When it comes to time, we live in an age of paradox. Time studies, as explored by Judy Wajcman, Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, in her book Pressed For Time, indicate that we work about as much, if not less, than our contemporaries 50 years ago.
The research also shows that we now have more leisure time than at almost any other point in human history, yet we experience more scarcity of time than at any other point in history. Wajcman calls this the "time-pressure paradox."
Here's what it might look like for you. You spend thousands of dollars on the latest phone, the fastest computer, and the best, most efficient, project management software. You read books on work habits, listen to podcasts on productivity, and read articles like this one -- all with the hopes of feeling less rushed and getting more time.
And yet, with each faster phone or new hack, your feeling of having no time stays the same or even gets worse.
Why does it feel like the more we try to slow down time, the faster it accelerates? Wajcman points to three reasons. The first is the undeniably rapid pace of technological change. The second is the acceleration of social change (changes in industry, family structure, etc.). And the third is the acceleration of the pace of life, the feeling that life has shifted from a steady walk to an all-out, daily, sprint.
The art of decompressing time.
If we learn anything from this research on the "time-pressure paradox," it is this: you can't combat the acceleration of time by getting a faster phone, a better computer, or the perfect app. This isn't an external game. Time doesn't work like dollars in a bank account. Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day.
Time, in other words, is an inner game. To change your experience of time, you must go directly to the source of time perception: your mind. Here's a simple technique you can use.
Step 1: Notice when you feel rushed or pressed for time.
Time scarcity comes with a strange inner experience. You begin to feel both in your mind and body like you are leaning forward. Your mind leans forward by moving out of the present moment, toward future thoughts and worries.
Your body even pushes forward. Notice how your shoulders, your head, and your neck slump. Noticing the mental and physical symptoms of time acceleration is the essential first step in shifting the pattern.
Step 2: Let go of the future.
Once you catch yourself in time scarcity, take a closer look at all those future thoughts racing through your mind. They seem so real, don't they? But they aren't. The thought of you jumping in an Uber five minutes from now is no different from any other dream. It's not real. It's pure imagination. And yet it creates the experience of stress and rushing because it feels so real.
You can shift this experience by simply noticing when these future thoughts arise and mentally labeling them as what they are: "daydreams."
Step 3: Slow down.
The final move is to simply slow down. Instead of racing from one email to the next, slow down: take a single breath between each message that you write. Instead of rushing from your desk to the next meeting, slow down: feel your feet in contact with the floor as you go there.
Your mind will think you are wasting "precious time." And yet, if you actually calculate the "time wasted," it's hardly enough to matter. If anything, you gain time by moving through the day with greater ease and less stress.
These strategies may sound counterintuitive, and that's a good thing. Because when it comes to time, our common-sense wisdom has reliably failed us. We have all the fastest gadgets. We know all sorts of time management tips. And yet we're still pressed for time.
That's why it's worth investing in a different strategy. It's worth shifting from an outer to an inner approach. It's worth changing your experience of time at its very source: your mind.