Time Awareness

Time Awareness is the ability to feel and understand time and the capability to plan your time. We will cover three areas in this article...


May 24, 2022

Time Awareness is the ability to feel and understand time and the capability to plan your time. We will cover three areas in this article that pertain to time awareness. The first is estimating how much time has passed during an activity. Our next topic is judging how much time a task will take. Understanding how to schedule and plan your time well will be our conclusion.

Time Blindness: The antithesis of being aware of the passing and organizing of time is called time blindness. Think about sitting at your desk working on a mundane task. Are you able to estimate how much time has passed? Do you usually estimate close to the amount of time, or do you overestimate how long you’ve worked? Now picture yourself doing something you love. If someone asks you the time, are you surprised at how much time has passed? The last part is planning from week to or month to month. When planning, do you suddenly realize you need to work long hours at the end of (or very beginning of) the week because you weren’t paying attention to what was coming up? Are you surprised that it’s suddenly your best friend’s birthday even though you knew it was the beginning of the following month? Your brain hadn’t moved on to the next month yet because the calendar hadn’t changed. Time blindness can feel very difficult to overcome. The first step is thinking about how this impacts your life and then using some strategies to help you move forward. In most situations, the struggle to feel time passing accurately won’t significantly improve. Still, with a system in place, you can make yourself more aware so that the results do change.  

Strategy 1: A visual timer - a visual timer will show you the passing time. Sometimes it’s done with ample red space behind the time you set, and you’ll slowly see the red area getting smaller. This gives you a visual of time passing (faster or slower than you thought, but it’s passing). It can also just be a digital display that includes the seconds moving or a manual clock with a second hand to see the passage of time. With the timer, you are setting a goal for yourself. You set a goal for yourself: work on this (or enjoy this) for x amount of time. If it’s a task you hate, that goal is a time to meet and then permit yourself to move on. If it’s a task you love, that’s the time to stop and rotate to a different job so you don’t lose track of your day.  

Strategy 2: Alarms on your phone. The use of alarms is a strategy for every struggle we’re discussing today. Since we now have this helpful (and distracting) tool in our pockets all the time, we’re going to use it to help us. Set timers on your phone to remind you about transitions throughout the day. Label each alarm, so you remember why it is going off. If you need to snooze it once, that might be ok, but don’t turn it off until you finish the task and start to transition.

Strategy 3: Calendar reminders. Suppose there are tasks that you hate coming into on Monday, schedule time on Thursday or Friday, and create a calendar reminder to get a jump start for the following week. If you need to send your Mother-in-law a birthday card/gift on time and her birthday is at the beginning of the month, set an annual calendar event a week before her birthday. Include reminders that pop up a few days before the calendar event so that you’re getting plenty of reminders to get that done.  

Estimating Fallacy: Estimating the length of a task or project is a multi-step process. Some people can do this effortlessly, but many of us have to think through this process. The biggest problem is that we’re often over-optimistic regarding how long each step will take.  

Example: If I want to plant my tiny flower garden out back, how long will it take? My gut reaction is to say 1-2 hours. It doesn’t take long; it’s just a little border. It only needs a few plants, no problem. In reality, this was what happened: Go to home depot, pick up mulch, look at their plants, pick out a few but you want something they don’t have, go to the nursery, figure out what plants to buy, purchase the plants, remember while you’re there that you wanted to get the weed barrier and they don’t sell it at the nursery, go back to home depot. Finish running around town and purchasing everything: 4 hours. The next day: start digging up any rocks in the garden, loosen the soil, put down the barrier, cut holes in the barrier to plant the plants, actually plant them, remember you wanted Miracle Grow and don’t have it, go back to the store, finally come home and water the plants, put mulch down, finally admire your garden: 5 hours. Total time to plant my tiny garden: 9 hours. This example shows how far off our estimations can be when we only think about 1 step of a process.  

How can we improve our ability to estimate? The first step is recognizing that most tasks are more than 1 step. Presume your task is to feed the baby. It usually includes getting a burp cloth, grabbing a blanket to snuggle with, maybe preparing a bottle, and finding a comfortable place for you 2 to sit. Often a diaper change needs to be included on one end or the other, and time to burp in the middle. Just the baby drinking the bottle takes 15 minutes - but with everything added in, you’re looking at closer to 30 minutes. The second part is anticipating some possible hiccups and planning for that amount of time. 

Strategy 1: Break your task up into the most basic steps. At first, this will feel ridiculous. Why do I need to list out each of these parts (even just in my head)? But eventually, it will become second nature as you realize your estimating ability has improved.

Strategy 2: Anticipate the hiccups. If I’m feeding the baby, maybe there’s a newly potty trained toddler that is ABSOLUTELY going to need to go at that time. The phone might ring, and it’s work/school/spouse - a situation where you feel obligated to talk with someone. You’ll stop holding the bottle to answer quickly. The dog starts to bark, and you have to let him out, there’s a knock at the door, and you need to sign for a package; the list of possibilities goes on and on. Some you can anticipate (when my daughter was born, my oldest son ALWAYS had to use the bathroom when I sat down to feed her), and some you can’t. Don’t assume that there will be a lot of problems, but adding some padding to your estimate will allow you to estimate more accurately.  

Running Late: Why is it important to estimate well? We need to estimate time to plan it. Planning your time allows you to arrive on time and not feel as stressed or rushed. To arrive at a restaurant for dinner with friends at 6 pm, you need to look backward at your day.

Getting to dinner on time:

Dinner: 6 pm

Finding parking and walking in: 5 minutes

Driving: 20 minutes

Wiggle room for traffic: 5-10 minutes (depending on where you live)

Getting shoes on and into the car: 5 minutes

Getting dressed and ready (hair, makeup, deodorant): 25 minutes

Shower: 15 minutes

Wiggle room in case of interruptions: 10 minutes

Start getting ready to go - 4:35 pm

This schedule is just an example. It may take you more or less time for each task, but break it down. You can continue this breakdown to earlier in the day if you need to plan when you want to run errands or if you have time to fit something else in.  

I’ll share another example because this is often helpful for everyone to think about, especially college students. We’ll go with a mid-semester college student who isn’t putting much effort in before getting to class.

Getting to class (or work) on time in the morning:

Class - 9 am

Walk into class, find a seat, say hi to a friend: 5 minutes

Walk to class: 10 minutes

Pack bag, grab keys, snack, and fill water bottle: 8 minutes

Get dressed: 5 minutes

Bathroom, brush teeth, deodorant: 7 minutes

Snooze alarm 3 x: 15 minutes

Set the alarm for 8:10 am 

Goal: a minimum of 7 hours of sleep!

Asleep by 1:10 am

In bed by 12:45 am

Plugin phone and check alarm: 2

Brush teeth, wash face, etc.: 10 min

Put PJs on: 5 minutes

Make sure you’re organized for tomorrow: 5 minutes

Make sure the computer and all screens are off: 3 minutes

Watch a 30-minute tv show to wind down after work: 30 minutes

Start winding down at 11:40 (meaning you need to estimate completing your homework load by this time).

I’m using this example to show that sometimes our planning needs to start sooner than we think. To wake up on time, you need to get enough sleep routinely. To get enough sleep, you need to think of all the things you do before going to sleep. I hope this helps you look for areas where you can make small changes. The strategies below are similar to the ones we’ve already explored. 

Strategy 1: Backwards Plan - figure out how long it will take for each step before you need to get there. Then you’ll know if it fits in your schedule or if you need to adjust something (the time you meet your friends or a plan you had earlier in the day).  

Strategy 2: Break it down - look at all the little steps you need to do. Parking and walking into a restaurant can take 1 minute or ten, depending on where you’re going. Remember that getting your phone and keys and shoes will take a couple of minutes before you leave.  

Strategy 3: Add in the wiggle room. If you’re not familiar with where you’re going, expect google maps to be off a little, and you might have to turn around. Anticipate a bit of traffic, and include time for your phone or keys not to be where you thought you put them down. If you have that extra buffer, you’ll show up in a better mood because you’re not stressed from the act of getting there.

Time awareness encompasses many aspects of daily life. Some people have a great understanding in some parts of life and not others. Fortunately for those of us that have areas where we struggle with time awareness, some excellent strategies can become healthy habits in life. 


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