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Stopping time

If you ever visit the hallowed gambling halls of a Las Vegas casino, and if you aren’t overwhelmed by the dazzling flashing lights and symphony of bells and whistles, you may realize a stunning fact. Time itself seems to have fled the immediate vicinity. Nary a clock is to be found across the vast space. Similarly lacking are (generally omnipresent) windows, which might allow you to discern the passing of day and night. 

This is not an architectural oversight. A city that is capable of producing a worthy facsimile of the Eiffel Tower should not have any trouble in chopping a few windows into the walls of a house of chance. This lack of timepieces and environmental time indicators is rather an intentional ploy. It is intended to keep visitors hyperfocused and entranced by their games, not realizing as time passes and their wallets’ empty.

As marketing techniques go, this one may seem particularly nefarious. In fact, the 2005 “Gambling Act” in the UK included specific provisions to protect casino-goers from being subconsciously manipulated. Nonetheless, if there is one thing that marketers understand it is human psychology. There is an applicable technique to be mined from their attempts to control our focus, and learning to use this trick can reap dividends in terms of productivity and effectiveness. 

In the briefest terms, the tactic you are about to learn will literally allow you to stop time. Well…if not literally, then at least figuratively. Tim Ferriss, world-renowned entrepreneur and lifestyle design personality, wrote an article on his blog in November 2013 called “‘Productivity’ Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive and Crazy (Like Me)”. The sentiment he expressed in that article mirrors a thought interwoven through many of his publications: if you focus on a select subgroup of highly important tasks, you can accomplish far more than you would if you did not restrict your to-do’s. In his short talk at TEDx Victoria, Mike Vardy, a productivity blogger and one-time Managing Editor for lifehack.org, proposes a similar sentiment. In terms of accomplishing our objectives, he says, we should “pay less attention to the when and far more attention to the what…”

Traditionally, we are trained to schedule our lives in a very specific manner. Our commitments to work, school and even pleasure are ruled by the indomitable will of Father Time. Adults in the “real world” clock in and out on a predictable nine-to-five schedule. This model was developed over the past few hundred years following the Industrial Revolution’s need for hourly-waged factory workers, but both of the above “effectiveness experts” would submit to us that a different style can be far more useful. 

Schedule your life in terms of tasks instead of time. Focus on results achieved instead of hours spent. 

This summer, my most important objective was to prepare for the law school entrance exam (the LSAT). In accordance with this goal, my daily schedule involved several hours of preparation and study. Many days, I was motivated and excited and time passed quickly. However, I quickly realized that focusing on a daily to-do of “Studying 3 hours for the LSAT” was burning me out. There is nothing so demoralizing as sitting down at a desk with very little motivation and realizing that you have three hours to go before you’re allowed any release. After careful consideration, I realized that by re-imagining my daily goal in a task-oriented manner I was able to regain my old enthusiasm and carry through to the end with vigor. 

To paraphrase Tim Ferriss’ sentiment in the time management chapter of his best-seller the 4-Hour Work Week: “If we have 8 hours to fill, we will fill 8 hours. If we have 2 hours to fill, we will fill 2 hours. If an emergency comes up and we suddenly have 45-minutes to meet a deadline, we somehow manage to get all of our work done in a single 45-minute rush.” A time-oriented approach to productivity (“I’ll study for 2 hours, then do 90 minutes of homework and then eat for 30 minutes and exercise for 1 hour”) is limited in that it unrealistically assumes you have complete control over the duration of a given task or that you can accurately estimate how long it will take to complete. Fact: Humans are notoriously bad at estimating how much time and effort a given task will require.

Try it. Take a Saturday or Sunday (it’s a lot safer to go clockless when you don’t have to worry about missing your next class) and put your watch away. Turn your phone off for a while so you won’t be constantly reminded of the time on your home screen. Change the settings of your laptop’s corner clock to “View as Analog” instead of “View as Digital”. Limit yourself to three important tasks (or five, if you’re feeling ambitious), and don’t schedule anything in a time-sensitive manner. Change “I will study for 2 hours” to “I will create a study guide of chapters 1 through 5 for the upcoming midterm, then skim each end-of-chapter summary.” By focusing your energy on completion, you can fully immerse yourself in your work. You can get things done without once thinking about the clock, effectively stopping time by eliminating its hold over you. You may realize, as I have, that when you change your focus you can end up more productive than ever. 

Jack Dolinar is a Trinity junior. His column, "more percent efficient" runs on alternate Mondays.

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