You know how they say someone is so reliable and consistent, “you could set your watch by them”? Well, I kind of feel that way about my old friend Time. I mean, what’s more reliable than the continuing progression of time? Every second, another second passes—without fail. If 24 hours has gone by, a new day starts, just like clockwork. And I don’t think I’m alone in noticing that no matter what I say or do, every single year right around my birthday, my age grows by another year. All that stuff makes it seem like time is the steadiest thing going.
But we’ve all seen another side to time too, haven’t we? The situations when time “seemed to stop”, or slowed to a crawl? The days at work (or in the classroom in late May) when the clock seemed to be playing games, or possibly actively teasing you, by going glacially slow for the last half hour of the shift or school day? For that matter, have you ever timed yourself holding your breath underwater? Talk about a stingy clock–it’s hard for me to believe that seconds pass as slowly above water, when I’m not holding my breath. And that’s without even getting into the world of movies, where clocks slowing down under pressure has been documented time and time again.
Of course, it makes sense that time must get slower sometimes, because otherwise, how would we be able to get things done so quickly during “crunch time”, when deadlines are fast approaching? (Or when the hero in the movie has to travel an inconceivable distance to stop the bomb timer before it reaches zero, for that matter.)
Here’s a trick I figured out—one way to beat time at its own game. Let’s take tidying up, for example. You might think your house (or yard or car or whatever) would take quite a while to get cleaned up so it looks nice for company. But imagine if you got a call from the local airport, and it was your in-laws saying they just got in and rented a car, and they’ll be there at your house in 15-20 minutes. (!!!) All of the sudden you would magically be able to get the house, yard, and car clean before they arrived.
Those might have been a collective of tasks that you were putting off for weeks, months, or even years, but with the power of fear on your side, you’re able to sneak into that other dimension, and tap into the same phenomenon that used to sabotage your efforts to get out of school on pre-summer afternoons.
There are probably some tricks to make time go faster too, but I’m not really hunting for those as much these days. Too much to do, too much to do. If anything, I’m searching for a way to convert more of my time into “impending in-laws” time—but so far, I haven’t been able to stretch the phenomena out into longer periods of time. It seems that if my fictional in-laws were taking a slow approach, and gave me plenty of warning, it would have little to no effect on my productivity. (I’d just have to make sure they call once they reach that final 20-minutes-away mark!)
Maybe like me, you don’t have in-laws or other intimidating figures calling you from the airport enough for this to be useful in everyday life. No problem. All you need to do is build a bomb, attach a timer to it, and set it for 15 minutes or so. Promise yourself you won’t turn off the bomb unless you get such-and-such done before the timer goes off. I pretty much guarantee you will get whatever it is done in time. It almost always works in the movies.
This column is featured in The Simplifier #5.9.