Time Keeps on Ticking into the Future

paradox clockTime influences who we are as a person, how we view relationships and how we act in the world. Our attitudes to time and the way we use it, reveals much about our personality, attitudes and philosophy.

Do you race to beat the clock? Or do you have too much time on your hands?

What is Time?

Time? What is time and does it really exist? Linear, nonlinear time, eternal now, infinity…  How long or short can time intervals be? How has timekeeping evolved over the centuries? How do we measure time today? Why doesn’t time flow backwards? Why does time seem so variable?

The Time Paradox

Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd co-authored The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life. There’s a natural connection from it to Robert Levine’s earlier book A Geography of TimeIf you haven’t read these books then do so, as I gained much food for thought and insight from them.

Levine, devoted his career to studying time and the pace of life and his book is an enchanting tour of time through the ages and around the world.  He asks us to explore a dimension of our experience that we take for granted – our perception of time. He raises some fascinating questions.

How do we use our time?

Are we being ruled by the clock?

What is this doing to our communities?

What is this doing to our relationships?

What is this doing to our bodies and psyches?

Are there decisions we have made without conscious choice?

Are there alternative tempos we might prefer?

Perhaps, Levine argues, our goal should be to try to live in a “multitemporal” society, one in which we learn to move back and forth among nature time, event time, and clock time.

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo was the leader of the notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment — and an expert witness at Abu Ghraib. Zimbardo conveys how our individual perspectives of time affect our work, health and well-being.

Central to  Zimbardo’s perspective on differences in time perspective is the consideration of the most relevant factors that influence a person’s decisions and actions at a given time.  An Overview of Time Perspective Types

Zimbardo says happiness and success are rooted in a trait most of us disregard: the way we orient toward the past, present and future. He suggests we calibrate our outlook on time as a first step to improving our lives.

For some people it’s only about what is in the immediate situation, what other people are doing and what you’re feeling. And those people, when they make their decisions in that format — we’re going to call them “present-oriented,” because their focus is what is now.

For others, the present is irrelevant.It’s always about “What is this situation like that I’ve experienced in the past?” So that their decisions are based on past memories.And we’re going to call those people “past-oriented,” because they focus on what was.

For others it’s not the past, it’s not the present,it’s only about the future.Their focus is always about anticipated consequences.Cost-benefit analysis.We’re going to call them “future-oriented.” Their focus is on what will be.

Any time perspective in excess has more negatives than positives.

Zimbardo says: Developing the mental flexibility to shift time perspectives fluidly depending on the demands of the situation, that’s what you’ve got to learn to do.

Philip Zimbardo: The Secret Powers of Time (10 minutes)

Time is an equal opportunity employer.  Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day.  Rich people can’t buy more hours.  Scientists can’t invent new minutes.  And you can’t save time to spend it on another day.  Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving.  No matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.  — Denis Waitely

Time Management Approaches

The first lesson that I have learned from doing my contracted work is how to subdivide large, tough tasks into smaller, easily accomplished smaller chunks so it seems less insurmountable. Doing that lifts my spirit and increases my energy level.

Once I’ve decided what my “A” priority tasks are and subdivided projects into smaller chunks, I spend about 40 minutes an “A” priority task. Then switch for about 15 minutes to one of the chunks of a larger task. By scheduling time for both, I can make sure that what needs to be done gets done without feeling overwhelmed.

The second lesson was harder one to learn. I was a perfectionist who used to work until I dropped. I had to learn to take periodic breaks.

I can take a brief 15 minute walk around my property with my dog and return energized and with new ideas. I can also just flop into a deck chair and enjoy a 20 minute green tea break that will also result in an energy boost.  At least once during the day I have a quiet hour for meditation.  Related Posts: Top Twenty Time Savers and Pareto’s Principle: The 80/20 Rule

The hardest lesson of all for me to learn was rooted in perfectionism and a desire to please. I had to learn to say “no” when I had too much on my agenda. Read my comment in Have You Killed the Angel of Perpetual Giving?


  1. Do you try to schedule as much as possible into the day?
  2. Do you spend your time working at your own pace, without pressure?
  3. Are you able to shift gears smoothly when required?
  4. Has the way you view time and where your invest your time changed over the years?


  1. One of my favorites is by a Hopi Indian, who said he had to go to the reservation school and the white teacher kept telling the children “Hurry up! You’re losing time!” and he looked all over in the classroom trying to find the “lost time . .. :)

    He went on to say that the settlers and people in the towns were like people sitting on the back of a raft going down river and looking backwards afraid, and saying “Where is all the time going? We are losing it!” Whereas the Hopi’s sit on the front of the raft and see more and more time coming to them from an endless source …

  2. TT, I’ve always lived a very idle life with very few planned activities. So Time has always moved very slowly for me, the way it does for a child, as I meander from one spontaneous and fleeting interest to the next.

  3. What a great post, TT! I used to overschedule myself when I was younger. It really made time seem to move so much faster. Now that I’m older, though, time moves so much faster all on its own. All I want to do is slow down!

  4. This is a fascinating post, I want to pick up The Time Paradox and read more.
    I try to schedule as much as possible for *me*. In other words, I know I need transition time, some require more than others, ie: I give up an hour of sleep in the morning in order to have some time to myself, to sit quietly with my coffee before beginning to deal with the demands of the world and needs of others.

    No question, the way I view time has changed over the years. I’ve grown much more patient, which I think ultimately helps me to be more effective and mindful in how I take care of things.

    • Hi there,
      I also get up early so I can start my day in solitude and like you the passage of time has increased my patience. As I’ve aged I’ve also shifted my preferences for where I invest my time. Above all I have learned not to waste time on sweating the small stuff. Though I still struggle to make the time to blog at this stage in my life, I’m managing my time better than I have previously.

      The Time Paradox is an interesting read for sure so I don’t hesitate recommending it. For a concise summary of Zimbardo’s time perspective types click this link http://www.thetimeparadox.com/2008/08/03/an-overview-of-time-perspective-types/

      • Time management is definitely still a struggle, though maybe management isn’t really the best word. Yes, prioritizing, not getting sucked into things that don’t matter…make all the difference. I’m pleased with blogging, so far. I refuse to beat myself up if I don’t blog as frequently as I had intended; it’s slow, but I’m learning.

        Thank you for the link!

        • Hi again,
          I’ve blogged since 2005 now and I have seen many bloggers begin a blog enthusiastically and disappear within 6 months time. Every 9 seconds a new blog is founded and every 6 seconds another one dies. At the end of a year most blogs that have been launched are neglected or abandoned. This is our reality.

          If you want to succeed in blogging you have to choose where to place blogging on your priority list of the many things you do in your life. If you have an active life then blogging will not be at the top of that priority list. You have to choose to become your own timekeeper and your own cheerleader. You have to choose to blog on even when you get no comments and no links. You have to choose to blog on even when you feel un-noticed and unappreciated. In other words, you will do well in blogging if you always remember that it’s the tortoise who actually finishes the race.

        • Very interesting stats. I’m enjoying blogging. I love when I get comments and feedback, seeing the stats numbers go up, but I also like what it does for my head, if that makes sense. Like yoga for the mind, maybe.

          I can’t say where Mrs Fringe will be a year from now, but I’m a huge believer in one day at a time. :)

  5. 1.Do you try to schedule as much as possible into the day?
    If I am required on the job or have a clear deadline imposed from an other party, yes. If there is not external party requiring the deadline, I am pretty loose. Not good.

    2.Do you spend your time working at your own pace, without pressure?
    Yes, for the most part unless I have a work-related client job/request. Even on the job, I do choose to work at my pace and for alot of employers that I’ve worked for, it has been mutually agreeable because I’m self-motivated. I sometimes place abit of pressure on myself. Otherwise I won’t get certain things done.

    For those who don’t have children, there is less atttention to timelines. I notice this with a woman this past weekend who changed our meet-up time 3 times to go to the Rockies: lst it was 10:00 am, next day 11:00 am and next day noon. Most definitely I am not like that at all. Specific time to meet people is quite important since we all have different personal schedules.

    3.Are you able to shift gears smoothly when required?
    If it’s not artistic stuff, yes. I derive energy and motivation from multi-tasking in 1 day. However to do art, it does require that my being decompresses and gets into the “zone” of inspiration and creation.

    4.Has the way you view time and where your invest your time changed over the years? Yes, view of time has changed alot with people who I know have died or who currently have a terminal illness/disease. Time for mortals is not endless.

    It also makes a difference when my partner is 16 yrs. older than I –therefore it affects what he and I choose to do while we’re still healthy and sane.

    I think too many people push themselves into near future, with their buzzing cellphones, need to be connected digitally all the time. They are not paying as close attention to the present. Most definitely that is not operating on Nature’s time and daily cycles.

    • Hi Jean
      Like you, unless I have an externally imposed deadline I’m loose. But I don’t consider that to be a bad thing because I used to schedule more than I could do in a day – every day.

      The way I view time has changed dramatically in the last decade. During that time I lost my parents, a sibling and three close friends. I have also had health crises and the losses and health threats have made me keenly aware that the time I have left is precious.

      I agree with what you have stated in your final paragraph. The techno-hooked are definitely not operating on Nature’s time. In fact the kind of technology we favor is time-saving technology and it’s aimed at defying Nature’s time.

  6. Another great book for thoughtfulness on time is by Robert Grodin called “Time and the Art of Living”. It’s out of print now, but a lot of used bookstores have it. It’s not an easy read – more of a dip into it and think about it type of book.

    Thanks for the recommendation and the items to think about. Definitely something for my private journals.


    • Hi Nancy,
      I recall reading this book. This quote from a review sums up what I read quite well: “In a series of wise, witty, and playful meditations, he suggests that happiness lies not in the effort to conquer time but rather in learning “to bend to its curve,” in hearing its music and learning to dance to it. Grudin offers practical advice and mental exercises designed to help the reader use time more effectively, but this is no ordinary self-help book. It is instead a kind of wisdom literature, a guide to life, a feast for the mind and for the spirit.”

  7. Very timely and relevant for me. I was pondering my perennial dilemma, “Why do I always schedule more into my day / week than I can ever possibly achieve, and as a result always feel dissatisfied with my use / lack of time?” Its a behavioural loop that I’ve never got to the bottom of, yet!

    • Hi Paul,
      I think we all need to learn how to be kinder to ourselves and we cannot do that unless or until we recognize over-scheduling for what it is ie. lack of self respect. When we fail to respect our own limitations we also fail to respect the limitations those who are closest to us. Burdening ourselves with more than what we can do defeats our aim of of developing self-compassion. Without self compassion we cannot become our own best friend. Until we can become our own best friend we cannot develop more compassion for others.

      lack of self respect + unrealistic expectations + over-scheduling = an abusive cycle.

      • That’s an astonishingly insightful observation. Abusive cycle jars, but I think that’s exactly what this subconscious behavioural loop intends. I’m very grateful to you, I would much rather learn compassion for myself and others than judgement and abuse. Thanks tt. :-)

        • Hi Paul,
          I’m glad to hear this little formula resonates. It took me years to comprehend that my lack of self respect evidenced by over-scheduling was the beginning point of an abuse cycle. I hope it doesn’t take others as many years to learn that life lesson as it took me to learn it.

  8. I recognize much of myself in experiences you described here … perfectionism rooted in desire not only to please and to be accepted. However, recently I have started to change that. Couple of things that happened simultaneously helped that change; getting older, my child becoming more independent (I have one child who I raised alone in NZ), and believe it or not – blogging! My blog brought many surprising and completely unexpected changes to my life and one of them is accepting myself for who I am now, rather than who I might become in some future time. Consequently, enjoying my time now and working at my own peace has become more and more important.
    Thank you for another great post!

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