If time is a human construct, then the only true measure of movement is progress. So, are you moving forwards or backwards?
Let’s start with what time is. Wikipedia describes time as “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future”. Yikes.
Its measurement began with the invention of sundials in ancient Egypt at around 1500BC, with which they measured the period of daylight. Since then, time has changed dramatically across civilisations and geographies, eventually coming to the calendar that we know and love today.
For something so vulnerable to change, we sure do place a lot of importance on how it provides measurement and structure for our days and lives. In fact, we’re quite obsessed with it, and for no good reason.
The passing of time doesn’t imply any kind of significance; it’s what we do with that time that really matters, which means we should stop being held hostage to time and start being its master.
There are two ways we can do this:
1. Stop looking at things in 30 or 60-minute blocks
Humans tend to round things up and down, especially time. Regardless of how long something actually takes, we’ll generally put it into a bucket of recognised measurement: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or 60 minutes.
This is especially true for people whose work involves using any kind of electronic calendar, which defaults to 30-minute or 60-minute meetings. But ask yourself: does it really take that long to discuss that thing? If not, make it a 20-minute meeting instead. Make progress in those 20 minutes, and then use those spare ten minutes for something else, even if it’s just to relax or spend time away from your screen.
When you’re running multiple projects or managing multiple goals (spoiler alert: that’s all of us), you begin to appreciate the opportunity that a few spare minutes can create. Added together, a few minutes here and there can make your day (and life) much longer.
For instance, there are an infinite number of things you can do with three minutes.
It’s not enough time to write a blog or email, but it’s enough time to write the title. And sometimes those are the floodgates you need to open to get the creative juices flowing. The title is more progress than nothing.
So, if you have spare minutes, make the most of them. Get up and stretch. Say hello to someone. Do some work if you must, but do not waste time waiting for the next threshold to the hour. The hour will pass regardless of what you do with it. Your progress will not.
2. Measure progress instead of time
A better way to measure “the progress of existence” is to measure progress itself. I remember watching a sci-fi programme years ago, where the human character was trying to ask an alien how many days were left to finish building their ship. The question was lost in translation because they weren’t using the same measure of time, which led to the human asking: are you closer to the beginning or the end?
The question, although quite innocuous, has a deeply existential meaning.
For each project or goal I’m working towards, it’s not a question of time spent or lost in its pursuit; it’s whether the things I’m doing are moving me closer to the end goal (or conversely, back towards the beginning).
How do I keep making progress? Are there small steps or actions I can take to keep moving forward?
(1.00)365 = 1 (doing nothing for a year)
(1.01)365 = 37.8 (doing small, consistent things over a year)
And by the way, making 0.01 progress can be done in three minutes.
Progress can only really be measured if you have a goal in mind, so it’s super important to have something to work towards. A bigger picture. The thing that drives you to keep moving and deters you from things that move you backwards. The battle between instant gratification and long-term success is real. But if that long-term success is clear; if you can visualise it, then you can move towards it, and get rid of the things that move you back to the beginning.
If watching television happens to be your progress-drainer, I’ll leave you with another interesting fact I heard recently: Lamborghini don’t advertise on television because they know that their target audience doesn’t watch television. So, if you keep watching TV, you’ll never own a supercar. How’s that for motivation to turn it off?