There is no shortage of advice online preaching time management and perfect time efficiency online. Time is the unifier of life. It is the great equalizer – no matter whether you’re rich or poor, you have exactly 24 hours in a day. No more, no less. How many times have you said ‘I’d do that, but I just don’t have the time’? Or, more applicably, did you read the headline of this article and say ‘I don’t have twenty minutes to spare’? If so, you owe it to yourself to keep reading.
In today’s digital world, time has become grossly distorted by a whole new crop of time-suckers like social media, text messaging/IMs and a limitless amount of written/visual content online. The result is that we’re seeing more people who are ‘time blind’ – an inability to accurately gauge time as it’s related to tasks than ever before, and more often than not we’re offered solutions in digital form.
What if the Digital Form Was the Problem in the First Place?
While digital aids like apps and websites can absolutely help boost productivity, they’re a Catch 22 for those who are slaves to their phone/tablet/laptop. Sometimes the barebones basics can help you get the most mileage, and you need to take your search for productivity offline. So, if you feel like your phone takes up too much of your time – or that you might be time blind – you owe it to yourself to keep reading.
The Twenty Minute Time Blindness Test
Are you time blind? Let’s do a simple test to find out! This will require your phone, and twenty minutes of uninterrupted time. If you feel you don’t have twenty minutes for this test, you probably need it more than anybody.
1. Set your phone’s timer to ten minutes, then put it face down and go do as many small tasks around your home as you feel that you can fit in to the time. Think of David Allen’s ‘Two Minute Rule’ (If you can do something in two minutes, do it NOW). Don’t spend time planning, simply identify tasks, do them, and keep doing them until the timer sounds. DON’T look at any clocks around the house either (and note how difficult it is to do that!).
2. Once you’ve done your ten minutes sans clocks, set the timer on your phone again. This time don’t put your phone down. Instead, flip through social media, or text with friends. Do whatever you want, just don’t look at the ticking timer or clock, and wait for the timer to sound.
Two things you’re going to notice:
- The time you spent doing things without looking at your phone, while it felt more rushed knowing you were up against a ticking clock, ultimately proved productive and you were likely able to get more done in that time than you’d think you could in ten minutes. You might have even felt more energized after the timer sounded – and you were anticipating it.
- The time you spent on your phone flew past, and it’s highly likely that the timer sounding caught you off guard.
Congratulations, You’re Probably Time Blind!
What you’re experiencing is the time equivalent of the age-old riddle ‘What weighs more? A ton of bricks, or a ton of feathers?’. The two represent how we perceive tasks under two different sets of circumstances: with the ability to focus on the tasks at hand, our brain feels that since we’re moving feathers – and since the task is to move as many feathers as possible in the time prescribed – the logical solution is to try to move more and more feathers for optimal results, and to find ways to move more feathers at once.
It’s how our brains are wired; we seek an efficient and effective output of energy for maximum ROI.
But, remember: whether it’s a ton of bricks or a ton of feathers, both weigh exactly a ton, but the nature of approaching the tasks is fundamentally different. In the case of the ten minutes on your phone, the role your phone plays in the feather/brick equation is of gravity – the force which ultimately differentiates the difficulty of lifting a brick relative to lifting a feather.
The Devil on Your Shoulder/in Your Pocket
Your phone LITERALLY makes you feel like tasks are more laborious than others and does so by distorting how you perceive time and expended energy. Without your phone, you’re aware of a timeline, but you aren’t obsessing over it – and this pushes you into productivity by sheer human nature.
Conversely, while flipping through your phone, the distortion of time also muddles how you view tasks because you become hyper-aware of the passage of time relative to the lack of tasks achieved. While on your phone, your brain has literally been rewired to accept a state where your attention is fully engaged by stimulus while doing literally nothing. In the absence of physical exertion, it causes mental exhaustion, which – as we all know – leads to physical exhaustion and errors.
“A 2013 study at FSU found that probability of making an error increased by 28% after getting a phone call and 23% after getting a text.” – Forbes, 26 March, 2017
That’s right: not only can your phone can physically exhaust you in the same way that a comparable amount of time spent doing real work can, it can cause you to be less accurate with your work. That’s messed up, right?
But enough about feathers and bricks, what does it all mean?
What it means is that – under ideal conditions – (read ‘not obsessively checking your devices’) you’re capable of not only accomplishing more tasks, but you’ll actually get so ‘high’ from how many small tasks you accomplished, you’ll crave keeping that feeling going and you’ll feel more empowered to stop hauling feathers and start hauling some bricks.
Just like working out, you start light and build your capacity – the whole time challenging your limits for the purpose of long-term gain.
David Allen’s ‘Two-Minute Rule’, and the experiment above, work on the same psychological level. They’re intended to recalibrate your internal clock to the actual time tasks require, and not how we’ve built them up in our heads.
But, wait. Aren’t you supposed to try to sell me on an app, or a service, or some lifestyle to fix this?
Why? Assuming you actually tried the experiment, what you experienced for ten minutes was probably the first time in years where you weren’t fixating on a clock. In those ten minutes, you were freer and more productive than you’ve been in quite some time. You were temporary ‘time blind’; reincarnated as a temporal newborn coming into the world obsessed with time.
The real point of this read is simple: you cannot live your life telling yourself ‘I don’t have the time to change my life’. You do, but after years of living as a slave to microseconds, many of us have ‘rebelled’ in the form of procrastination. In a world where urgency and speed have caused a form of cultural hypertension, the ‘slacker’ counter-culture is a natural equalization and blissful sanctuary for those who aren’t natural time managers.
The next installment – time blocking – is going to be where the suggestions come in. With your newly recalibrated sense of time, you now have undeniable proof of what we’ve all known for years: while phones can make SOME people more productive, they can make just as many – if not more – people less productive. If you feel that focus is an issue you’ve struggled with in the past, the next installment will offer you a challenge which will help you in ways you never thought possible. Stay tuned!