pass slowly when we’re bored, or having ‘a bad time’.  Thus some times seem ‘long’ and others feel very ‘short’.  And we feel anxious about time when it ‘goes too fast’, or it seems we don’t have enough of it–even though we all have the same 24 hours a day.  Thus the sense of time flowing or passing is actually very flexible, not fixed and limited like physical time.   Experiential time is clearly very changeable–it even seems to disappear ‘sometimes’!  So although there are only 24 clock hours in a day, might there be a possibility that we can learn to stretch or shrink felt or experiential time?

But then again, why would we want to?  We Westerners gradually and implicitly teach our children that time is linear, like an invisible conveyor belt that moves horizontally at a constant and unchangeable speed between past, present, future ‘rooms’ in our experience.  (This image is from anthropologist Edward Hall, The Dance of Life, pp. 78-9.) The trouble is that seeing time linearly causes us to struggle and race against time. Our work is effortful and stressful; time has a kind of built in friction.  In modern times “it feels like our lives have turned into a grueling race toward a finish line we never reach.” (Jay Walljasper, former editor of Utne Reader)   Physician Larry Dossey said, “Many illnesses—perhaps most—may be caused either wholly or in part by our misperception of time. . . . I am convinced that we can destroy ourselves through the creation of illness by perceiving time in a linear, one-way flow.”

So the mental and physiological habit of linear time–although ‘normal’ in many cultures–is bad for our productivity, health, and well-being. Yet conventional time management usually sees linear time flow as ‘normal’, presuming  that  the  river  of  time  really  does  flow between past, present, and future, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.  CTM just tries to make the best of things within the limitations of the river of time, offering  us  different  ways  to  swim  as  we’re  swept  downstream  by  the current.

To my mind the biggest misconception in CTM is that time flows linearly, and we need to somehow just adapt to this flow.  Scientists have never found any flow ‘out there’ in reality.  “The flow of time is clearly an inappropriate concept for the description of the physical world that has no past, present and future” (Thomas Gold, “Relativity and Time” in The Encyclopedia of Ignorance, ed. R. Duncan and M. Weston-Smith (New York: Pergamon, 1977), p. 100.) It’s just an unhealthy mental and physiological habit taught as we grow up in different cultures, and we can learn how to gradually break the habit.

This is where the new field of inner time management (ITM) comes in. Rather than the usual CTM focus on what we want to do, ITM provides methods to directly optimize how we do things, especially our moment-by-moment feelings of time passing.  Its ‘goal’, if we can call it that, is to change our ordinary linear way of experiencing time passing, along with related troublesome feelings—including ‘overwhelm’, time pressure, frustration, boredom, time poverty (the feeling that we don’t have ‘enough time’), anxiety about time, and ‘hurry sickness’–to the timeless state of peak performance.

Research on peak experience and peak performance shows that these experiences are timeless, as well as optimally productive and fulfilling.  According to Dr. Larry Dossey, “In total immersion in a task, whether listening to lungs or weeding vegetable gardens, time is abolished. It stands still.”  (Dossey, Space, Time, and Medicine, p. 34)  According to Stanford business professor Michael Ray: “If you pay attention at every moment . . . you become more efficient, productive, and energetic, focusing without distraction directly on the task in front of you. Not only do you become immersed in the moment, you become that moment.”  (Hunt and Hait, The Tao of Time, p. 67)  Time management instructors Hunt and Hait wrote: “When we live in the now and are totally absorbed by the activity at hand, we become our most positive and productive selves. . . . Engrossed in the now, we slip effortlessly into a no-boundary place in time and space, a timeless dimension where energy abounds and time is irrelevant.”  (Hunt and Hait, p. 66)

So there can be tremendous value in the new field of inner time management (ITM) whereby we can learn to stretch or shrink felt or experiential time–a discipline Dr. Stephan Rechtschaffen called Time Shifting (1996, Doubleday).  For more information about ITM, see http://www.tskassociation.org/time-movement.html    So, time management doesn’t change or manage physical time itself, but there is a type of little-known inner time management that focuses on our experience of time, taking as its goal ‘movement’ toward the timeless zone of peak performance.

“Unfortunately, the poor use of our time does not make us fat, and so its effects are less visible.  That may be why the problem has not yet been given national priority. Nevertheless, it can make us as sick as overeating.  Ulcers, heart attacks, and cancers are created in the furrows of stress . . . . In a sense, this situation is much more serious, because many more people suffer from stress than from obesity.” (Servant-Schreiber, The Art of Time, p. 31)   “The misuse of time in today’s society should lead to a ‘time movement’.” (Rechtschaffen, p. 226)  “Unless we consciously learn to control time in our lives, the stress we suffer will only get worse. . . . Until we learn to control time consciously, our lives will continue to speed away from us . . . .”  (Rechtschaffen, p. 14)