Conceptualizing Time

Working remotely has made time an odd concept especially as I traverse time zones constantly. I’ve come to just view my calendar as my guide and to roll with my surroundings otherwise. When you change timezones for the first time you realize how fickle time is. You realize how arbitrary this concept is that we hold so dear – that we mark important moments with (anniversaries, birthdays, competitions, etc.).

We value friendships that last over the years because seemingly more time makes something more valuable. We question when after a short time, we come to love someone. It hasn’t stood the test of time so our inclination is to not trust this feeling. I’m not sure why this is as many of my closest friends I knew from the moment I met them, I had to know and “do life” with them.

I’ve started changing my concept of time after reading the book Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff. He spoke of differences in time in relation to things like email – we view email as this real time Thing when maybe we should treat it more as letters or something that’s not held to a certain time standard at all! In the world of auto responders, I love this idea. You reply when you do – you don’t strive to answer every email as it comes in. It’s a big reason why I don’t have email synced on my phone. Since my day job does revolve around looming response times, I make a point to orient the rest of my life so that everything else doesn’t (as much as possible).

“In a scheduled world, you are told you have half an hour to peruse an exhibit at the museum; in a programmed world, you are strapped into the ride at Disneyland and conveyed through the experience at a predetermined pace. However richly conceived, the ride’s complexity is limited because its features are built-in, appearing and unfolding in sync with the motions of your cart. The skeleton dangles, the pirate waves, and the holographic ship emerges from the cloud of smoke. In the programmed life, the lights go on and off at a specified time, the coffee pot activates, the daylight-balanced bulb in the programmable clock radio fades up. Active participation is optional, for these events will go on without us and at their own pace.” ― Douglas Rushkoff

Over the last month traveling through Europe, I’ve been to countless museums looking at ancient material stored away behind glass containers. Some are magnificent like the pieces in the celts exhibit in Edinburgh. Others are bizarrely simple – like an ancient comb – that makes me question why this particular piece is valuable. It all goes back to time.

What does time do to me in a day to day sense? It makes me anxious – “I have to do this today or else”. It can comfort me – “I’m only 23 – there’s so much time ahead of me to figure this out”. It can discourage me – “This has taken way more time to do than I thought.” For an anxious person like me, time alters how I view nearly everything from when I should start my day to how I feel about the

When New Year’s or my birthday rolls around, I used to always pause thinking I’ll somehow feel the time that had passed in a new way. As if, this arbitrary marker of a year passing was actually connected to how our bodies physically perceive time and how our minds conceptualize time. I’ve moved away from this the more I nomad in favor of  the feeling of returning to places and not the passage of time. What was life like the last time I was here? What were my priorities? What did I enjoy doing? Time in that sense plays a very different role as me returning somewhere could equate to a day passing (me going to the same coffee shop I went yesterday) or a year (me returning to a place like SF or Chapel Hill) or 5 years. For some reason, this method of checking in resonates more with me as I can typically remember what life was like the last time I was in a certain place whereas I couldn’t tell you anything about where I was this time last year. I have no context for how I might have felt – tieing pausing with places make this act a bit easier and more meaningful for me.

Beyond just these examples, I’m working on changing how I view what I want to accomplish in a day. I’m a very structured person and tend to have a strong internalized idea of how long something should take me. I am strongly influenced by external markers and it drives my internal motivation – I want to be better and I want to know by how much. With data and time management being the new hot trends in those “optimizing your work” type articles, I’ve grown wary of putting too much emphasis on time despite it being very much in line with how I think most would view me.  In particular, time as an accomplishment – it took me 50% less time to do x number of things. On the surface, it feels and looks like an accomplishment. Something took you less time! What does that mean though? Did quality suffer? Were you stressed out of your mind while you did this? Did you take shortcuts? Did it have nothing to do with you but with the work being easier that day? Simply praising a 50% time cut as success is undercutting success itself. We take the situation out of the success and praise efficiency as the sole version of true success. I’m not sure what to make of it. To me, focusing on these small wins makes it too easy to then put pressure on yourself  in a bigger life sense – to be at y within x number of years. This isn’t a bad thing but it narrows your vision which can come at a cost. What you choose to solely measure means you aren’t valuing measuring something else. We can’t always see the big picture but choosing to view one or two slices as success is a bit startling and only feels like a starting point to me.

Try this experiment just for fun – trying counting 60 seconds and run a timer at the same time. When you think 60 seconds is up, check the timer to see how far off you were. I did this and was off by 6.23 seconds. I have no sense of a minute passing let alone a year.

Some random questions to consider & that I asked myself today:

  • How long is it okay to wait for a text to go unanswered?
  • How long is it okay to wait for an email to go unanswered?
  • What aspects of your life do you track in terms of time?
  • How does thinking about time make you feel?

It’s interesting too to think about what we try to track based on time. What aspects of your life do you track with time? For me, I track a lot of what I do when it comes to workouts. I find it to be highly impactful to see progress overtime at least in a “temperature check” sort of way. This kind of casual tracking and self high fives at progress are effective for me and don’t feel like a distraction or a goal in and of itself. This mainly is around running – can I run the same distance in less time? This is just my current phase though as sometimes I switch into different goals like can I run x miles or can I run x miles/day back to back? Because these goals still have number attached to them and they can be give Y/N answer, they still feel valid. Most things in life are not so simple though 🙂



Posted in:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: