29 January 2013

How We Process Time (Succinct)

How often do you arrive stressed and flustered at your destination? Remember that ‘one last thing’ you squeezed in before you left, thinking you were being efficient? DON’T DO IT.

We fit broadly into one of two styles when it comes to processing time – we’re either in-time or through-time. The in-timers, bless their socks, are great at being fully present, totally in the moment (which is why this style is called in-time, not because they’re punctual!), but challenged at getting places or completing tasks on time. For them, it seems efficient to fit in ‘one more thing’ – to get somewhere early is to waste time. You’d wonder why the stress they suffer doesn’t change their behaviour – but no. They seem to suffer permanent memory loss on the topic. And most of it is caused because of that ‘one more thing’ they squeezed in!

Through-timers, on the other hand, are more objective; able to detach, to see themselves outside of the events they’re involved in. They seem to be effortlessly punctual. Their ability to easily see ‘through’ or along a time continuum makes it automatic for them estimate how long they’ll need for any activity.

For each style, their strength is also their weakness. And opposites often attract – driving each other nuts until they learn to play to their strengths and support the other’s weakness.

The in-timer’s skill is at being fully present and focused on what they’re doing. Their downside is that it’s hard to extract themselves and forward plan. It can be done – I’m one, but I can never completely relax on it. Punctuality doesn’t come naturally to me. (I reward myself for good behaviour now and then by reverting to type when it doesn’t matter!)

The through-timer’s strength is their ability to detach, keep focused on the ‘main’ thing, to be aware of the passage of time and its consequences. On the other hand, this same skill can cause them to be seen as abrupt and distant. They have to work harder to ensure that they’re not perceived as disinterested.

Apart from the tip at the top of the page, here are two more useful techniques.

1. Start with the end in mind. Count back approximately how many minutes you need for each step of the way, until you arrive at the beginning. Typically you’ll go, ‘That’s ridiculously early. I’ll be sitting around waiting!’ You won’t, you know. You’ll just be less stressed. But always take a useful task to do on arrival, just in case.

Most in-timers have become A1 graduates at blocking the subconscious on this issue. They only notice it as a fleeting moment of discomfort, and push the awareness aside.

Solution – start listening!

2. Get ready first. Then go back to the other jobs you thought you could fit in. And once you’re on the road, get to your destination before you stop for breaks. Find the place you’re heading to, and then have the coffee or do the little fill-in tasks.

As I’ve told you, I am naturally an in-timer. I’ve had to be very conscious of these seemingly simple matters in order to stop embarrassing myself. And even in my early days of being a time management specialist I still sometimes tripped over myself.

It was a sunny afternoon more than 12 years ago. I’d been booked to run an after-school programme for the staff of a city school, in a suburb I didn’t know very well. I set out in plenty of time, crossed the harbour bridge, and thinking I was only five minutes away from the school, parked beside the harbour to enjoy the spare 15 minutes I thought I had. Then, relaxed and rested, I headed off. The sense of peace and tranquillity didn’t last long! Imagine my dismay as I crawled through a unfamiliar long skinny suburb to the far end, hampered by the afternoon discharge of dawdling chattering children from five other schools, and every mother and child in the city slowly meandering their way to the major shopping centre just along the road. Red faced, stressed out, and acutely embarrassed, I arrived at my destination – to find a roomful of teachers waiting for me.

It’s not a real good look to be late for your own time management course! I’m living proof of the phrase ‘you teach best what you need to know’!





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