"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 third is in the column to the right -->
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?
If you cannot answer the following, you probably need Part II of this course:
"Beat the Clock" Part II has ten additional lessons, and is available from the store: "Beat the Clock" course
Lesson 1 - Pressure is related to your level of involvement
Lesson 2 - The single best antidote for time pressure
Lesson 3 - Minding Counting exercise
Lesson 4 - Relieving Negativity
Lesson 5 - Turning time around
Lesson 6 - How Experience Shapes Up
Lesson 7 - Stop Time's Flow Instantly
Lesson 8 - Mastering Deadline Pressures
Lesson 9 - Healing Time and Pain
Lesson 10 - Finding the Eye of Our Whirlwind of Activities
Lesson 3 - How do we normally experience time?
Linear Time, or “Western Standard Time”
What's our 'normal' cultural version of experiential time, as we called it in the last lesson? Modern Westerners learn to experience a paradigm of linear time--a sense of time flowing with inflexible momentum from one moment to another through separate past, present, and future 'rooms' in experience.
We can look at four aspects of this paradigm.
Experience of time flow. The usual way that adults in the West experience time can be called linear time. Linear time is an experiential perspective completely independent of measured time. It combines (1) the actual feeling of time passing in a linear and directed way from one moment to another, (2) the separation of past from present and present from future, and (3) a sense that you are positioned only now, in the present.
Time appears as a linear series of events related in a cause-effect chain. These events may be imagined on a conveyor belt that moves horizontally at a constant and unchangeable speed between past, present, future 'rooms' in our experience. (Hall, The Dance of Life, pp. 78-9.) These different aspects or 'rooms' of time are actually felt to be separate. In this view we are always located in the present 'room' in our experience, never in the past or future. In the present room we metaphorically 'spend our time' by putting 'things to do' in equal-sized temporal containers.
There’s anxiety and pressure as time constantly slips away. The attendant time pressure and anxiety are presumed to be ‘facts of life’. It doesn't matter what you think, feel, or do, or how you look at time—time doesn't seem to change. As a result, we may feel somewhat helpless in the face of time. Linear time is the foundational dynamic upon which many other feelings--like overwhelm, pressure, anxiety, hurry, time poverty, and boredom—are based. With a 'normal' sense of time passing we seem to always be off balance, always desirous, anxiously seeking or trying to escape from something.
You may struggle or race against time, but nothing that you do can slow time down. Since this variety of personal time feels out of our control, it seems our only choice is to adapt to this temporal 'reality', finding ways to work ‘within’ its limitations as skillfully as possible. This is what conventional time management programs do. They focus on the event and clock time we have available for tasks we wish to accomplish.
Well-being. There's a level of dissatisfaction or a lack of fulfillment here as you do things in the present. It might feel like you are being pressured, confined, or overwhelmed. Since the feelings are unpleasant, there's a tendency to turn away from them and 'look forward to' a better time.
And the effects of linear time may get worse. Physician Larry Dossey says, “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.” (Dossey, Space, Time, and Medicine, italics mine)
Effort. Whatever we do is effortful, since time seems to have a kind of built-in friction. Feeling time flow linearly includes a continual struggle and when exaggerated, a race against time.
Planning, and clock time estimation. Almost every time you plan or think about the future, especially if there’s a deadline, there's anxiety and pressure. More precisely, the pressure and anxiety arise from assuming a position called 'the present' and then looking toward a distant future time, at a 'future point' separate and distant from 'the present'. The dividers between the past, present, and future rooms have 'hazy windows' in them. Even though we can't go into the future room, we can look into it through a window. Planning an activity is similar to peering through the hazy window to see how the distant fuzzy future forms might shape up. From a present point of view, we look toward a distant future time when we would like to see something completed, and we try to 'see' or imagine what the situation could be.
Put differently, we try to get an idea of what's 'coming down the pike' toward us on the time conveyor. If we’re satisfied with the image visualized, i.e., when the image seems like it will fulfill our desires, needs, or aspirations, we can inquire about the tasks necessary to complete the goal in the available time, and then can schedule the tasks, prioritize, etc.
The river or conveyor of time may be visualized as having containers for our activities. (See the image at the top of this lesson.) These containers seem to all be the same size (as in most calendar squares ), so in the present we can put only so many activities in the container right in front of us, then that container's time capacity is used up, and the container moves into the past. Since each container has the same size, what we can accomplish in any time period appears to be limited by the structure of time itself. Racing against the conveyor of time and trying to overfill containers can lead to overwhelm and burnout.
Clearly, doing things with the linear view of time is stressful, and planning is the difficult guesswork we’re familiar with. Feeling time flow linearly includes a continual struggle and when exaggerated, a race against time. But as long as the 'feeling of time passing' is thought to simply mirror external events, it's considered unchangeable, like the presumed constant external flow of time. So we're left with the prospect of--at best--adapting to an uncontrollable flow of time and its attendant pressure and transitoriness, finding ways to work ‘within’ its limitations as skillfully as possible. This is what conventional time management programs usually aim for. But is that really the only choice we have?
Now what? Time Calling Exercise
Most of us in the West are so used to linear time that it can be difficult to recognize for what it is. But recognizing it in our immediate experience is essential in order to free ourselves of time pressure and anxiety.
The following short exercise may help you recognize the structure and dynamic of linear time, as well as demonstrate how this perspective on time gets set up "within a moment."
Simply use the recording of "Exercise: Recognizing Linear Time" at the bottom of the following webpage: http://www.tskassociation.org
Or you can record the following set of phrases on tape or some electronic medium, leaving about 10 seconds between phrases.
Play the recording back and pay attention to your experience, especially any feelings and images of time. See if you notice how past, present, and future quickly get set up in your experience when the phrases are heard.
“One hour ago . . .
"One hour from now . . .
"Early this evening . . .
"Later this evening . . .
"Yesterday . . .
"Tomorrow . . .
"Last Monday . . .
"Next Monday . . .
"Two weeks ago . . .
"Two weeks from now . . .
"Last month . . .
"Next month . . .
"Last winter . . .
"Next winter . . .
"Last year . . .
"Next year . . .
"Five years ago . . .
"Five years from now . . .
"Ten years ago . . .
"Ten years from now . . .
Please think about your experience of the time calling exercise. Your 'feelings of time' are especially noteworthy.
When the phrases were heard, did you notice how past, present, and future got 'set up' within a moment? Was there any kind of swinging back and forth as you listened to the phrases? Do you see any reason or basis for the term 'linear time'?
Please listen to the recording again, and notice whether there was any kind of swinging linearly back and forth. You could do it a third time if you like.
Do you think that it is possible to think about past and future times without having a sense of being swung back and forth?
Next week's lesson: How do we experience time during peak performance?