29 January 2013

How We Process Time

(If your space is limited, this article gives you a shorter version of the same message.)

Have you ever heard something explained for the first time and gone ‘Yes, that makes sense?’ I believe that we each have access to the collective knowledge and wisdom of the world, but don’t know what we know until the words fall across our ears, in front of our eyes, or we experience something that clicks intuitively.

I had one of these ‘Aha’ moments when I first heard about In-time and Through-time. Basically it explains how we process time. The definitions come from a fascinating behavioural science called Neuro Linguistic Programming (usually known as NLP).

Each of us fits broadly into one processing style, although you can modify as you progress through life, and some people are one style at home and the other at work.

An In-time person is great at being present in the moment but struggles to predict how long an action will take. Their ability to mentally detach and forward plan for timely completion, whilst still engaged in an activity, is minimal. Therefore they are often late for deadlines, actions or events. If you were to ask them to think of a past event it is usually behind them. They talk about ‘looking back’ in time. A future event, on the other hand, is usually in front. Sometimes it is all around them or their future is right in their face. If they were to draw a line between past and future (a time-line) it almost always passes through them – hence the term ‘in-time’.

Through-time people, on the other hand, often have their past on one side and their future on the other. Or, both may be all out in front somewhere. Very rarely does their time-line pass through them. They are able to be more objective about time, able to detach, to see themselves outside of the events they’re involved in. They rarely run late, and seem to be effortlessly punctual.

Because opposites attract, intuitively seeking the qualities they lack, couples are frequently one of each style, and even in close working situations you’ll regularly find the same mix. As you can imagine this often causes huge frustration, until they learn to understand and compensate for each other! The least In-time member of the partnership or work group almost always takes responsibility for the unit’s time-keeping.

Let’s look at the typical morning of a couple called Sue and Bill. Sue is your classic In-time person and Bill is Through-time.

Sue’s a teacher, and has to be at work at 8am. She has a 20-minute drive to work. She’s a busy soul, likes to pride herself on being organised and able to pack a lot into her day, but just can’t seem to understand why she seems to constantly run late or uncomfortably close to the wind with appointments and commitments.

At 7.30am she looks at the clock and says to herself, “I’ve just got time to put the washing on the line.” She’s constantly looking for ways to concertina time, feels efficient that she can multi-task, saving steps by doing things on the way to the next task. So she picks up her car keys and bag on her way to the laundry, blows a kiss to Bill, balances everything as she staggers out the door, and is soon happily engaged in throwing the laundry on the line. As she pegs up the last garment she glances at her watch. In disbelief she reads 7.40am.

‘My gosh, is that the time?’ she gasps. There is a flurry of movement. She rushes out her gate, arrives at the first set of lights as they turn red, and spends the rest of her journey cursing inconsiderate drivers as she wrestles her way through the heavy morning traffic. Every five minutes she glances at her watch, willing it to slow down. At a couple of sets of lights she pulls out her comb, tidies her hair, and remembers to apply her perfume. She pulls into the work car park at about 8.03am, races in to the staff meeting in a tizz, willing no-one to notice that she’s a few minutes late (again). She plonks her bag down, and then heads for the coffee pot. It’s about 8.10 before she is fully engaged in what the head master is saying to the rest of the staff.

Bill’s work starts a little later than Sue’s, and is closer. He doesn’t have to be there until 8.30am and it will take him only 10 minutes driving. He’s an early riser and was working on a university assignment before breakfast, so carries on with it until just after Sue has disappeared in a flurry out the gate. Without consciously calculating the time he seems to know how much time he needs to get to work stress-free. At 7.45am he closes his computer, puts his books away, and finishes his morning ablutions. By 8.05am he is calmly walking out of the house. He arrives at work shortly after 8.15am, has time to chat to one of his colleagues as he walks in, gets his morning coffee, and by 8.25am is at his desk, computer on, and quickly scanning his e-mails.

When Bill and Sue go somewhere together, he often complains about her last minuting behaviour. She, on the other hand, justifies herself by saying, ‘But I get more achieved than you’.

Neither of them seems able to understand why and how the other operates the way they do. It’s as if the current task sticks like glue to Sue’s mind, where Bill is able to rise above his activities and always remain objective. They’re not trying to irritate each other with their time habits, but often do. Familiar? It happens in nearly every family!

The good news is, we can modify our behaviour to make life easier for ourselves. Here are some tips for the stressed-out In-timers. Through-timers, I’m sorry, you can’t single-handedly change your In-time buddies. They have to want to do it for themselves. You can show them this article though, and they may well decide to take action.

1. If you’re tempted to fit in one more task, notice your thoughts. Whenever you catch yourself saying, ‘I’ll just do this one thing more’ – don’t. Intuitively you know it will make you late, but you’ve become used to blocking that thought. Become more aware of what you’re doing.

2. Start with the end in mind. Consider what time you want to be somewhere and then count back the minutes, including drive time, heavy-traffic time, park time, can’t-find-the-keys time, toilet, coffee and last-minute interruption time. Then add on an extra fifteen minutes as a safety net. You’ll be shocked at how much earlier you have to leave. Your sub-conscious will go ‘That’s ridiculous!’ But I really encourage you – just try it a few times. You’ll be delighted with the stress-free feeling you experience at the other end. What you’re doing at a cellular level is creating an earlier trigger to tell you it’s time to get going.

3. You’re probably reading this and saying, ‘But I’ll waste time by getting there too early!’ It’s unlikely, but just in case, take something to read or work on whilst you wait.

4. When you have had a win, notice your feelings of success, calm and non-stress. Hear the congratulations of surprised friends or workmates. See yourself arriving relaxed at your destination. Anchor those feelings and thoughts. The next time you’re tempted to last-minute, remember how success felt and act accordingly.

5. Like a reforming alcoholic, don’t worry about total change in one hit – it seems too big! Just concentrate on one task at a time, one day at a time. Make a mission of being on time for one thing each day. One day you’ll look back in amazement and realise that you’re now regularly on time for almost everything.

You might be wondering how I can describe so accurately the feelings and experiences of an In-time person. Very easy – I am one! For years I struggled, but the good news is … I won! Every now and then I break out, especially if it’s a social occasion and it doesn’t really matter what time we get there, but these days it’s very rare for me to be late for any business event.

I wish you joy and success as you create the behaviour of your choice – it can be done!





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