When time passes quickly, it may be that:
1. we lose track of time, or…
2. time loses track of us
or both. — Lex Fridman
I hope you’re ready to have your mind warped.
The concept of time is one of the most interesting topics on the internet. And understanding time is the number one way to improve your life and experience more happiness.
Einstein said “People who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Let me take you on a wild journey through time and space.
Speed is the enemy of time
My biggest problem with self-improvement and productivity culture is what it does to our perception of time.
The narrative forces us to cram in more tasks to our to-do list, work harder/faster/longer, and zoom in on the micro.
What I’ve found is my perception of time slows down when I have richer and deeper experiences. And when I have new or random experiences time slows down once more.
The #1 way to slow down time is to do less.
Part of the problem is habits
Habits create routine and repetition which are the enemies of our perception of time.
If you want to go down the rabbit hole on the science of this, then read any one of these three books below:
Mr Money Moustache has many interesting theories on time. His research says that when you operate mostly on habits it’s like being on auto-pilot.
This mode means you form fewer memories and this speeds up the perception of time. Memories anchor you in the present and make time feel longer. It’s why some people say the meaning of life is to experience nostalgia.
Here’s where things get wild…
Mr Money Moustache says if you operate on auto-pilot and mostly habits for too long then the brain will start taking whole phases of your life and making them single thoughts. Geez.
So if you’d like to slow down time, then say yes to more random opportunities, and prioritize randomness over familiarity. Your brain will have to work harder and the clarity of life will go from 8-bit to 4K.
4.1 million people figured out a form of time travel
There are no time machines yet.
But metaphorical time travel does exist. Writer Sherry (Schrodingr’s Brat) had 4.1M view her theory which goes like this…
We all have old friends. Many of them haven’t changed since you first met them, even if it was decades ago.
They open our eyes to parts of ourselves that we thought we outgrew.
She says as we get older we store every age inside of our brain. Old friends help us become archaeologists that can go back and see former versions of ourselves.
So younger models of ourselves are frozen in time through memories, and old friends are the only ones who can help us dig them up.
If you want to travel back in time then catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a long time. Or go to a high school reunion. That’s how you can legitimately time travel and alter your perception of time.
The period of life when time gets faster
There’s no doubt our perception of time speeds up as we get older.
Jobs get us stuck into routines. The number of new people we meet decreases. And our goal to make money blinds us from what truly matters.
If we have kids time speeds up even more.
Since my 7 month old daughter was born, this year has felt faster than ever. Many parents I speak to can relate.
In a way, we want to freeze time so we can maximize the baby moments, and avoid the time when our kids graduate from school and spend less time with us. But kids can’t be frozen in time.
Perhaps the biggest time epidemic is busyness.
When we get busy our perceived passage through time goes into hyperdrive. Our mind lives more in the past or the future, and stress and anxiety skyrocket. These are ingredients that screw with time.
It’s why busy people upset me. They’re destroying their quality of time. So what’s the answer? Spend more time in the present.
Productivity researcher Nathaniel Drew said when he took a 10 day Vipassana retreat it made 10 days feel like 10 months.
Much of the time at these kinds of retreats is spent without distractions and tech devices to numb our mind. And a good chunk of time is spent meditating which brings us back to the present.
If I had one tip to slow down time, it’d be to spend fewer hours with your phone. Phones are time limiters. They bounce our mind from one point in time to another until we’ve forgotten our starting point.
Come back to the present to slow down time.
Bizarre weeks when decades happen
Productivity expert Zach Pogrob taught me that when you’re growing fast in life, the perception of time speeds up.
Only 30 days ago can feel like a year ago when you’re operating from a place of obsession and getting results.
That’s how I feel this year. Everything I’m doing online is compounding at the fastest growth rate in 9 years. The progress feels nice but the way it sabotages my perception of time feels horrible.
We’ve all lived through a decade when it feels like not much happens. Then there are weeks when it feels like a whole decade has happened. That’s what last November felt like for me.
I got married, had a kid, bought a house, and had my online business grow at a fast rate. A decade of progress happened in a month.
Be aware of the pros and cons of progress. Balance them out. Too much growth interrupts the natural passage of time in a bad way.
Time is elusive. It will fool you.
Ryan Holiday looks at time from the perspective of ancient history.
He says our big goals always take longer than we think. Hofstadter’s law proves it. And even if you’re aware of this law, he says, the universe will still surprise you with how long everything takes.
I don’t try to fight time or get my perception of it to be honest. It’s too hard.
It’s better to let time do its thing and be aware of its unreliable nature to measure it or lock down your perception of it.
The moment when time disappears
The moment time disappears is when we’re obsessed, according to Zach Pogrob.
When we’re truly mesmerized by an activity it alters our perception of time. Obsession leads us to flow states. It’s how I feel when I write. I’m so obsessed I lose all perception of time.
10 hours feels like 60 minutes.
While I’m writing I can’t think about anything else. My consciousness is honed in on only one thing. While time feels faster, time feels better, too.
If you want to warp your perception of time then chase obsession. Let it lead you to flow states that alter your life, and help you reach higher states of consciousness.
Thinking about time messes with time
That’s right. When you become time-obsessed and seek to be a time billionaire, this bizarre reality happens where it feels like you have a lot less time.
The same happens to financially rich billionaires. They spend so much time thinking about money, that even with $10B, they still feel like they need money. It’s never enough.
So be aware of time. Let time work in your favor. But don’t always think about time or it’ll slip through your fingers like sand through an hourglass.
Two powerful ways to buy back time
Productivity author Shane Parrish has an excellent rule of thumb:
Stay away from anything that makes time work against you.
Here are two…
1. Get paid for outcomes, not hours
Time works against you if you trade it for money.
It’s better to use money to buy you more time. Financial assets store time, and they produce returns in the form of dividends that can be traded for more hours (not financial advice).
The best method of payment is to get money for an outcome, not how many hours it took you.
That’s why you want to be a practitioner and get comfortable with side hustles, freelancing, contracting, and one person-businesses.
2. Say no to more things
There are hundreds of ‘asks’ of our time every year.
It’s easy to say yes out of guilt or FOMO. But a packed calendar steals your time and makes you busy. And busyness is a time degrader, not time enhancer. So make your default answer “no” to every request. Then negotiate with yourself to say yes to the things that matter.
Life enjoyment over obligation.
The greatest motivation there is to master time
You may not feel any urgency to change your perception of time.
Let me give you some free motivation. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman once made a comment that made people’s jaws drop to the floor.
Adjusted for the subjective increase in how fast time passes, life is half over by 23 or 24.
So if life feels like it’s half over by 24 then you might want to make it an emergency task to slow down time with the tools in this article. Otherwise, you’ll feel like a goldfish that lived for a day and drowned because a 5th grader dropped you on the floor.
A parting thought to leave you speechless
Wasting time is good.
Yep. Author Marthe Troly-Curtin says time we waste on purpose that we enjoy isn’t time wasted.
Wasting small amounts of time time is how we see the value of time.
Time is our currency and it’s ours to spend how we wish. If all you do is live life following some tight set of rules around time, you become a dictator of your own existence. That’s not pleasurable.