Do you know what time it is?

My guess is that you just looked at the top right hand corner of your screen unconsciously as you read the title of this post, and that yes, you now do know precisely what time it is. And if you hadn’t done that you most likely will have glanced at the clock as you passed from one room to the next a few moments ago, or heard those beep beep beeps on the radio telling you that the time is blah blah blah, and so you’ll at least have a rough idea. Time is everywhere, we can’t escape it. We wear it on our wrists, it is in our cars, homes, phones, bus stops, electrical appliances, it’s everywhere! We live our lives so engrained within this social construct but we never seem to question how it all works and why.

Have you ever stopped to think about time for a moment? Do you know why we have hours and minutes and days and years and where they came from in the first place? Well, our modern concept of time is actually derived from astronomy and the moving of the planets but you can find out more about that on wikkipedia. Time as we know it today was created by us, and any constraints that we live within such as our working hours, when we should eat, sleep etc have again all been decided by humans, so do we have any power to change these? Should we want too?

I want to focus on our relationship with time, and how we need to take back some control, time is getting a little out of hand these days. Do you enjoy working 9-5? Are you a morning person? A night owl? When are you the most productive? This week I was involved in presenting a seminar that asked me to really consider these questions. I started to think about time as we know it, and how we take for granted that we operate within these very complex time structures, happily getting to work for 9 and finishing for 5, going about our day, but do you ever stop to wonder why behave this way? Can we change our time structures? Can we even live without any?

There are tribes around the world today who still live with virtually no concept of time as we perceive it in the modern world. In their everyday lives, the Pirahãs in Brazil appear to have no need for numbers. There is one word, “hói,” which does come close to the numeral 1. But it can also mean “small” or describe a relatively small amount — like two small fish as opposed to one big fish, for example. Not having numbers means they do not measure time numerically as we do, they understand the concept of the rising and setting sun but beyond that they cannot and do not plan their days according to any time structure, they eat when they are hungry, work when they need to and sleep when it is dark.

Now don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting we all revert to this tribal behavior, however, studies have shown that the people who live in these tribes are some of the happiest people on the planet. This is because they are fully present in their everyday lives and are not concerned with future worries and past memories. I think we could all learn a little bit from this way of living, to turn off the clock, phone, microwave, TV, computer and any other device that may show us the time, and to just sit and be and do what we want to do and to not worry about what time it is. Again, I am not suggesting a radical shift in behaviour or that we do this every day, but maybe for a week or just a weekend, even just a Sunday? Go out for a walk and not worry about how long it takes you, sleep until you wake up with no alarm, eat when you are hungry, this kind of behavior can be very liberating and give your mind the time to breath without the constraints of time.

Today, we think in nano seconds when not too long ago we used to think in decades, so much has happened and we have progresses so quickly as a race that we are needing smaller and smaller time measurements as a reference. In the past, things happened slowly and as such 10 years did not seem like such a long time to have to wait for a promotion or to be able to buy a house. Now we think in terms of instant gratification and no longer work towards long term all goals. All of this is contributing to the ever increasing stress and anxiety that we feel.

We have also developed an insatiable need to fill every minute of our time with ‘something productive.’ Many of us have forgotten how to just be, and to enjoy leisure time, I know that when I have a week off from work I see this as a way to catch up on all my external projects and life admin, instead of to just relax, enjoy life and do nothing without having a melt down about it.

During the industrial revolution we were in the pursuit of leisure time. 9-5 working hours were actually introduced to increase the amount of leisure time we had, and on average this movement lead to people having around 115 days of leisure time per year. Today we can hardly even stop ourselves from working evenings and weekends so what on earth has happened? It seems the more we value our leisure time, the less of it we have of it.

I am particularly interested in countries and organisations that are mixing up the status quo. Take Sweden for example with the introduction of the 6 hour working day. And companies that allow their employees to start and finish when they like, so long as the job has been done. Again, I am not suggesting we resort to a free-for-all but I think understanding motivations and individual differences a little more could make a huge difference in the quality and quantity of work that people can produce. I, for example, struggle very much with the 9-5 concept, I know that I work best in the mornings between 6am and 11am. I am most productive, creative and determined at this time, if something needs doing, I wake up and get straight onto it. In an office environment this doesn’t work well, I wake up and use my productive time to exercise before I go into the office, I used to start work at 9:30, and after a coffee, a morning meeting and catching up on emails I would get down to the important work around 11am, my productivity end point, disaster. I am lucky enough to be able to work as freelancer and so I can plan my day according to my strengths meaning I can really maximise the use of my time.

So have a think about how you are spending your time, could you do things differently, slow down, worry less. Try a day or two without time every now and again and see if it helps.