Joan Hamilton
Is time running you like a hamster wheel?

Have you read the article “11 Ways to Prioritize and Protect Your Time at Work,” that was published on Thrive Global? Each of the contributors had a good suggestion for gaining some control over time demands in the workplace.  There was a common thread running through each.  They’re all based on the assumption that your time is scarce and needs to be protected.  What if that’s not true?

Physicists used to talk about time as linear, an arrow moving on a straight path. Those days are over.  Quantum physics has altered the way that time is understood.  We now know that space and time are intimately linked.  When you ask, “What time is it?” the answer is actually dependent upon where you are in space.  Space-Time is malleable.   It’s been described as similar to a fabric that can be bent or twisted.

So what does that mean for those of us sitting at work with a to-do list a mile long and back-to-back meetings scheduled?  We apparently have no idea because few people seem to be talking about the practical implications of non-linear time.  If we pair what the physicists are saying with what anthropologists know about time it begins to make sense why we plan our vacations to get away and experience “island time.” 

The truth is, beliefs about time are cultural beliefs. When Anthropologists study a culture they look at what they call “basic assumptions,” or the beliefs about life that are common to the culture.  These beliefs are so deeply held that no one questions them.  They’re simply accepted and handed down from generation to generation. Thinking about time is one of those basic assumptions common within a given culture.

Here’s a striking fact, beliefs about time are not universal.  With only one or two exceptions, every culture on the planet has beliefs about time but there can be profound differences between cultures.  In America and Western cultures in general, we believe that time is linear.  Despite whatever Quantum Physics has to teach us, we still believe that it moves forward in a straight line, never doubling back, never repeating itself. 

Some cultures don’t see time as linear.  They view it as cyclical, tied to the changing seasons.  Others see it as a spiral that moves both forward and upward at the same time. 

Another fundamental difference that distinguishes cultures is whether you measure time by the clock or by social events.  Under clock time, the hour on the timepiece sets the beginning or ending of activities while event time is determined by the flow of the activity.  Events begin and end when participants feel the time is right.  (That’s why it can feel so relaxing to be on island time.)

Despite these huge differences, every culture believes it’s version of time is the only real way to view it.  Depending on how similar beliefs are, your view of time is either “the truth” or a distortion of reality.  Imagine that, every culture thinks its view of time is the only version of what is real.  Don’t you?

Your day at the office rests on our collective belief that time marches on.  And, even more importantly, the deepest belief we hold about time is that it is a limited commodity. There’s never really enough for all that needs to be done.  That’s what pulls our strings at work.  It’s our cultural belief that time is scarce.  Our behavior reflects that belief.

When we say, “Time is money,” what we’re really saying is that no matter how much money you make, you’ll never have more time.  So, most of us are running as fast as we can and we’re still behind.

But wait………we’ve all experienced time doing strange things.  We all know that sometimes it seems to fly past and sometimes it drags. Many people have been in a situation when time seems to stop.  We’ve all heard about the “flow” or being in “the zone” when we seem to be outside of time.  Usually we dismiss these anomalies as flukes, never dreaming that we can actually orchestrate how and when they happen.

Gurus and Shamans have been walking up and down the timeline for centuries.  Now professional and other highly competitive athletes are playing with time.  They’re learning how to use their thoughts to create that pause in time that precedes making the basket, scoring the goal, or hitting the target.  They know that with super heightened focus, time becomes your friend on the court or field.

Practice the tips given by the experts, but know that if you can just put a crack in the box of beliefs labelled time, you can bring the same malleability elite athletes know to your work at the office.  You can become more productive and do it without stress.  It’s simple but not easy.