We are all pressed for time. All. The. Time. We feel starved for it. That’s why there are countless articles with hacks for saving 30 minutes (and sometimes 30 seconds) on all sorts of tasks every single day.
We yearn for more time. We wish for it. We regularly talk about wishing for it. It feels like time slips through our fingers like sand.
But not everyone feels this way. Many people feel like time is plentiful, which is interesting since all of us have the same number of hours in our days. And these aren’t people who are retired or living off trust funds; these are people who work five days a week and have families. According to one super productive executive, “Oh, I have all the time in the world.”
In the book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, bestselling author Laura Vanderkam shares valuable, meaningful strategies for how we can see our time as abundant. (She’s the one who interviewed the above executive.) Because it’s all about our perception of time. Again, all of us have the same number of hours. Some of us simply have a different mindset, which changes everything.
According to Vanderkam, one powerful way we can make time seem plentiful is to make it more memorable. Literally. It’s to create more memories.
Time doesn’t fly when we’re kids because there are so many firsts. Every experience is a new, vivid experience. We’re also learning and navigating challenges. We’re taking risks, which intensifies our emotions. These are all ingredients for making life memorable.
As we get older, our days become more mundane. We have specific routines, which isn’t a bad thing. Routines are vital. For one thing, they make our lives easier and smoother, and we don’t have to make a thousand decisions that sap our energy (what time do I get up? when do I brush my teeth? where do I go? what do I eat for breakfast?). But it’s fascinating what our brains do with the mundane and monotonous.
According to Vanderkam, “The brain decides that if you drive the same one-hour route to work 235 mornings a year, and you do so for the roughly 4.25 years that compose the average job tenure, these one thousand trips can be telescoped in memory into one trip.”
This is why novelty is key. Vanderkam quotes neurologist Lila Davachi in her TED talk, where she suggests thinking of each event that happens to us as a memory unit: “[I]n an environment with a lot of variety and change you’re forming far more memory units than in an environment with very little change. It’s these units—the number of these units—that determine our estimates of time later on. More units, more to remember, and time expands.”
Vanderkam isn’t suggesting that we reject routine and, as she writes, “figure out one thousand different ways to commute during those one thousand otherwise identical mornings.” Instead, she encourages us to make our normal days special “with a mindset toward adventure,” because creating memories stretches our experience of time.
This was true for the participants in Vanderkam’s time-perception survey. In 2017 Vanderkam recruited more than 900 people who work 30 plus hours a week and have children under 18. They tracked their day, on Monday, March 27th, hour by hour, and answered questions about how they felt about their time on that day and in general. Each participant received a time-perception score based on their responses to 13 questions, each of which had a 7-point scale (1 being “strongly disagree,” and 7 being “strongly agree”).
The people who agreed with the statement “Yesterday, I did something memorable or out of the ordinary with my time” were 14 percent more likely than average to believe they generally had enough time to do what they wanted to do.
Vanderkam then analyzed the time logs from the 30 people who had the highest time-perception scores, and learned that they did some pretty interesting things for a Monday night. One woman went salsa dancing. Another woman bought tickets online to Beauty and the Beast at 6 p.m. for a 7 p.m. showing with her family. A third respondent got a babysitter for 8 p.m. to attend a concert.
So how can we make our days more memorable?
Vanderkam includes some great ideas in Off the Clock, such as:
- Leave your car in a different parking lot during a weekday, and walk through a new neighborhood. In the evening stop by a store that intrigued you on your way to work.
- Enjoy an evening swim at your neighborhood pool.
- Put a picnic blanket in your backyard and eat breakfast there.
- Leave work early to meet your spouse for a drink or appetizer before getting on the train.
- Ask your friends to take a short hike in a nearby state park— “you know the one with the gorgeous pine trees, the one you’ve lived near for the past four years and have yet to visit.”
Sometimes we stick to routine and end up on the couch channel surfing because we’re simply exhausted. We can’t bring ourselves to figure out the logistics of going somewhere, let alone actually go through with them. And that’s OK. Some days you just need to sit and stare at the TV.
Fun takes effort. Leaving the house with kids takes effort. But it’s also what fosters fulfillment, meaning and joy. It also boosts our energy. Even when logistics are tricky (or a pain) to navigate.
I like what author Dorie Clark tells Vanderkam: “We’re making choices regardless, by dint of how we spend our time. So do you want to make the choices consciously or unconsciously?”
Another way we stretch time, writes Vanderkam, is through wooing our memories, through cultivating memory. Which we can do by making photo books and scrapbooks, keeping journals (or time logs like Vanderkam does), and asking others to share stories about their days. She also suggests setting memories into our senses: “even a bar of hotel soap can become associated with a trip if you make a point of sniffing it daily during your vacation.”
Time is precious, and the older we get, the more fleeting it feels. If you want to feel like you have more time, make memories. Seek out small adventures—even on a seemingly mundane, monotonous Monday in March.