In the dystopian movie In Time, time has become a commodity that can be bought, sold, traded, stolen, and manipulated. Whether or not someone is rich or poor depends on their time wealth and time poverty.
We’re living in modern, not dystopian times, but it seems like we never have enough time. Ironically, the more time-saving devices we have, the less time we seem to enjoy. Achieving higher productivity doesn’t result in getting more done in less time, and therefore having more time for leisure. Instead, higher productivity is designed to yield more work in more time.
There’s a belief that time is the great equalizer, since while we’re alive, we all get the same amount in a day, a week, and a year. It just depends on how we use it. Rather than all getting the same amount of time to spend, what if we could have more? What if we could control the way we consume our time to a greater extent? Here are five unexpected ways to give ourselves more time. Some of these ideas about our perceptions of time have been brilliantly applied for health and healing, but what if we could have more time for our work and our life? It turns out we can control time and even expand it, in these five unexpected ways.
This might seem counterintuitive, but people who have more time often give it away through volunteering and helping others. A study that compared the opportunities to waste time, spend time on oneself, or spend a gift of time found that giving time selflessly actually increased people’s perception of time.
Do things in new ways
When we do the same things every day, our brains tend to take shortcuts, and our efforts don’t require as much conscious thought. This makes time seem to go more quickly. In contrast, when we do things in new or unexpected ways, our brains engage more consciously. We experience time as slowing down because we’re more present and putting more work into the thinking that goes into the task. We can apply this research by selecting when we choose to do things in new ways versus our typical ways. If you prefer your drive to work to go quickly, go the same route every time. But if you want to extend your perception of time, take the winding road or a new route on the way home from the office.
Do things you love
When we have a passion for a task or topic, we find time to pursue it. The way we live our lives is through making choices about how we spend each moment. We can find more time by pursuing activities that we enjoy because those are the kinds of things that we’d happily set aside time for.
Seek the experience of awe
Another relevant study found that when people experience awe, they report feeling a greater sense of time affluence. Think about witnessing a stunning sunrise, watching a film that moves you, or looking into the eyes of a child. These experiences of awe, even when they’re not part of the workday, increase our attention and presence in the moment, which makes it seem like we have more time.
Nothing contributes to time poverty more than feeling out of control. It’s a problem when we have too much to do in too little time, especially when we’re not the ones calling the shots about how we spend our time. We can take back a sense of having enough time by incorporating as much control as possible, and by redesigning our days. Even the simple act of pausing for 10 minutes to think about how you want to spend your time–which project to start on, which call to return, or which email to prioritize–can reassert a greater sense of time abundance.
The cost of anything is the amount of time we must exchange for it, whether it’s an item we purchase (how many hours do we need to work to pay for that new gadget?) or a choice about how to spend leisure time (are we going to get that lingering project done if we go skiing?). We all have the same amount of time to spend, but there are methods to increase our time affluence through the ways we control our perceptions of it. That way, rather than being slaves to the clock or to a dystopian world of those who are time-rich and time-poor, we can choose to experience time differently, and extend the time we have to spend in the ways that matter most to us.
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.