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Time is the currency of our life. We spend it, we manage it, we chase it, and we often try to stretch it. We track the passing of time each day with our watches, smart watches, agendas and well planned appointments. By arranging our meetings, car trips, shopping trips, chores, and coffees with friends over the 24 hours, we coordinate our work and personal life. We do this by slicing our day into time slots we then distribute to work, family, friends, hobbies, commuting, and even self-care.

Time management has been invented in the early XX Century to optimise the industrial processes and their productivity. It has been shown that being in charge of planning the own work gives a perception of control over time that results in a better performance and satisfaction.The concept that a structured routine and a well-organised flow of tasks can give comfort is often overrated, as it is the thrill coming from surprise and serendipity what we really seek for. Thankfully many techniques have been developed to step out of the time optimisation process and regain control of the situation.

Here I present one trick that lets you snap out of the moment and put a perspective on a stressful period. Being able to step out of the spinning carousel of appointments on the agenda and observe the situation is key to relax, take a deep breath and re-frame the situation.

Control is sweet

Regardless our careful planning and how correctly we allocate time to each duty, time can often feel like escaping us and flowing through our fingers like fine sand. Even more, the time dedicated to the planning can often seem wasted and thus causing more frustration. Feeling in charge by keeping a diary can even make us feel younger.

When we have control over what is going on we can prepare for the event and this helps to lower our level of stress. This is true for example for people that are self-employed and that are less stressed as they can thus plan their work in autonomy.

The perception of time is inside us

Time is present on so many levels in our life. It is not only something external to us, it especially something going on inside us. Science has shown that our bodies know very well day from night, and have tight molecular mechanisms to regulate the circadian rhythm of its cells. Plants, animals and even microorganisms such as algae and fungi have this type of regulation. Light is an external regulator of our circadian rhythm and why we feel sleepy when dark and active when standing in the full sun.

Our body produces the stress hormone cortisol, in a cyclic manner and it is the highest around 30 min after waking up and decreases more or less sharply during the day and is at its lowest before bedtime. Coffee affects us for example by keeping high levels of cortisol in our body. Alteration of the circadian rhythm can have serious effects on our quality of life and can result in various disorders such as non-classical sleep disturbance. In animals, cortisol has been related to stress and depression.

Alteration of the circadian rhythm can have serious effects on our quality of life and can result in various disorders such as sleep disturbance. Studies have shown that when our internal sense of time is altered, we are out of balance and can affect our psychological well-being.

Excessive planning can turn us from being the one in charge of planning the agendas, to the one chasing behind events we have rationally planned. How can we re-take charge of the situation? Hitting the red stop button is needed, not only for emergency situations, but any time a reset of the perspective is needed. Taking a look from above on what is really going on can gives us room to take a deep breath and give the proper importance to the event.

the sound of nature is a relaxing sountrack for our busy days

Perception is key

The perception of time is intrinsic in our nature and regulated tightly even at the cell level. Our bodies know day and night, and changes in the rhythm of the circadian rhythm can result in various disorders such as non-classical sleep disturbance.

A European spends on average 40 hours a week at work and arranges family and self-care time around it. Work can take up even more time during the day if commuting and travelling are required. Stressful moments can take us by surprise, others are unavoidable and can take up hours of your day. Spending hours at work, can often come with a feeling of loss of control and energy. A typical 9-to-5 working day results in many hours of life dedicated to an aim, not always felt own.

We can slow down and regain control of the situation adopting new behaviours and evidence exists that some of the most effective ways is listening to the sounds of nature, practice mindfulness and train our resilience for example doing meditation and yoga, and even play with a dog.

As a rapid way of stepping mentally out of the situation, re-framing is a good trick.

Why not reframing the situation?

How we live our reality, is linked to what we think of it. Changing our perspective by re-framing the situation provides a moment of relief and can give a chance of address the status quo in a previously unexplored direction. The best leaders have the magic skill of re-framing a situation they are in, gain a different point of view, and face reality with a new attitude and drive. Persons in difficult medical situations have been shown to benefit from re-framing by practising a sense of gratitude and reach a higher sense of coherence . Re-framing has shown to be a winning skill also for nurses working in intensive care units to resist stress and even motivate people to do exercise.

As simple as doing your maths

Working 40 hours a week sounds like a huge number taking over most of our day. This is true, of course we spend all the part of the day with sunlight in the closed air of an office. To this, commuting time is also time dedicated work that is not officially considered but significantly affects our quality of life.

Taking 2 minutes to do a quick calculation can help us reconsider the situation that is absorbing us. A bit of calculation can however help us to re-frame our life and put the stressful moments in perspective. Stepping out and taking a calculator, we can see that our working time of 40 hours a week, result in less of totally two days out of 7 in the week. It is a 24% of your week, less than a quarter… 75% of the week is left for you to dedicate to hobbies and families and education. Do you work part-time, only 20 hours a week? How about seeing it like you give less than 1 day of working hours to paid work? This would be 12% of your week dedicated to work. Feels like there is plenty of time for your own growth and meeting with friends, right?

This trick can help to re-frame the distribution of time, shed a new light, reduce the emotional importance we attribute to stressful events and dedicate our energy to all the hours available for self-care such as sleeping, sports and family time.