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How to Embrace Your Relationship With Time

Relatively recently, I discovered a hidden talent: I am uncannily accurate at estimating how long something will take or how much time has passed. A consequence of this — or perhaps the cause — is that automatic glances at the clock are a natural part of my day. One of my favorite party tricks goes something like this:

Me: I always know what time it is.

Partygoer: Oh yeah? What time is it right now?

Me (without flinching or glancing elsewhere): 8:20.

Partygoer: (glances at watch) (stunned look) Whoa. It’s 8:24.

However, I am not a Space Synergist (by “space” I mean, “Where am I now?”). Space and I do not get along; I am a Space Antagonist. You can frequently find me wondering parking lots (looking for my car), restaurants (looking for my table), and sometimes even my own neighborhood (I swear that tree moved). So to Time Antagonists I say — I get it. I know what it’s like to have to work so hard to do something so seemingly simple.

Who are Time Antagonists? They are the ones who are always running late. They don’t understand how two hours just passed. They say, “Sure, I can get that done in a week” when in reality it will take three weeks. They also typically say, “”I’m terrible at managing time.” If you have ever said that you should stop. Right now.

Unlike our relationships with people — which we can and should end if they become unbearably antagonistic — you cannot end your relationship with time. So, it’s in our best interests to make the most of it.

I therefore humbly offer five suggestions to help you embrace time:

Mindfully glance at the clock at least 3 times an hour.

I know, I know. I’m cramping your style. But if you truly want to have a better relationship with time, you need to be aware of it — mindfully aware. Try not to glance at the clock and think: “OMG! I can’t believe what time it is!”

Be aware of time without judging it. The goal is to make this habitual so that it becomes less deliberate and more natural.

Set timers. Frequently.

Timers are your friends. Use technology to remind you when you need to switch tasks. One of my favorite phrases is: “Siri, set a timer for 45 minutes.”

Guess how long it will take.

Start with quick, basic tasks and then move on to longer, more important tasks. In the beginning your guesses may be very, very wrong. Learn from that. Do you typically overestimate? Underestimate? By how much? Get better at guessing and have fun with it.

Always give yourself a buffer.

I have to leave at 5:15 to pick my son up from the Y. (I know this because I have to be there at 5:30 and if I am out the door by 5:15 and out of the driveway by 5:20, I can make it down the street and up the 1.5 flights of stairs to greet my son by 5:30).

POP QUIZ: It’s 4:15 and I want to get some work done before I leave to pick my son up. I should set a timer for _______ minutes.

No, the correct answer is not 60.

If I set the timer for 60 minutes, I’ll finish working at 5:15 and then I’ll have to go to the bathroom, put my shoes on, and oh my goodness where are my keys?! Then I am not out the door until 5:25 and I’m late to pick my son up. This isn’t the end of the world and it’s okay to be late every once in a while, but if you set the timer for 60 minutes that was your fault. It was preventable.

The correct answer is 45 minutes, leaving me a 15 minute buffer to run around the house before I have to be out the door.

When appropriate, forget the above suggestions

There are times when we should NOT watch the clock and when we should NOT worry about how long it’s been. And you should cherish them. They are the times when we feel the most alive. Memories of strolling along the Seine, hiking through the waterfalls of Maui, and gazing at Walden Pond as Thoreau did come to my mind. But these moments can be much simpler as well: an early morning mediation, a lunch out with a friend, or staring out whatever window is closest.

We have to be able to allow these moments to happen. And, somewhat counter-intuitively, one way to experience more of these unstructured moments of bliss is to add more structure to your life.

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Written by

Career Coach for Tech Managers. I help tech managers upgrade their careers, their teams, their paychecks, and their lives.

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