"Beat the Clock!” -- What you need to know and do to get rid of time pressure
This is Part I of a course initially delivered by weekly email. This part has six lessons, and the first lesson is in the column to the right -->
If you cannot answer the following questions, you probably need Part I of this course:
You can use these links for navigation through the course:
Lesson 1 - What’s problematic about time?
Lesson 2 - What is time? Are there different 'faces' of time?
Lesson 3 - How do we normally experience time?
Lesson 4 - How do we experience time during peak performance?
Lesson 5 - How procrastination worsens the feeling of time flowing
Lesson 6 - Where does the feeling of time flow come from?
For me the whole concept of looking at time in a different way was something I had never thought about before, and so I struggled with that through the day. . . . sort of like, “Oh, you can’t do that.” And yet experiencing it through some of those exercises . . . Part of me was saying “Oh, this isn’t possible,” and the other part was saying “Oh, this is wonderful!”… I think you really have something rather terrific there. —Lauretta Spenader, Human Resources Department, Syntex Laboratories
Your portrayal of time as a kind of conveyor belt passing through past, present, and future rooms . . . followed by the exercise where we turned our usual [temporal] perspective around, produced a real shift in consciousness, a new perception of time. —Rev. Stan Hampson, Palo Alto Unity Church
The tools you gave me at this workshop will last a lifetime. —Marilyn Bankert
Lesson 1 - What’s problematic about time?
What's problematic about time? Its relentless flow? Or the 'fact' that it only flows one way? That it is divided into past, present, and future? Aren't all these things just inherent in time's structure?
Time seems to bother us more than just about anything else. Even in the
remote country of Bhutan, 'time imbalance' is recognized as the second most important negative influence on happiness and well-being. We're anxious about not having enough time, afraid of death, pressured by deadlines, too hurried to enjoy what we're doing, unable to be creative under pressure, unable to accomplish all we'd like to, and yet we waste lots of time. Life slips by, somewhat out of control.
“Beat the Clock” was the name of a TV show that was popular years ago. To win prizes, contestants had to complete certain tasks within short periods of time. It was fun to watch the people race around, and get nervous and make mistakes. Unfortunately, for many of us “Beat the Clock” would be a good subtitle for our lives, where we’re the frazzled contestants racing against time.
Do you have too much to do, and not enough time? Is the only ‘solution’ to race against time and just put up with the extra stress? Most of us think so. “Our lives have turned into a grueling race toward a finish line we never reach.” (Jay Walljasper, Utne Reader)
“Many people now find that they live in a rush they don’t want and didn’t
create, or at least didn’t mean to create. If you feel busier now than you’ve ever been before, and if you wonder if you can keep up this pace much longer, don’t feel alone. Most of us feel slightly bewildered, realizing we have more to do than ever–with less time to do it.” (Hallowell, M.D., CrazyBusy , p. 4)
As mentioned in an ABC news video some years ago, “many of us are now in a hurry most of the time.”* We have habits of rushing--which has been called hurry sickness--and time poverty--the feeling that we don't have enough time. These mental and physiological habits strongly affect our health and well-being. Dr. Stephan Rechtschaffen wrote, "I would say that 95 percent of the stress in our lives relates to our feeling of time poverty." (p. 48)
(*For a video depicting our modern situation, see "Got Time?", a nine-minute video is hosted on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Suki-Jg27qc It depicts the habitual Western problems with time pressure and the feeling of not having enough time, identifies common ways of not dealing with the problem, and then suggests that there are ways to change our personal time (like a personal space).)
It’s not a matter of just feeling stressed out: “By living in mental time–in a
speeded-up world–with the resultant repression of emotional issues, we
increase the chance of disease.” (Larry Dossey, Space, Time, and Medicine, p. 171) . . . According to Dr. Larry Dossey, "The importance of the exaggerated response to time, the sense of urgency . . . is that it is translated into physiologic effects. These effects are pervasive and are seen long before heart disease supervenes. These physiological events are so characteristic of time-sick persons, they could be called the time syndrome. Among them are increased heart rate and blood pressure at rest; elevation of certain blood hormones . . . increased blood cholesterol; an increased respiratory rate; increased secretory activity of sweat glands; and increased muscle tension throughout the body. The time syndrome is a body-mind process with effects on all major systems. It is not simply a conscious experience of unpleasant feelings." (p. 51)
"Many illnesses--perhaps most--may be caused either wholly or in part by our misperception of time. . . . I am convinced that we can destroy ourselves through the creation of illness by perceiving time in a linear, one-way flow." (p. 21)
"The chronic misjudgment of the nature of time should be seen for what it really is: chronic disease itself. It is a silent process, but for many of us an inexorable one leading to disease which can be fatal. We do not ordinarily judge it in these terms, of course, and too frequently ascribe our sense of time urgency to 'nerves.' Having misjudged the cause of our distress, we misjudge the solutions—tranquilizers and alcohol are too often the most commonly trusted antidotes." (p. 166)
What Can We Do About Our Issues with Time?
Time management can help with some issues on time, but it often creates
side-effects in the process.
Right now we'll consider one example of this: scheduling things. Most of us know that not scheduling things in an organized way will lead to confusion, lack of efficiency, and wasted time.
But as many time management students have noticed, planning, scheduling, or just thinking about the future can produce side-effects of making us feel more pressured and anxious. Time may even seem to perversely speed up.
How do we deal with these side-effects? Some meditation writings seem to
suggest that in order to avoid this anxiety about time, we should try to stop
thinking about the future. But to get anything done we need to plan and think about what we're going to do.
Instead of giving up our goals, or foolishly trying to give up thinking about the future, we need to attend to how we mentally view our goals and the future in general, which is part of the overall perspective we learned about time. Our planning usually involves pressure and anxiety because over years we have developed a habitual way of looking at the future, a way that can be called the 'pressure perspective': we occupy a point in time we call 'the present', and we look from this point to a somewhat distant segment of time called 'the future', which contains the time that is relentlessly closing in on us here in the present with a speed that seems unchangeable. In other words, "First we pick out a point situated 'up ahead' in time, then we measure the distance to that point, then we react to this situated point." (p. 93, Dynamics of Time and Space )
To minimize the pressure and anxiety side-effects of planning and scheduling, while we consider our goals we can simply loosen up any kind of rigid attention on a separate future, any kind of tight positioning with regard to a goal, deadline, or date that seems to be off in the temporal distance. Also relax any strong sense of your self being positioned 'now' in what we often call the 'present'. We can also loosen up this rigid way of looking forward to things by viewing from the future back. We'll take up these exercises when we deal with deadline pressures in Part II of this course.
What's essential for really changing 'hurry sickness', time pressure, anxiety
about time passing, and the feeling that we don't have enough time? There's (1) what can be helpful to understand about time, and there's (2) what we need to do to change our experience of time passing.
As explained earlier in this lesson, appreciating how our 'normal' experience of time affects our mental and physical health is helpful to understand. Now following is an exercise to do occasionally during the coming week (before you receive the second email in this course), whenever you think about it. It's important to do this exercise, or you probably won't get much out of this course: Notice how often during the day you think about past, present, and future times. Thinking about these times isn't 'bad', in spite of the common judgment about not being 'in the present' or not 'being here now'. (Most of these judgments are based on incomplete understanding of our limitations.) Don't make any effort at all to stop thinking about these different aspects of time--just notice or be aware of when you do. This heightened awareness will prove useful
as we continue in this course.
Next week: What is time? Are there different 'faces' of time?