N. Shannon Walker

Become A Clock Watcher

Relativity and Time Management

By N. Shannon Walker

N. Shannon Walker ow many times have you looked at your watch during the course of a busy day and were surprised to learn how late it was? You think to yourself "Where did all that time go? I haven't accomplished anything and the whole day is almost gone!" ... What you have experienced is relativity. Not physical relativity, but time relativity. "Time flies when you're having fun" and "A watched pot never boils" are very old sayings and although they are considered trite, both are in fact quite profound.

Think back to being very young, say maybe in 5th grade. It's one o'clock in the afternoon, you're done with lunch and recess time, and now you're back in class. It happens to be math class, which is your least favorite subject. After math will be social studies, which you don't like much either. So you have two hours of boring classes to sit through before you can go home. Being dismissed is all you can think about. What fun you'll have when that bell finally rings!

After what seems to have been an eternity, you look at the clock to find that it is now 1:10. Only ten minutes? How can that be? Something is obviously wrong with the clock, and you wonder if you should mention that to your teacher.

Now think back to being that same age, and you and your family are on a fun vacation. You will be on vacation for a whole week! You wished that it would last forever, but to your dismay each day flashed by, and before you knew it it was time to pack your suitcase and get ready t0 go home.

Your week long vacation somehow seemed shorter than your two hour afternoon back at school. Why? This phenomenon is part of the relativity theory and has fascinated scientists and philosophers for centuries.

In spatial, or physical relativity, the speed and direction of an object in motion is measured relative to the speed and direction of the observer. A brief example is to imagine a pitcher and a catcher throwing a baseball while riding on the bed of a truck traveling at 100 miles per hour (a rather dangerous experiment indeed...) The pitcher is in the back of the truck bed and the catcher is in front near the cab. When the pitcher throws a 100 mph fast ball, the catcher sees it coming at 100mph, but an observer standing on the side of the road would see the ball travelling at 200 mph relative to his position. If the picher threw the ball in the other direction, off the back of the truck, the observer would watch the ball drop straight to the ground in front of him.

Time relativity works much in the same way. Just as there isn't such a thing as absolute velocity, there also isn't such a thing as absolute time. Time is an illusion based upon human perception. We can measure time with a clock, but as we learned back in our school days, each "hour" of time as measured by a clock is really a different amount of actual time based upon the perception of the one who observes and perceives it.

"10 years ago" seems like last month to a 50-something year old guy like myself. But to a 15 year old high school freshman thinking back to her first year of kindergarten, ten years ago is almost a lifetime.

So...Where am I going with all of this? Once we have a grasp on what time relativity is and why it works the way it does, we can use it to our advantage.

The next time you have an "impossible" deadline, get in the habit of checking the time often. In fact, check it every few minutes. Keep track of how long it takes to complete each individual phase of your project, always keeping in mind that the successful completion of each task brings you ever closer to your end goal of completing the project. You will most likely be surprised to discover that you don't work as quickly as you had imagined, relative to the time as measured by the clock.

"A whole hour" might be an eternity when you're waiting at an airport or looking forward to getting off work, but it's a very short period of time when you're working to complete a project that is behind schedule. You may think an hour gives you plenty of time, but it's over in what seems like a few moments. That's because you are thinking of an hour in terms of the speed it goes by while you are waiting for something, not the speed at which it goes by while you're engaged in a pressing task. Thus, the individual tasks which you need to, or at least hope to accomplish throughout the course of your day will no doubt take somewhat longer than you had anticipated they would.

"Watching the clock" is normally associated with bored employees who want time to go by quickly, but for them, time just crawls along at an unbelievably slow pace. By becoming a "clock watcher," you can slow time down in much the same manner. Check the time often during your day, and you will mentally keep track of how much time it takes to complete each task, how much time you have spent, and how much time there is left.

As time begins to slow down relative to your perception of it, you will be surprised to find that you actually have more time than you used to. By the measurement of the clock on the wall it's all the same, but in relative terms it passes more slowly.

Try being a clock watcher for a week. You'll be amazed at how much time there really is available to you.

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