“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car.
You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”
— Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper
A day in the life of a time slave
As humans we think we have no masters. We run Earth. We walk dogs on leashes because we think we’re the superior species.
I’ve learned the hard way that we do have a master, though. Our master is time. Time has held me captive for much of life. Years ago I suffered from extreme anxiety. My anxiety required time to sustain its cause.
I needed time to pre-prepare for every major event in life. Going to work was a major event. Drinks after work was major. A dinner with friends seemed like a monumental task. Leading up to the event I created ridiculous to-do lists.
A doomsday prepper is nothing compared to who I used to be.
A dinner at 6 pm looked like this: Lunch at 12 pm to ensure hunger at the right time, gym to calm the nerves, a shower to smell nice, a trip to the supermarket to buy bottled water to carry in case of vomiting, tissues on the way out the door to clean up any potential vomit, wet wipes to clean up any overspray, a map of the venue to find the toilets in case of emergency, a phone call to the restaurant to ensure they were good to go for the night, and a list of affirmations.
Affirmations created the dialogue between myself and the mental illness. I had to appear more powerful to him. He had one up on me: time. All the weapons I used to silence his wrath required enormous amounts of time.
A watch helped me execute every move with navy seal precision. Eventually time would run out. I’d have to face my fear. The fear never seemed to be as scary as the fantasy that drained all of my time.
Mental illness is gone from my life now. The burden of time isn’t.
Time limits cause the greatest suffering
Time creates urgency. The trouble is it prevents us from being lazy. Laziness is how we heal from the wounds of the week. If it weren’t for the constraints of time we could be lazy without guilt.
I long to be lazier. I put way too much pressure on myself to succeed. A near-miss with cancer in 2015 changed my biological clock. I went from a 20-something boy who thought they had all the time in the world, to a man who wants to experience everything there is in life with the time left.
Animals are the opposite. They have no concept of time. My deceased dog Alisha lived for 13 years. To her that felt like 100 years. She didn’t have death FOMO at 10. Or a mid-life doggie crisis. If she were a human she would.
We think time helps us be productive. What if it doesn’t? What if too much focus on time teleports us out of the present and into some anxiety-driven world? Maybe my anxiety wasn’t a mental health issue. Maybe it was due to an obsession with time.
Here’s how to relax the burden of time
The quote in the intro slapped me across the face. Time appears to go faster when we focus on it. Scientists have found that the way we feel time is driven by emotions such as happiness, sadness, and fear. This explains why fear altered my perception of time. When we’re always counting the minutes we miss the best bits of life. Try these tips.
Schedule no time tracking days
Sunday works best for me. I turn my phone off and forget about what time it is. I let my stomach tell me when a good lunchtime is. I let the darkness outside politely suggest a good time for dinner. I like to get lost in books without knowing how many minutes I’ve racked up.
It’s nice *not* to have the guilt of time ruin your day.
Find this hidden state
Flow states have become popular over the last few years. I’ve written about them extensively. Flow is where you disconnect from the burden of time. It’s where you do a type of work that you can get lost in. Mine is writing. I sit down to write for 8 hours straight. All concept of time is erased. If I enter a flow state in euphoria, the upside is even greater.
All of the cracks in life caused by daily tragedies are papered over when in flow. It’s hard to notice time. You’re so lost in the task that its relevancy to the moment is completely disconnected.
To be in a flow state is to be released from the shackles of time.
Elon Musk says “Time is the ultimate currency.” Does currency make us happy though? Do we need more currency? Or if we don’t focus on currency, but focus on simply living, will the reward be greater? I don’t know.
What I do know is too much focus on time makes me a lousy human. When the constraints of time are released everything feels different. That’s worth you exploring.