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Posts tagged ‘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)


Essential Time Mastery — script for a short seminar on YouTube

The seminar/movie is on YouTube at:  http://youtu.be/sGqV6KViRuw

Here’s the script for the seminar, by slide.

Slide 1:

This short seminar introduces essential definitions; inquiry about the zone, personal time, and the source of time pressure; and two powerful methods that can be useful for mastering time.

Slide 2:

Typical conventional time management (CTM) workshops only use one word for different aspects of time. We need some clarity about the different kinds of time.  Here are some descriptions.

Physical, or event time is the continual occurrence of physical and experiential events. The word event is used to describe something that happened, or is happening ‘now’, like getting up in the morning, or noticing that you’re hungry. Event time is what we hear and see on TV and radio news shows.

A second face of time is symbolized by the faces of clocks and watches, different tools for measuring ‘event time’. Different cultures measure event time in different ways.  These measurements allow us to compare and coordinate our activities.

The third face of time is the one that is probably most important for our happiness, although it’s also probably the face that is least understood and most undervalued. Here we will call it personal or psychological time, though it might also be called experienced time. It 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 seem timeless, with little or no feeling of time passing. We feel time ‘drag’ or pass slowly when we’re bored, or having ‘a bad time’. We feel anxious about time when it seems we don’t have enough of it. Our feeling of time passing (FTP) sets up familiar problems: time pressure, anxiety, overwhelm, and the feeling we don’t have enough time.

Rather than measuring or mirroring an ‘external flow’ (which scientists haven’t found), our FTP is just the aggregate result of resisting past negative experiences. (For examples illustrating this, watch the longer introductory time mastery seminar that you can sign up for at  http://www.tskassociation.org/got-time-introduction.html  )   A composite of repressed energy, the FTP is independent of external physical events and speeds. In other words, our feeling of speed and time pressure is a product of past resisted experiences, and not a measure of current external forces or events.

A very important part of personal time for Westerners is called linear time, a sense of horizontal time flow among past, present, and future that moves at the same unchangeable speed for all of us.

Finally, though it’s a kind of lack of any feelings of time passing, timelessness can also be considered a kind of personal time.

Slide 3:

Now we’ll take a look at psychological or personal time, which is not addressed by CTM.  Like a personal space, we have a personal time that can be defined as the length of clock time it takes us to process a bit of information. This varies but we don’t usually pay much attention to it.  It’s like a frequency of awareness, similar to the flashing light that projects movies. We can learn to speed it up and slow it down, opening up new levels of performance and well-being.

Slide 4:

Research shows that  time pressure and anxiety accompanying linear time, the habitual Western perspective of seeing time flowing linearly, is one of the greatest sources of stress for most people. Dr. Larry Dossey wrote, “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.” (Space, Time and Medicine, Larry Dossey, M.D., Shambhala, Boston & London, 1982.)

What is the source of time pressure?  Most CTM seminars don’t even seriously ask this question. But if we know the source, we can probably handle it better. Here are some common candidates for the factors involved:

My boss

A deadline itself

A plate (to-do list) that’s too full, or a lack of clock time


Likes and dislikes, attitudes

Disorganization and confusion about what to do

Unclear priorities

Lack of an effective scheduling system

Here are two uncommon candidates:

Chemical imbalance

Imbalance in one’s energy flow.

My research indicates that the last six of these factors do affect time pressures, and that the most important of these factors is the last one, an imbalance in one’s energy flow. This imbalance seems to be primarily an aggregate result of past emotional residues.  Rather than measuring or mirroring some ‘external time flow’ (which scientists haven’t found), our FTP is typically the result of repressed energy, completely independent of external physical events and speeds. In other words, our feeling of speed and time pressure is typically a product of past ‘undigested’ experiences, and not a measure of current external forces or events. So full schedules and modern speedy technology  are not the problem.

Slide 5:

The gradual process of developing and strengthening the sense of time passing can be expressed in terms of three primary human energy centers:

Some feeling rises to awareness. But rather than feel the feeling, and allow it to dissipate and dissolve, we turn away from it. The feeling is repressed or suppressed and we lose a measure of confidence as well as a bit of the natural fulfillment that accompanies being fully involved in our energies. The energy of the heart is lessened and we feel somewhat pressured.

Excess energy flows to the head and a sense of detached self-consciousness intensifies as our thinking skips about the separate past, present, and future rooms in our experience.

Energy in the area of the throat, which is closely associated with time, becomes agitated as we become anxious and more aware of time passing. We feel a bit more helpless; time becomes more threatening, a greater enemy. Thereafter there’s a more dissatisfied sense of self trying to seek satisfaction through various objects and activities.

Slide 6:

Let’s consider a few more questions, this time about the so-called ‘zone’ of peak experience or peak performance.

When deeply in love, what’s your experience of time/timelessness?

In deep meditation, what’s your experience of time? When doing your best work, what’s your experience of time?

About 70% of people say there’s timelessness; 30% say time goes fast, but without friction or lack of control.

Slide 7:

Here are some quotes from athletes and meditation teachers about the experience of time during peak experiences.  “There is a common experience in Tai Chi . . . . Awareness of the passage of time completely stops.”  (p. 47, In The Zone (ITZ), Murphy and White)

[football player John Brodie:]  “Time seems to slow way down . . . . as if I had all the time in the world . . . and yet I know the defensive line is coming at me just as fast as ever.”   (p. 42, ITZ)

Tom Seaver:  “As Rod Gaspar’s front foot stretched out and touched home plate, in the fraction of a second before I leaped out of the dugout . . . my whole baseball life flashed in front of me . . . .”  (p. 47, ITZ)

Note that conventional time management workshops don’t usually discuss these peak experiences.

Slide 8:

We can do a little inquiry exercise to explore our personal time.  We talk about moments all the time, but how long is a moment?  How long is your moment?  At any time this could be different for all of us.  Make a kind of mental note about how long this seems. . . .

Now, between any two of such moments, see whether you can perceive additional moments, perhaps by just noticing what’s there, perhaps by relaxing while somehow turning up the speed of your awareness. . . .

Continue this experiment for a minute, seeing whether you can perceive additional, possibly subtle, moments between any two moments. . . .

OK.  What happened?  Did you find something you might call “moments between moments?”  Did your experience of time change in the process? . . .

Slide 9:

We can experiment a bit more with personal time and do an exercise to see how it changes.

Usually looking at a clock causes some anxiety.  Does it have to? If you can relax while watching the clock, you can probably stay relaxed in nearly any situation.

This clock watching exercise directly balances the throat energy center, where imbalance seems to produce pressure and anxiety about time.  It also balances left and right brain hemispheres, as shown by research in applied kinesiology.

Set up your environment so that you have five minutes when you won’t be interrupted or distracted.  When the timer on the next slide starts, just relax and watch the timer’s hand move. Breathe easily, gently, and smoothly through both nose and mouth, with the tip of your tongue on the upper palate just in back of your front teeth.  As you continue, see if you can let the breath become more and more even and continuous, without breaks or jerkiness–this is important. Evenness and continuity of the breath is reflected in the clarity and peacefulness of awareness.

Slide 10:  timer

Slide 11:

During the clock watching exercise, did the sense of time pressure and anxiety decrease?

Did the feeling of time change? If so, how?

Did every minute seem equally long?

How were pressure and anxiety related to the flow of time?

You can practice this way of breathing as often as you can remember it. After a month or so, your whole energy level and sense of balance and relaxation will probably change.

Slide 12:

Here’s a list of resources available for time management and time mastery:

For a free 45-minute movie on mastering time, sign up at http://www.tskassociation.org/got-time-introduction.html

For a complete Mastering Linear Time workshop, see:

Coaching is available for individuals and groups—take advantage of a free, half-hour needs assessment interview.  For more information, email   steve@manage-time.com

Other available publications:  Two books, Flow, Glow, and Zero, and Results in No Time, numerous articles on time management and time mastery, two websites, http://www.tskassociation.org and http://www.manage-time.com, cassette tapes, and email newsletters.