The Key to More Time in a Time-Scarce World
Time is the measure by how we live our lives.
When we’re twenty minutes late to work, we feel it.
When we’re stuck in traffic, we feel it then too.
And when we’re on vacation, counting the days we have left, we feel it also.
Because time and its scarcity is how most of us experience it: on most days, it’s never enough.
The relativity of time is fascinating — all of us have the same 24 hours in a day, but when we have a good time, those 24 hours seem to pass by quicker, whereas when we have a bad time, that time seems to slow to a crawl. Two different days with the same 24 hours can feel drastically different.
Despite its fluctuations, time seems to work pretty well. We use it to keep order in society — it’s how we know to show up on time to work every morning, how telemarketers know not to call us at 4AM and for construction to stop by 10PM.
But as indispensable as time is, it’s likewise a tool that shackles us.
Most of us live seem to live with the perception that in order to achiever fuller lives, we have to be busy — our typical response being, when someone asks how we’re doing, “BUSY” because anything otherwise might feel like we’re being lazy.
But isn’t time spent, simply a measure of the things we’ve done rather than what we’ve done? Is it more important that we play a hundred hours of piano, or ten songs proficiently?
Steve Jobs once said:
“Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”
Steve is smart, because this also applies to time — with a million things out there that we can do, how many of them are actually important?
Most of us know quality matters more than quantity, but yet…somehow, most of what we value today seems to be based more on the numbers of hours spent rather than the effort of that time.
We like to talk about how long we’ve known someone, how long a business has been established, or how long we’ve practiced certain skills… but when has duration of time ever guaranteed cohesion or proficiency? I mean we could know someone for 20 years but at the same time know nothing about them at all.
A business could likewise be open for twenty years but still be barely profitable, and a skill practiced for years (piano, anyone?)but half-heartedly is still likely to be average.
The truth that comes with ‘practice makes perfect’ is a correlation, not causation. Quality of number of hours spent is what really determines proficiency.
Which is to say, it’s the quality of time spent that matters, much more so than the quantity of time spent. And since ancient Greek, there have been two words to differentiate between these two variations of time: Chronos and Kairos.
Chronos, which is the time we know intimately well is measured by the hours of a clock and the days in a calendar — it is the 4’o clock on a Wednesday afternoon.
Kairos, on the other hand is time as we experience it; if Chronos is the qualitative 4’o clock on a Wednesday afternoon, Kairos is the qualitative pace of time felt when we hang out with our friends at 4’o clock on a Wednesday afternoon.
But beware, not all Kairos is the same:
Kairos is the reason why the pace of the hours of two days can feel entirely different: it’s what we do and how we feel about doing it that determines the pace of that time.
French philosopher Henri Bergson charactersizes time as something to be perceived only through our consciousness:
“Pure duration[time], that which consciousness perceives, must thus be reckoned among the so-called intensive magnitudes, if intensities can be called magnitudes: strictly speaking, however, it is not a quantity, and as soon as we try to measure it, we unwittingly replace it by space.”
Which in other words means that our perception of time dilutes based on activities we do, specifically, our views of those activities. When we do the things we like — playing games, eating good food or hanging out with friends, time seems to pass by quicker, but when we do things we dislike — washing dishes, doing taxes or getting stuck in traffic, time will slowwwww.
And so the way to get more time, to feel as if we’re not wasting it, is to change our view of the activities we do.
Epictetus wrote: “Men are not disturbed by things, but the view they take of things.” Though what he meant by that quote relate to circumstances in which we react negatively, in the same line of reasoning, it is our views of the activities we do that determine the pace of which time is felt.
“Men are not disturbed by things, but the view they take of things.” — Epictetus
By changing the way we think or feel about certain tasks, we can change the pace of time itself:
Maybe instead of feeling frantically rushed because we’re late to work, we should first slow down to catch our breath — in most situations if we’re late, an extra ten minutes isn’t going to matter anyways. But slowing down first to feel less anxious will — it’ll set the pace for the rest of the day.
Or maybe instead of venting out at traffic, we can take a moment to appreciate the opportunity to jam out to our favorite tunes or finally to listen to the podcasts we’ve always wanted to:
Or maybe instead of counting the number of days left in our vacation, we can focus on enjoying what we have left of it:
Time is a tool we all have equal access to. It’s malleable based on our perception; if we allow ourselves to feel good about the activities we do, mundane or not, we’ll feel as if we have more time. It’s a choice, just as this is the life we’ve chosen, with time being the measure by how live our lives.
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