The Illusion of Time
by Alyson Gainsford
As a child I was fascinated by magicians, captivated by the beautiful woman who climbed into the box, with her head, arms and legs poking out of the sides, top and bottom of the box.
The magician locked the box and spun it around to show nothing was behind or underneath the box.
The suspense as the magician sawed the box in two, you could hear a pin drop in the room.
The magician then spun the box around unlocked it and the beautiful woman gracefully hopped out without a single scratch on her body.
For the magician’s finale act, the beautiful woman was locked into a small black box, a red silk sheet was draped over the top of the box and with a flick of the magician’s wand and a puff of smoke she disappeared. Magic!
As a child the experience was so powerful, so real and for many years I wondered how the magician did it.
Now of course a magician never reveals his tricks but over time as I grew older, I discovered it was all an illusion.
These days, I often hear people say things like "where did the time go" and like the magician that made the woman disappear from the box, time seems to disappear.
It started me thinking about the illusion of time and common beliefs around time such as "I need more time", "I don’t have the time", "I'm busy", "I work hard", "not enough hours in the day", "have to work long hours to get ahead", not to mention the obsessed colleague or boss that is a time watcher, tracking your every move during your day to ensure you have done your time or not wasting time, even rewarding working hard according to the number of extra hours you might work with little regard to productivity, outcomes and results.
Why is it that we all have the same amount of this precious resource called time, yet some people achieve amazing things in the same amount of time others achieve little?
What about the illusion of the 9-5 working day?
It’s interesting that most OECD countries require an 8 hour working day to accomplish their work. Is it real or just an illusion? Have we been conditioned to believe this to be true?
Do we fill 8 hours because we have 8 hours to fill? If we had 15 hours would we fill 15? Are we being productive or just active?
Interestingly whilst Australian’s working hours are increasing, Sweden is moving towards a 6 hour working day, seeing the benefits of employees spending more time with their families, friends, hobbies and health whilst achieving the same levels of productivity in a shorter working day, reducing conflicts, stress and burnt out.
The belief is that because workers are happier and more rested, this allows greater focus on achieving work in a shorter period of time. I wondered if the Swedes were onto something here.
So does time elude us or have we bought into the illusion about time?
Parkinson’s Law helps to explain our use of time. It dictates that a task will swell in perceived importance and complexity in relation to the time allocated for its completion.
This makes sense as I recalled my experience studying at uni, I was given an assignment to complete in 3 weeks.
I spent 3 weeks collecting, analysing, collecting, analysing, more collecting, more analysing, stressing and drawing out the process.
There was no doubt in my mind that I was busy, in fact I was so busy this mammoth task I created consumed all my time and energy with little left to focus on anything else.
On reflection it was definitely a case of lazy thinking and indiscriminate action, half the information I collected I didn’t even use, talk about information overload!
Collecting and analysing so much information to fill time and look busy was ineffective and unhealthy.
On another occasion I left an assignment to the last minute, requesting an extension which was firmly denied by my lecturer, I was forced to focus on the bare essentials of the task and pull an all-nighter, handing in my assignment 5 minutes before it was due. It turned out to be one of my best assignments, receiving a high distinction! So why is this so?
Well it’s the magic of an imminent deadline, forcing me to focus on the bare essentials to get the job done and disregard everything else.
This is also the case when a pending deadline pops out of no-where and requires urgent action, we are forced to focus on the critical task and complete it in a short timeframe given its urgency.
You may recall what happens a few days before you go on a 2 week holiday, churning through the work like superman on a mission. Nothing like a deadlines to create focus and action!
So next time you hear yourself saying "I'm busy", "I work hard", "I don't have the time", "where has the time gone", you might want to stop and consider questioning your beliefs around time.
For more information on the Illusion of Time, fantastic questions to ask yourself and tips on productive planning and time management visit our Free Resources.