It is every parent's lament: Time is going by so quickly...It seems like only yesterday...They grow up so fast. Of course, much of this is what I'd call a "retrospective illusion." It is only when we are looking back on the past that the days, months, or years seem to have sped by: As we're living them, each day takes a normal amount of time...or sometimes longer. Beyond parenthood, though, there are other factors of modern life that change our subjective experience of time, and some of these factors actually compress our experience of time as we experience it. Dr. Aoife McLoughlin, a psychology lecturer at James Cook University in Australia, has conducted research described in a recent media release that has been covered in Psyblog and a few other sources showing that our wired lifestyle is making it seem like we have less time than we actually do. As explained by Science Alert, "Our constant use of technology is making our brains more efficient at processing information, and as a result is tricking us into thinking time is passing faster than it really is." That finding stems from studies showing that technology use actually shortens our sense of the time available, and that feeling of fleeting time in turn adds to our stress and inefficiency.
This challenge in managing time is also a common lament among litigators and those who work with them. Time flies when we're busy, and it drags when we're not. Coping with the intense lead up to trial can induce an artificial sense of panic. The pace of litigation creates time-pressure. In addition to piling on to the task list, the trial preparation process can also carry its own sense that the clock is speeding up and the day is getting shorter. Not only can that lead to some risky decisions under pressure, but it is also linked to stress, heart disease, and depression. So there is a common "New Year's Resolution" quality to this, and we can all probably commit to the idea of learning better ways to manage our time. In this inaugural post for 2016, I will share some thoughts from Dr. McLoughlin drawn from her research and discuss some practices that can help combat this frustrating sense that the days are getting shorter precisely when we have the greatest number of tasks to accomplish.
Be Here, Now
Yeah, it is a bit of corny new-age sloganeering, but the heart of the idea is mindfulness. By focusing on what needs to be done by the end of the day, or tomorrow, or this week, you risk losing a productive focus on what you are doing right now. “Meditation and mindfulness could help being in the moment," Dr. McLoughlin advises, "understanding that real ‘clock time’ is stable, and it is not really passing faster.” We know the expression of "time out of mind," -- actually an old phrase from English law meaning beyond what anyone can remember. But in modern times, work-pace, worry, and stress can also create the problem of a "mind out of time." Dr. McLoughlin continues, “What I’m arguing is that there is a genuine quantifiable cognitive basis for this advice, rather than it simply being about taking a step back. It’s a scientific reason to stop and smell the roses.” Or, if rose-smelling isn't on your trial to-do list, then at least stopping to do just one thing at a time in the present moment.
Step Away from Technology from Time to Time
Dr. McLoughlin's principle piece of advice in changing our subjective compression of time is to step away from our technology-dependent and highly wired life. Based on studies comparing people who frequently versus rarely use technology, she finds that the former have a compressed experience of time. She explains, “I’ve found some indication that interacting with technology and technocentric societies has increased some type of pacemaker within us. While it might help us to work faster, it also makes us feel more pressured by time." She continues, "As the speed of pace of life increases, the subjective feeling of available time decreases, causing a sense of time pressure within the individual.” In her studies, people who have been consistently online, for example, tend to think an hour has passed when only 50 minutes has passed. That might seem like a minor difference, but if your internal clock is shaving 10 minutes off of every hour, think about the sheer amount of time you are subjectively losing. That in turn leads to more stress as the worker is left with the feeling that they've "lost" more time. And it isn't necessarily just the physical experience of technology as it is the idea of it: In one study, even the act of reading an advertisement for the most recent iPad made people feel time passing more quickly, compared to people who read an excerpt from a non-technical novel.
Be Purposeful With Time, Even the Small Chunks
Here is one that comes from my own experience. Since I committed to publish Persuasive Litigator twice weekly (a pace maintained now for five years straight, through both very busy and very non-busy times), I have been forced into a new relationship with time. Apart from being productive with travel time (and, yes, often getting up very early to write), I've also streamlined the writing process by being purposeful with even very small bits of time. I will say things like, "Okay, in the next five minutes, I will find and source an image for this post," or "In the next fifteen minutes I have before my call, I am going to sketch out an outline for the post." Chunking any phenomena tends to make it feel more manageable. That level of purposefulness has also bled into the rest of my work, as I find myself applying the same principles to strategy memoranda, voir dire questions, and demonstrative exhibit preparation: Everything in time, but right now, let me do just one thing.