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introduction to timeshifting #1

I read David Allen’s excellent ‘Getting things done’, and indeed picked up some good tips, such as filing or replying to each email as it comes, thus clearing the dead weight of an inbox, and making filing as fun as possible, but something about the basic premise of the whole idea of time management got me thinking.

The bottomline is that in the modern fast-moving highly stimulating developed countries of the world we all feel we don’t have enough time. It almost feels palpable- this lack of time. Everyone I know seems to be juggling this most precious of resources like a desert sheik managing his scant water resources. In some cases it really seems like time is running out…We have busy families where both parents work hard, dash home to be home with their kids, go out as often as they can, fill up the weekends with sports and driving children around and being charitable. The side effect can be exhaustion (but some of these people are very fit, very competent people and they take it as a challenge); what NO ONE escapes is, though, is the sense that there just isn’t enough time available.

In this sequence of articles called TIMESHIFTING I want to look in detail at how it may be possible to rewire that sense of time scarcity and replace it with a sense of time abundance.

But before we go in detail and attempt to rebuild our sense of time we should re-examine how we think about time in our everyday lives. Here are a few different ways of seeing time:

a)     ‘chess time’- where you rush against the clock to make your move and then have all the time your opponent takes to think about the next move- the ‘up time’ is experienced differently from the ‘downtime’- one is in your control the other isn’t.

b)    Then there is ‘bought time’- for example you buy a taxi ride that takes twenty minutes rather than walk for two hours. What you do with the extra time is up to you.

c)     There is ‘prime time’ when you feel at your most productive and ‘slowtime’ when everything seems to take you twice as long as usual.

d)    Thinking about ‘not wasting time’ rather than ‘investing time’- it’s a switch from a negative worldview to a pro-active positive one.

e)    People almost always undervalue what they can do in five years and over value what they can do in one year. We are bad at imagining the passing of time- hence over runs and being late which gives way to a general vagueness for longer time periods.

Time, as you can see, is the ultimate subjective experience.

When I was 19 I was very keen on rockclimbing. Every opportunity I got I used to either train on boulders or travel to the mountains looking for routes to climb. I also, for an increased thrill factor, from time to time climbed solo without a rope. Climbing on the Scottish mountain of Ben Nevis I fell unroped off a rock face, about 35 feet onto a ledge, luckily, where I fractured two vertebrae. In the approximately 1.4 seconds that I fell I seriously felt time passing slowly- and of course in retrospect I can dwell on that 1.4 second stretch as if it were a month or more. The shock of the experience switched me fully on- and time expanded far beyond the usual experience.

Another climbing experience- doing a long route on the Island of Skye and being convinced I’ve been going for two hours and now it is about twelve O’clock- only  to retrieve my watch from the rucksack and discover I’ve been climbing for not two hours but six and it’s now four O’clock in the afternoon. I can still recall that sense of missing time- where did those four hours go?

An event last year. I went with three friends 4x4 camping in the desert. It was new to them and through their eyes it all seemed new to me. When we returned 24 hours later we all kept saying- it seems like we’ve been away forever.

Because we are conditioned by clocktime- from the flashing time on your computer screen to your mobile phone to your wristwatch and your car dashboard- we are lead to believe that the reality of time is mechanical, that any piece of time is equal to any other- yet even a moment’s reflection reveals the falseness of this position- if you wake up at 3 am and decide to stay awake until everyone else gets up even an hour drags so slowly- but the lunchhour between 1 and 2 in the afternoon just whizzes by.

The subjective experience of time is controlled by context and activity. Change the context or change the activity and you can bend time to suit your will.

Does Time use you?

Do you feel pressured, stressed, under time’s thumb; and yet seem to be getting nowhere in particular? Or relaxed and easy, yet able to pack a huge amount into a short piece of ‘clock time’? Do you use time or does time use you? One way you can use time is to set aside two hours in which to do nothing. Just sit. It's not that easy. But it will give you new insights into how you use time and what an uncluttered headspace feels like.

I was sitting in a bar in Tokyo with writer Tahir Shah waiting for someone to arrive who I had said I would introduce him to. But they didn’t turn up. I apologized for wasting his time. Tahir replied, and I have never forgotten, “wasting time is not a concept I subscribe to”.

Wow. This was the first time I had heard of such a generally accepted idea just rejected, tossed out, shorn of its potent negativity. And when I started to think I saw that it was impossible to waste time just as it is impossible to ‘kill time’. Time passes. What we do with it is our choice- and is always our choice- even if our expectations aren’t met. When we waste time what we are saying is that something we expected would happen didn’t so we were kept in a state of waiting when we weren’t living as fully as we felt was our due. Who’s stopping you? Only your expectations stop you from fully experiencing any moment you care to.

Wasting time assumes that one learnt nothing from an experience- yet we can never accurately tell which experiences were and were not crucial for learning. While studying aikido in Japan I found that I would do the same technique wrong about a hundred times before I suddenly did it right. I noticed that the top teacher Chida Sensei did not correct me straight away. He said, “You have to do something wrong a few times so that you really appreciate it when you do it right- if the teacher tells you too soon they cheat you of feeling the difference and you don’t learn the technique so well. You have to value what you learn.”

So even frustrating times can be validated later on – no one can really say one time is more useful or crucial than another- not without the possession of clairvoyance. What we can say, though, in a broader macro sense you can spend time not learning anything new and you can spend time on a steep learning curve- the choice is yours. If you arrange your life around learning nothing new, of never being surprised, of making each day the same- then don’t be surprised if your life seems to flash by. Maybe the only waste of time is dedicating a life to not learning.


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