In the UK, the clocks spring forward this weekend, so we’ll be on British Summer Time. We get an extra hour of daylight. Not many people seem to miss the lost hour of moonlight, so it seems like we get an extra hour, just by changing the way we measure time. It’s a collective delusion that we’re mostly happy to go along with. Although in 1916 when it was first introduced, people protested at their lost time.
When we think of time as hours and minutes, days and weeks, we’re really only thinking about how we measure time, that’s not time itself. When we divide time into the Past, Present and Future, that’s a description of our experience, rather than places we can go and visit in the car.
Our subjective experience of time can be completely different from one moment to the next. Time spent waiting for a lift seems a lot longer than it actually is, time flies when you’re enjoying yourself, or when you’re in Flow.
So there’s clock time – the one that we measure, and there’s lived time, the one that we experience. It’s easy to confuse the two, and imagine that we can manage clock time; when really we can only manage our experience. There are hundreds of self-help books selling the idea that setting goals, writing to-do lists, prioritising and organising is the solution. Research shows that doing these things enhances our perception of control, which makes us feel better for a while, but it won’t permanently fix the problem, which is how we experience time.
So how can I change the way I experience time? In psychology the dominant theory of Time Perspective is based on Zimbardo and Boyd’s research, which started with this paper (academic pdf) in 1999. Using a tool they developed, you can map your current preferences. Here’s how my map looks:
I’m pretty high on Present Hedonistic, and low on Future. That means I like to live in the Present and don’t plan for the Future. And I don’t really think much about the Past at all.
All that makes it a pretty good bet that I would prefer to spend my extra hour of daylight doing something that gives me a kick right now, rather than thinking about my pension contributions or worrying about tomorrow, or going to the gym.
But now that I know I’m not so great at keeping to a plan, I can start to choose to do things differently. I can better resist the gravitational pull of Now and invest some time in the Future. I can keep promises that I make to my future self, even when faced with present temptation – which will make me feel a lot better about my time use than writing another To-Do list.
And that, my friends, is what Time Management should be about. We call it Time Intelligence.