Helpful Observations on Time

As a culture we’re obsessed with age and the passage of time – especially at this time of year (holidays and the whole New Year thing). I imagine you’ve heard a lot of things along the lines of; ‘Back in my day kids were (pick your favorite complaint)‘ – Or more simply just “Get off my lawn!

The point is that with age comes wisdom. Or maybe with the passage of enough time you will pick up some useful observations on how things work. Here are some hopefully useful observations on time:

Time is a fairly recent artificial construct…

I recently read Oliver Burkeman’s excellent book ‘Four Thousand Weeks Time Management for Mortals’, and one of the many big ideas that really jumped out at me is that time as we think about it today is actually a fairly new idea. As recently as a few hundred years ago, people didn’t track time!

Instead most people were driven by external factors – dawn and dusk marked the start and the end of the day. Weather and seasons drove most activities (agricultural focus for the majority of people). You couldn’t have a meeting at 11:00 because no one really knew when 11:00 was.

It’s actually much deeper than that – because people didn’t think in terms of time they also didn’t have a lot of other modern challenges:

  • Feeling like you had too much to do (or not enough time to do it)
  • Feeling like life was moving too fast
  • A need to ‘save’ time or be more efficient / productive

Bottom line, they didn’t feel time pressures because time wasn’t a thing for them – which is pretty crazy to think about in today’s environment.

With that revelation in mind – here are some additional observations and hopefully some useful ideas to help process them:

Time is Finite

Burkeman’s book is titled 4000 Weeks because that’s approximately our current projected lifespan (about 80 years). It’s a small change (going from years to weeks) but it’s a pretty impactful one that really gets you to thinking about how much time you have left.

Inevitably when you think about your life (and your challenges) in the perspective of 4000 weeks a lot of things that might be bothering you suddenly don’t feel like that big of a deal. Conversely it puts a very different spin on how you are spending your time.

If you’re having some trouble wrapping your head around this one – Tim Urban from the blog Wait But Why did a fantastic job of putting this idea into a visual chart – Your Life in Weeks. If that doesn’t drive you to think differently, I don’t know what will.

What can we take away from this?

For starters – take some time to think about what you want out of your life… what you really want. It’s okay to drift but our time is running out… having some direction will make a lot of things easier.

Invest in taking care of yourself. Your 4000 (or so) weeks isn’t a guarantee – and it could be more, but a lot of that depends on staying healthy and sound. Everything about life is a lot better when you feel healthy and strong. It’s worth the time and effort to make that happen.

Use the 10-10-10 approach when you’re feeling stuck on a decision. I read about this in the book ‘Decisive’ by the Heath brothers and it’s essentially a shortcut way to tap into the 4000 weeks idea. When you’re faced with a challenge or a decision, think about how it will impact you in 10 minutes, then think about how it will impact you in 10 months… and finally how it will impact you in 10 years. If you’re still good with your approach across all of those timeframes, then it’s likely a good decision or approach.

Tempus Fugit (Time Flies)

If you’re a parent, it’s likely that you’ve heard someone say something along the lines of “The days are long but the years are short”. And if you’re a dad that’s over the age of 40 or so, I’m guessing you can’t listen to Cats in the Cradle without getting a lump in your throat.

As a parent who’s kids have (mostly) moved into their own lives, I can confirm that you will be shocked at how quickly things start moving as your kids get older. In our case it felt like we jumped from middle school dramas to graduating college in about 2 months…!

I’ve seen some interesting theories on why time seems to move more quickly as you get older but whatever the reason, it’s a real thing and it definitely impacts how you look at life.

What can we take away from this?

Focus on experiences (making memories as trite as that may sound), rather than accumulating ‘stuff’. One of the more prevalent theories on how we look at time is that experiencing new things can subjectively slow time down.

Have something to look forward to. This was stated well by one of my favorite fictional characters – Scot Harvath (from author Brad Thor); “The key to a good life is to have something to do, have someone to love and to have something to look forward to.” That something to look forward to could be as big as your next vacation in a few months or as small as a planned dinner out with friends next week. Having something to look forward to helps to put your flow of time into a better perspective.

You can’t manage time… you can only manage yourself

There’s an entire industry built on the idea of time management and productivity – but the reality is that all of those tactics are built on a flawed assumption that you can somehow ‘manage’ or create time. We all have the same 24 hours and those minutes and hours are going to tick by at roughly the same rate for all of us. There’s nothing you can do to change or stop that passage of time.

You can make yourself more productive (get more done in less time) but be aware that productivity can be a different kind of trap. The world tends to reward those who get more done by generating more work. Or to put it a bit differently, the more you get done, the more likely that you’ll feel like you need to do even more. It’s not possible to get everything done.

What can we take away from this?

The good news is that there are a few things you can do to help deal with Time Management challenges.

The first one is to figure out your priorities – what are the top 1 or 2 things that are going to make the most impact on where you really want to go. And then only spend time on those 1 or 2 things. Obviously there will still be lots of small day to day things you have to do, but you can likely cut out a lot of the bigger ones.

If you’re looking for a good resource on this idea – I would highly recommend the book ‘Essentialism’ by Greg McKeown. One of my favorite quotes from that book is; “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.“. Truly narrowing your focus can be a difficult thing to do, but it’s also a great way to free yourself from being too busy and too overwhelmed by it all.

The other idea that you can take away from this is that you don’t have to always be focused on productivity. Despite what the current ‘hustle’ environment would have you believe, there is a lot of merit and benefits to slowing down and doing something just for you and your enjoyment.

Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – Martha Troly-Curtin

What do you think? Any new perspectives on time here for you? Any ideas that you’d like to share? Leave me a comment below and share your thoughts – I’d love to hear from you.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

1 thought on “Helpful Observations on Time”

  1. Julie Bartels Smith says:

    Love your perspective and appreciate how you bring all these ideas to me without my having to read the books. A real time saver! The big takeaway for me is intentionality — making sure you’re doing what you want to do rather than wasting time on unintentional activities like doom scrolling. I already contemplated this idea for 2023 and appreciate the reinforcement. Thank you, Shawn!

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