Funny how time has a way of playing games with us. Sometimes it goes too fast; sometimes too slow. Rarely it’s, as Goldilocks might say, “Ahhh, just right.”

Why is that? Perhaps Albert Einstein can explain it to us:

“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”

That time is relative, and that it so often goes at the wrong speed, is a regular and recurring problem in the workplace. Consider:

  • A meeting that just…won’t…end.
  • A key deliverable deadline that’s too-fast approaching.
  • The things that need to be done before you can leave for the airport.
  • The way that the flights you want to be delayed rarely are.

This all begs the question, what can we do to “time-shift” time if it’s going at the wrong speed? Let’s take a look at that.

How to SPEED UP time

  • Interrupt and ask a question.
    If someone’s droning on and on it’s not rude to interrupt them to ask a question. It’s really not. “Excuse me for just a moment,” you might say, “I have a question about [“what you just said” or “something you referred to earlier” or “how, specifically, I might help you here”]. May I ask it?” Truth is, sometimes people keep talking because they get so engrossed in what they’re saying that they forget who they’re saying it to. Don’t let them decide for you how much information you need about something.
  • Initiate the right conversations.
    Sometimes the problem is the opposite of the one mentioned above – not that a person is talking too much; it’s that they’re not talking enough. Example: You’re waiting for some key information from your boss…and you’re still waiting. Rather than wait for too much longer, go ask. Go start a conversation about it. If your boss can’t (or won’t) answer you still, find out why. Discuss alternatives. Ask what you should say about the delay to those who are waiting for you to get and share the information. At least find out when you should re-ask and then calendar a reminder for yourself to follow-up…because your boss told you to.
  • Triage your priorities.
    Triage is a medical term describing “the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition. This rations patient treatment efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately.” (Thank you Wikipedia.) It’s not about treating the patient, per se, it’s about assessing the severity and immediacy of the treatment needed. In business, we call that “prioritization.” (But saying “prioritize your priorities” seemed too obvious and redundant to use as a headline, so I went with “triage.”) So triage your priorities. Often. 

How to SLOW DOWN time

  • Stop. And breathe.
    It’s easy to get caught up in the stress and strain and hurry and bustle of the workplace. Too easy, sometimes. So stopping to take even one or two deep breaths can make a huge difference in your “frazzle-factor.” And what’s that take? Ten, maybe fifteen seconds?! So inhaling through your nose, fill up those lungs to the count of five and pause. Good. Now exhale, through your mouth, to the count of six. Nice. Repeat, put a smile on your face, and get back to work!
  • Schedule some One-on-None time.
    Too often our days are not our own. Meetings, phone calls, more meetings, emails, more meetings still, in-person interruptions…a seemingly limitless array of grabs for your attention. In a way that’s good – your presence matters. But to be at the top of your game, you probably need to “think through” the implications of what’s going on from day-to-day, meeting-to-meeting, conversation-to-conversation. Most people don’t. Or they try to squeeze it in between things, which doesn’t really work. So schedule some alone time – an hour if you can, 15 minutes is that’s all you can spare. Label it “strategic planning” or call it a “prep-time” – or “doctor’s appointment” – block it out on your calendar. It will help minimize the usual interruptions and distractions. Make it as much of a regular priority for yourself as you can.
  • Take micro-breaks.
    It’s a counter-intuitive notion, but taking a brief pause – especially before you need it – helps you be far more productive than slogging straight through. Consider: You could keep driving your car until you run out of gas OR you could stop before it hits empty and fill ‘er up. You’re going to have to stop one way or the other; the question is just whether it’s more or less convenient; more or less time-consuming. Dr. Joyce Brothers, an American psychologist, television personality and columnist, who wrote a daily newspaper advice column from 1960 to 2013 (thank you, again, Wikipedia) put it this way, “No matter how much pressure you feel at work, if you could find ways to relax for at least five minutes every hour, you’d be more productive.” You may not be able to break that frequently, but a few minutes every few hours? That might be more doable than you realize.

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