About the first thing you learn from reading any course on time management skills is usually that you need to be aware of the passage of time. Invariably, they tell you how when you’re doing something you like, time seems to pass really quickly and how when you are at work and you hate it, time seems to pass very slowly. But is that really an adequate explanation of how we perceive time?
The thing is, it’s not really true that time passes slowly when you are at work and you aren’t really involved in it. People who don’t particularly feel attached to their line of work will just as often report that their days simply seem to disappear. When most people talk about how they just don’t seem to have enough time (busy mothers say this often), you don’t imagine that they find running after over-energetic toddlers while feeling sleep-deprived from three years of no sleep is something they actually enjoy, do you? People who do nothing but a few errands on a Sunday find that it’s time to go to bed before they know it too. So learning time management skills isn’t just about finding a way to be interested in your work. It is to understand how time really passes.
Traditional ideas about the passage of time do very well explaining how time passes when we are deeply bored or when we are deeply involved in something. What it doesn’t do is to help us understand how we can do things that don’t really mean much to us – things that are neither deeply boring nor perfectly interesting – and still find that time flies. The reason it happens this way is that there are a few inexplicable rules about how the brain processes time. Here are some of them.
Some things can totally upset our sense of how time passes – if a person has a 5 second seizure for instance, they will invariably say that the seizure lasted about 45 minutes. People who take recreational drugs report all kinds of unpredictable things happening to their perception of time too. The older you are, the faster the clock in your head ticks. People frequently wonder sadly at how their years seem to slip by far more quickly than they ever did when they were younger. It isn’t just in their imagination. Our perception of the passage of time really does speed up as we age. You should probably think of time as an actual clock that ticks inside your head. If you pay attention to how exactly it’s ticking, you become very aware of how much time exactly has passed. If you involve yourself in other things and neglect to pay attention to how time is passing, you are not aware of it – whether or not what you do is boring.
The warmer you are, the faster time seems to pass (to a degree, of course). Our perception of time may be important to our time management skills. But scientists don’t really understand what exactly goes on in the brain. There’s just one thing they know: if you wish to have your days last longer so that you can make the best use of them, you need to start being aware of how every minute passes.