I recently gave a talk to some very interested kids on writing fiction.  One of the things I told them was that they had control over time.  I explained that when writing a story, unless something interesting is happening, or important to the story, we typically jump over it.  On the flip side of that is the ability to expand time when something very important is happening.

I told them that time moves faster when you are interested and when you are bored it seems to drag on.  Demonstrating this, I said that if they found my talk boring they would be fidgeting, looking around, checking the clock and every time they’d look back at it the minute hand would have barely moved.  If they paid attention and were in the moment, before they knew it it would be over.

For some reason they all sat up and paid attention.

In compressing time further I explained how we could spend pages just describing the ten seconds someone had in trying to catch an explosive that was about to go off.  Those were important moments.  It was all a matter of attention and perception.  You define the important moments.

The same is true for productivity.

It will not surprise you that when you are enjoying a task time seems to go by quickly.  It will also not surprise you that the opposite is true; that time drags on when something is not so desirable.

Here are two things that will probably surprise you about time and productivity.

Time can go slow for the things you do like.

Getting ‘lost’ in our work is a good thing, but we sometimes push things to the limit when we are good at them, especially if you’re a Type A Mover & Shaker.  The first thing you think of when you read “increasing your productivity” is “doing more things in less time” right?  We cram more and more into the same amount of time, until we feel rushed and have sucked all the life and fun out of it.   It doesn’t help when there are so many articles and tips on increasing your productivity.  Present company excluded of course.  🙂

Productivity is efficiency, and efficiency is proper flow

What you, and most people forget is that productivity is also efficiency.  The miles per gallon your car is capable of is usually stated in City / Highway miles.  Highway is always higher, why?  Because travelling on the highway is done at higher speeds the engine was designed for, there is less stopping and starting and machines operate better when they can just go.  Note that the engine will also become less efficient if you push it out of the efficient zone to, say, 130 mph.  Not only a bad idea for your efficiency, but not a good idea for your safety, the safety of others, and those pesky court appearances once the cars with the flashing lights catch up to you.  Also there’s a film crew.

Efficiency is happiness

Your efficiency is tied to your happiness.  When you are happy and in the flow you’re on the highway, speeding along, doing your thing.  It feels right.  It’s your speed, man.  Remember that time you did that thing you like at exactly the speed you were comfortable with?

Yeah, that was awesome.

Sweep like the wind

BroomDoing a thing you don’t like may turn it into a thing you do like.  If you ask a teenager to do a job, there’s a pretty good chance they will rush through it unless it’s something they really like.  They do this because the faster they get through it the faster the undesirable task is over.  Duh.  The problem you encounter, as a parent of said teenager, is that this formula does not work – it does the opposite.  “Honey did you sweep the floor?”  “Yah.”  “Um, it doesn’t look swept, can you sweep it again?”

Workplace adults are not teenagers, but they do work the same way sometimes – rushing through things they don’t want to do.  Managers, good ones, know how to do every job in their restaurant.   They may not be chefs, but they’re awfully good at everything else.  Their dedication made them just fill in when needed and they learned each job.  In some cases something magical happened – they started enjoying the odd jobs, and they got in the flow of each and every one.

This can be true for you, the next time you have to do a job you’re not thrilled with, is below your pay grade, or is just not fun at all.  It doesn’t have to be no fun at all.  Do and learn the job and figure out the flow.  You’ll know it when you feel it, and the job may not be that bad at all.  At the very least you’ll learn something, and be a better manager. You’re not a manager you say?  We all are, we manage our work, our output, our family, our kids, our budget, our health.

Be mindful and change time

So, be mindful of the moment, whether it is good or bad.  Paradoxically, slowing down the bad moments can turn them into good, because you will be in a frame of mind to accept and understand them. Understanding leads to a better flow, and removes the ego from the equation.   Slowing down the moments when you are in the flow of things you love can also be a good thing, especially if you’ve shoved your flow up to 130 mph (see above for consequences).

If playing with time sounds kind of fun, and having stress-free productivity interests you, you’ll want to follow my articles at alchemyfor.life/balancecoaching.  To see the tool I created up close, check out alchemyfor.me.