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Getting to Know Your Time Experience

several different kinds of clocks on a neutral wall

Getting to know your time experience means you getting to know your likes, dislikes, and particulars when it comes to time. It helps you understand how you operate time and the roles it plays in your life.

Time can be hard for me, it's either right now or not right now. If I have a client in 2 hours, I am likely to fritter away that 2 hours checking the time instead of doing something. It's this weird alternate reality where my sense of time feels like I'm running late and I am nowhere close to that- but my sense of time fully thinks I am.

I've learned to set timers for myself (either on my phone or my Time Timer) and that helps a lot. Then when my timing starts feeling like I'm late when I'm not I look at the timer I've set and I know I'm on track.

An orange timer that displays time visually
Time Timer in action

But I still feel like I don't operate my time wisely. I don't mean that in a productive way, I mean in the useful way. Like if I'm trying to use a flathead screwdriver on a phillips head screw- it kind of works, but kind of doesn't. It seems like I don't have a clear understanding of how I relate to time, and how I want time to relate to me.

Then I started to wonder- why don't I have a good grasp on how time and I work best together? I began to think about what I do know about me and time. I know I like to have a lot of time to get going at the beginning of the day, so I get up around 5am. I know I like to be on time for things, yet I'm often too early. I know that setting timers helps me feel at ease in between things- a more secure sense of time. The Time Timer is a great tool so I can see how long I have rather than try to imagine it.

People ask me for "tips and tricks" to help them manage their time. We talk about different methods, what has worked in the past, why they stopped using something if it was working. But what about getting a clear and honest understanding of time and you personally? I think if instead of hacks and shortcuts we did the work of understanding how time works for us personally we'd be a lot better off.

It's like knowing what kinds of foods you like and don't like, and how you like them prepared.

If you didn't pay attention to what you liked to eat and didn't like to eat you'd always be putting things in your mouth that grossed you out, or maybe you'd forget how much you love strawberries or Doritos. If you didn't know you like your pasta al dente, your salsa spicy, and your steaks medium rare you could be easily disappointed. You give food your attention every day. Could you do that with time too? We think about what kinds of food we're in the mood for, or how hungry we are- what if we thought about time in that way? In a way that is not a hack but a clear understanding.

One reason I think we don't have a better understanding of time is that when we're young someone else tells us how to use our time. Adults tell us where to be, when to be there, and how long we'll stay. Because we start out not having a lot of autonomy when it comes to time we tend to just keep not understanding what to do with it. We know we hate to be late, we know the ways we'd rather be spending our time but don't, but mostly I think we feel like time doesn't belong to us. And because it isn't "ours" we don't make the effort to deeply understand the role it plays in our lives.

What if time is yours?

Your time. If everyone has their own time it makes sense to learn about it. A good way to to start exploring that for me has been seeing what my attitude is about time. Am I fighting with it all day? Or do I feel in harmony, like time is on my side? What can I do to help us get along?

I have the clock in my car covered because it made me increasingly frustrated to see the minutes ticking by while in stop go traffic on the way to take my youngest to high school in the morning. It would get later and later, traffic would be at a standstill on the interstate, and I would feel helpless, glaring at the time passing, getting madder and madder.

It sucked.

I wanted to lash out at my teenager- "Why can't you get up earlier!'

I wanted to yell at everyone in traffic- "Why can't you keep moving!"

I wanted to berate myself- "Why can't you make this work!"

I was trying to control the time, but there were factors out of my control- it's hard to wake up when you're fifteen, traffic is traffic, and so how could I make it work? Then I realized: if I can't watch the clock, I won't get upset. So I covered the clock, and guess what? The commute to school is no longer a stressful experience. We get there at around the same time every day, and I am not emotionally wrung out by 9am. What I needed to learn was that I prefer to not know what time it is on the way to school.

Who ever would have guessed that the thing I needed to do was figure out the role I needed time to play? Not me- I thought I was going to have to figure out how to get a teenager to be willing to not sleep until the past possible minute, or figure out seven different ways to get to school faster, then be able to predict which one was the best on any given day. Instead I figured out that time needed to be out of sight so I wasn't stressed. Funnily enough, we are never late to school. All that stress and watching and controlling didn't change a thing about time, focusing on what I needed time to do did.

What if we had a sense of time like we have a sense of taste?

A sense of time is usually thought of as knowing what time it is at any given time- a perception of time. What I'm talking about is having a sense of your preferences when it comes to time, just like you have a sense of your preferences when it comes to food. Getting deliberate and attentive to what works and doesn't work for you when it comes to time is a new way of thinking about what our days can be like- things that don't rely on changing the behavior of others, but instead depend on us knowing the role we need time to play. In the above example, I needed time to be out of sight, but when I'm between clients I need time to be a bystander- not fully in my face but peripheral. I can concentrate on other work or pursuits knowing time has my back, that it won't let me miss my next appointment.

Until I figured this out, I would check double check triple check the time and not be able to focus. I lost many good hours of work to utilizing my time this way. It was frustrating, but I thought I needed to learn better concentration rather than looking at what role I needed time to play. I got so cranky with myself! Being on time for my clients is important to me, and so is my other work. I had to figure out a system that let me do both. I needed time to watch itself for me, so I could do other things. Making time a bystander by setting a timer between clients is a win win for me.

More to learn

I just started this practice of getting deliberate about my time experience and what role I need time to play in my daily life, I'll share what I learn as I do here on my blog. The next place I want to pay attention to is after work- I tend to shut down completely after work and I'd like to feel more attentive and alive when work is over so my daily free time is more enjoyable. I haven't figured out yet what role I need time to play here- does time need to be more obvious so I can relax after work, have a leisurely cook and eat dinner, then shut down? I'm wondering if I don't feel like the day is over when work is over if that would change how I spend the rest of my day, and what time can do to support that vision. I'll keep you posted! :)

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