Pretty much everyone I ask who’s over 30 says time seems to be going faster and faster for them. Those over 50 describe a yearning to be able to make time stand still even for a moment. I wrote about this time warp while back… maybe it was last week. No, probably a few months ago. It all blurs together.
Now, I’m probably violating all the laws of physics with what I’m about to share with you. But I’m pretty sure I’ve cracked the secret to stopping the clock – at least in how we perceive time passing.
Call me crazy, but this works so well for me that I’ve come to crave it like an addict. If I do it regularly, I experience more happiness, more creativity, better sleep, and an all-around greater sense of wellbeing.
You want in on this?
First, Here’s What’s Happening When Time Flies By
Sure, time flies when we’re having fun. We’ve all been around long enough to know that any big day or special event will be over before we know it. Learning to enjoy the anticipation leading up to some long-awaited experience multiplies our enjoyment.
Got a vacation planned? (Remember those???) Focus on the pleasure of mapping it out, choosing a place to stay, and dreaming about what it’ll be like when you’re there. It’ll add to the whole experience and help make the vacation feel longer. (We’re hoping the UK will open enough to take our trip this summer. I’ll thoroughly enjoy picking places like this croft on the Isle of Skye where we can stay.)
But time doesn’t just whip past you when you’re enjoying some special occasion.
It also happens when you’re “on the clock” – especially if you absolutely love your work. Following a daily routine is extraordinarily helpful for me as a writer (otherwise… SQUIRREL!!!!). But when work days become mostly indistinguishable from each other, other than which meetings I’m in or what needs to publish that day, time flies. Every time you turn around, it’s Friday, right?
There’s something about a routine that, helpful as that groove can be, lulls us into a bit of a time warp. I’ve even noticed that when I was a kid, having a routine seemed so boring that time stood still (I swear the clock in math class went backward!).
Of course, it makes sense.
When we’re kids in school, we don’t have much control over how we spend our time or what we think about. As adults, we choose occupations that we eventually master. Instead of thinking about algebra, geography, biology, French, and that cute trumpet player, our minds focus on a narrower range of topics. That range could be called a groove… or a rut. Depends on your take on it.
On the Hook or Off?
Part of what makes a routine seem like time is flying by is that you’re on the hook for something. Coworkers or clients expect you to attend meetings. Colleagues expect you to work on and deliver projects. Family expects you to do whatever tasks or chores you do. All of these expectations are absolutely legit. Hopefully, you’ve created a life in which what you do and who you do it for or with is at least bearable (maybe even delightful!).
But no matter how good you feel about your day-to-day, you’re on the hook. Someone’s expecting something from you. You’ve got deadlines of all kinds. Deliver those deliverables. Move the laundry. Cook dinner at a reasonable hour. Get up, work out, shower, and go.
How’s that old song by Jim Croce go?
“There never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them.”
It’s perfectly good and reasonable for us to fulfill our responsibilities. But what if we carved out time where nobody expects anything from us? Time we can be fully present – not doing something mindless so that it also whizzes past.
Here’s the secret I’ve discovered.
By letting ourselves live unleashed, or off the hook – even just for a little while each day (or a long while, as I now crave)… we can make time stand still. Just for a moment.
Here’s how I do it.
Go. Out. Side.
I’ve written a bit about this already. Getting outside is good for the body and soul. But it’s more than a feel-good pill. If you do it like I’m about to prescribe for you.
Step 1: Realize that you will NEVER be done with all the things on your plate.
Your email box will still overflow the day you die. Laundry is never really done (unless you’re running around nekkid). There’s always something productive you could be doing. So, you can’t wait until there’s literally NOTHING you “should” be doing. Once you make peace with that, you can lose the guilty feeling that might arise if you do this. You’re not shirking responsibilities; you’re putting yourself on the list.
Step 2: Choose some outdoor activity you’ll enjoy – or at least, not hate.
Walking the dog is not inherently thrilling. Neither is pulling weeds, cleaning a chicken coop, mowing the lawn, or deadheading roses. Flying a drone? That’s pretty fun (when it’s not scary because you keep crashing). Just choose something. It’s okay if it’s something that “needs” doing. It just has to be something that’s at least mildly pleasant for you.
Step 3: Stop the clock.
It’s best to do that outdoor activity when you don’t have a hard stop on your time. I mean, the sun will set and you’ll probably need to stop then. But this works best when you’re not squeezing your outdoor time into a small window. You don’t want to feel compelled to keep checking your watch.
Step 4: Ditch the whip.
You don’t need an iron-clad plan for what you’re doing. You’re not on the clock, so efficiency is irrelevant during this precious time.
For example, I built a compost bin a few weeks ago. The process was entirely inefficient.
- Our chicken coop needed cleaning now that winter is past. So, I raked all the poopy straw out of the girls’ shed.
- I put it into a wheelbarrow and hauled it to the back edge of the yard to use as mulch.
- Then the dogs started rolling in it, and the chickens started scratching around in it and made a huge mess.
- Realizing my future was now going to be filled with lots and lots of dog bathing, I reconsidered this plan.
- Hey, this would make a great compost pile – if I could keep the dogs and hens out.
- I found some fencing material and formed it into a barrel, sort of. Then re-raked the straw into piles, put it into the wheelbarrow, hauled it to the other side of the yard, and filled the barrel. (It’s working great, by the way.)
If I’d been on the clock and concerned about efficiency, I would have thought this through entirely before starting. (Or at least that would be the wise thing to do!) If I’d had someone else doing this with me, we would have come up with a plan first and gotten it done in no time at all.
Even Shoveling Chicken Shit Can Be Pure Joy
Sure, it was a stinky, messy job.
And it took way longer than it “should” have.
But it felt incredibly luxurious to just do it my way, with no time constraints, with the freedom to redo it when I got a better plan, and without the need to answer to anyone but myself.
Those couple of hours? I felt every minute. Not one slipped by at warp speed.
I’ve discovered that the same thing happens when I walk our knuckleheads on the 2.4 mile route of our neighborhood. I don’t look at my watch. The time passes, but not at a breakneck speed. The dogs just want to walk and smell and pee. I notice new buds on trees, the neighbor’s weird trash in the ditch, and the two black dogs who race along their fence to bark at us.
It’s not the excitement factor of what you’re doing. (In fact, this works best with mundane, practically meditative activities.) It’s the fact that you’re doing it your way, at your unhurried pace.
Repeat Daily for Best Results
Days I don’t do this – when I just work, make meals, watch Netflix, and go to bed – they fly by, happy but indistinguishable from all others.
And I can’t tell you that taking time “off the hook” makes any particular day stand out from the others. But at least in those days (and they’re becoming the norm now), the hour or two I take to putter slow WAAAAAAY down.
Any day I do this, I feel better. Happier. More whole, more peaceful, more satisfied with the day I created.
Before I did this, the sense of time rushing past so fast felt borderline panic-inducing. But knowing how to make time stand still – just for a little while – brings a level of peace, serenity, and plain old happiness I think will help you, too.
If you do it, let me know how it goes.