Time flies when you’re having fun, right? Except when it doesn’t. You can’t figure out why Friday seems to be lasting forever until you realize (much to your dismay) that it’s only Thursday. Or why the weekend seems so far away – until you’re staring down a Friday deadline, that is.
Why are we so bad at time? And how does this affect our business or our career? More importantly, how can we turn a strange quirk into an advantage - to make more money, to improve our KPIs, to better our company’s product, and to improve conditions for our employees? Read on…
Why Are We So Bad At This?
But before we talk about how time perception impacts our jobs and businesses, let’s briefly look at what types of things impact our time judgment.
“Where did the year go? I can’t believe it’s already $month!” You’ve heard people say this or (surely) you’ve said it yourself. Whereas, elementary school kids are often pining for June and wondering if the school year is ever going to end. This is a very real perception. Obviously, 24 hours is 24 hours, but the tween is going to feel time passing more slowly while the adult, more quickly. Think about it — for a 10-year-old, that 3 month summer is 2.5% of their life. A small bit for sure but for a 40-year-old, that same 3 month summer represents a mere .625% of their life. A veritable blink.
Interest level has a big impact on time perception. The more interesting an event is, the slower time seems as it’s happening. An illustration: you drive somewhere you’ve never been before. Time goes slowly as you find your way while you experience new landscapes. But your daily drive to and from work? You get in your car and the next thing you know - boom - you’re nearly home. Why? Because there was nothing novel about making that drive. You’ve done it hundreds of times.
But just as a more interesting event seems to slow time down, boredom is just as likely to make time feel like it’s going slowly. Boredom embroils us in the kind of nothingness where all we can pay attention to is the passage of time. Like watching a pot boil, it takes forever.
State of Mind
When you’re tired, everything seems to take forever (that feeling of “bedtime can’t come soon enough”). Think about getting on a plane - you want that pilot to have had a very good night’s sleep. I know I do. But do you know why sleep is so important? It’s because it’s harder to distinguish between short spans of time when you’re tired. In other words, your reaction time slows down when you are sleep-deprived.
Awareness and state of mind take many shapes. It’s not just a restful sleep state of mind that’s important, it’s also being aware of your emotions. Suppressing your emotions makes time feel longer. So let it out, people, let it all out.
Your Current Situation
One last example of how your state of mind impacts your time perception is being in life-threatening situations. If you’ve ever been in a car accident or jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, you’ve probably experienced that feeling of seeing everything happen in slow motion. So bizarre. While nobody really knows why this happens, a common explanation is that “The ability to slow down our time perception increases our chances of surviving emergency situations, because it gives us more time to respond to the situation, to prepare and position ourselves. In this sense, we could perhaps interpret the ability as an evolutionary adaptation.”
Well, if the experts aren’t sure why this phenomenon happens, I have no choice but to chime in with my own (fake) expert official conclusion: brains are weird and magical.
I just experienced this IRL. I’ve been making notes about time perception for days. I could not figure out a direction. But then I read something (ironically, I don’t remember what it was) that made the lightbulb go on and when next I looked up, it was 3 hours later. It felt like much less time than that!
Akin to interest, the more new experiences we have, the longer time seems to take. That would explain why those summers lasted forever when we were kids but now they feel like they’re barely two weeks long. And while we thought being an adult was going to mean we get to do anything and everything we want to do all the time, the truth is that we really don’t have as many new experiences as adults as we had when we were kids.
These well-documented “causes” of skewed time perception aren’t the only influences on our fragile ability to accurately judge the passage of time.
Why, yes, of course there is something else. Have you met me?
Technology’s impact on our relationship with time cannot be ignored.
But…but…but….technology! Tech ensures we always know where we are in time and space, right? Not completely, but sort of. You see, that delightful and beautiful Apple Watch on your wrist is both good and bad. It is the epitome of “with great power, comes great responsibility.” Let me explain.
Your watch is <probably> showing the time in a digital format (not mine, I can’t resist a good Mickey Mouse watch face). Easy to read at a glance; problematic when we’re talking about the perception of time. Digital clocks show a moment in time - where are we right now, at this very second. Analog clocks, however, show the passage of time. When we get out of the practice of seeing the passage of time, our ability to judge that same passage of time diminishes.
Now that you have some understanding of WHY you may not be a very good judge of time, we have the groundwork to discuss time’s impact on employees and how that affects your business decisions as an MSP in part 2 of the series, or your career decisions as an employee in part 3 of the series.