About time

How do you see time? After getting a speedy replacement for my watch battery at the Watch Lab in Leeds, I asked the staff there to help me in some market research, and to tell me what metaphor they would each use for time. One said they saw time like an hour glass (which made me think of time as finite, measurable and disappearing at a measurable speed). The other said that when I said “time” they saw “space” since both are vast, limitless and go on forever.

Fascinating.

Tensed and tenseless theories of time

There are, as you can well imagine, philosophical and cultural views of time. Philosophers talk variously about time being tensed (A-theory) and tenseless (B-theory). On the A-theory our experience of “temporal becoming”, that experience of one event following another, and you developing as a person is how time actually works. On the B-theory, however, this is illusory – all events in time are equally real – like the marks on a ruler. The “you” that is reading this isn’t the same “you” that went to sleep yesterday, but rather a unique temporal “slice.” Presumably that means that I shouldn’t be concerned about the typing errors I made in the first draft of this post, since that was done by a different (and clearly less efficient) “me” than is typing now.

Then there are cultural views. In his stimulating Coaching Across Cultures, Philippe Rosinski contrasts cultures that regard time as a scarce resource to be managed carefully, with those that take a more relaxed view of life since, from their perspective, time is abundant. How we see time significantly affects our behaviour. People who hold the former view of time as scarce, make extensive use of planners, alarms and schedules, whereas the latter more likely to follow natural rhythms of life.

The currency of time

So what about you? How do you regard time? What metaphor would you use to describe it?

One approach I have found helpful with clients who despair of “never having enough” time to regard time as a resource to invest, rather than one which is fast diminishing. As with money, when you invest time you give away some of your control over it. If you are in work, for example, you most likely chose the employer you work for, and with that you gave away control of some of your time in return for wages, experience, future employability, financial support in retirement or whatever else you derive from your work. But the point is you chose where that time would go. Within your workplace there is time that you have to give (because your contract of employment demands it) and discretionary time that you can choose to give your employer or invest elsewhere.

Thinking about time as an investment is helpful since it leads you to ask what you are getting in return for it. A better alignment of your use of time with your current and future life objectives, will help free you from the sensation of time being a constraint, and to see it for what it really is – a gift. And a gift over which you probably have more control than you have given yourself credit for.

Coaching in action

Why not try out this experiment. Share with a friend or colleague what metaphor you would use to describe “time.” Then think of some alternatives – there are at least three in this post. Find a metaphor for time that seems intuitively more attractive, and spend the next week asking yourself how differently you would behave if that new view of time was more accurate than the one you hold now. You may well be in for some surprises.

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