The Scalable Factor of Time

A couple of weeks ago, Sarah asked what the scaleable factor of time was. I answered “spaciousness”, but I recognize that’s not a word that necessarily means much to people, so I’ll explain:

All The Time in the World

One of my favorite memories from college is of a day that pretty much floated by.

I had a salon appointment downtown, and because parking was so hard to find, I decided I would bus. The buses went by every half hour, so when one bus was cutting it a little short for me to be there in time, I took the next earlier one.

I was standing at the bus stop, enjoying one of the very few warm school days in Saskatoon (it was early May, as I recall) and I decided, “Look, I’m already half an hour early. I’ll just walk.”

That extra half hour gave me the leisure to saunter my way down the tree-lined streets. Unbelievably (although this happens to me every time and I have yet to figure out the laws of physics that govern this phenomenon) sauntering got me to the salon faster than walking with purpose ever had.

This is objective time; by my watch. Subjective time, it felt like a very pleasant half-hour stroll, although it was not quite 20 minutes.

Buoyed by the extra time, I checked at the salon, verifying they were running on time, and strolled down to Broadway Coffee for a treat. I browsed some shops. I bought my mom a Mothers Day gift and then strolled back for my appointment.

Afterwards, I had nearly an hour and a quarter to get to campus. I had left myself extra time because you can never tell when a salon will be running on time. So I checkout the listings on the local independent movie house, and then I took another leisurely walk down the quiet, historic, tree-lined streets to the campus, admiring the picturesque gardens and houses.

I got to campus 40 minutes early, and as I walked into the Arts building, I saw Meagan, a lifelong friend I rarely got to see, since she was always either working, studying or in class. So the cherry on top of that already wonderful day was having a spare half hour to catch up.

My Point, and I Do Have One…

That’s what I mean by spaciousness: it’s not that I had nothing to do, but I left so much space between them that even if everything went wrong, I wouldn’t have to worry, and if things went well I could really enjoy myself.

I’ve been a GTDer since it was first published almost a decade ago, and I’m very familiar with the concept of filling every available minute with a pre-selected matrix of tasks to ensure optimal efficiency. But I’ve become convinced that optimal efficiency is not the metric to aim for with time.

The fuller you fill your time, the less you enjoy it. The more spaciousness you have, the more sweet even the most tedious and mundane experiences become.

As your days move more tranquilly, the more easeful your life becomes, and the more important stuff gets done. It’s really quite amazing.

And lest you think, “Bah! This is all so simplistic. You have it easy!” let me tell you, it requires significant discipline to do maintain simplicity. Life assaults you at every turn, trying to ramp up the urgency, sell you on complexity, tell you there are more important ways to spend your time.

It’s a discipline, alright. Anyone can be busy.

Your Turn

How do you create a sense of spaciousness in your life? Share your tips in the comments!


11 thoughts on “The Scalable Factor of Time”

  1. Spaciousness sounds awesome, but I don’t have any.  I’m a single mom with 2 little kids, not in school, no babysitters, no dad in the picture, just me and kids 24/7, and whenever I have a free moment, I’m trying to paint or do anything else that will make me some money, or write because I love it.  So, sadly, no, I have no tips on spaciousness 🙁

    1.  @deniseurena That sounds crazy. My sympathies. I often wonder about giving this type of advice because it seems so out of reach for some, maybe even most people. In theory, it’s ‘only’ for a few years, and then you’ll start getting your life back, but it seems like a long time to be frazzled. Props, Denise. 

  2. Can I tell you how much I love this? Spaciousness is the main motivating factor of moving to Taos… i.e. I’m bad at discipline, so I’m starting fresh with a clean slate and the goal is to maintain that as much as possible. Last night I decided not to go to Toastmasters, and then my phone rang and it was a friend asking if I wanted to meet her at the library for a few. I sauntered down there, walked with her a bit, then went off to my meeting for some goodbyes (I got there at the end so I wasn’t committing to sitting through the speeches) and then I walked around and went for ice cream and eventually made it home in time to chat with another friend who was online. And it was great. it’s how I want to spend all of my evenings. I’m tired of the rushing to and fro.
    Quick clarification though: spaciousness as scalable as opposed to time which is limited? How does that work?

    1.  @sarahemily Time is limited, but spaciousness makes you *feel* like you have more time, which is as good as it gets until the Time Lords release a time machine for us to use. 
      Because instinctively we know that the more things we have to do, even though they’re all individually fairly small, the more chance there is for any one (and probably several) to spin off and hit the fan. Because when you think about it, you haven’t just committed to *do* a thing, you’ve committed to doing it at a particular time and place, which are themselves more factors to manage. It makes time feel very cluttered indeed.

      1.  @Shanna Mann yeah, I get it now…. that makes sense. And of course, we have infinite capacity for feeling relaxed but limited time when we’re trying to cram it in.

  3. Sometimes I get toward the end of writing a post and need to justify there’s a point to all this as well. But you did make your point and you made it well.
    So how do I create a sense of spaciousness? I get outside my box. My box of an office. My box of a house. My box of a mind (with yoga and other techniques). By far, my best way to feel a sense of spaciousness is to simply be outside. Except space itself, what’s more spacious than being outside with the vast majority of Earth’s life?

    1.  @joeyjoejoe That’s my whole way of talking! Ramblerambletangentramble, then bring it on home to the point I was trying to make, having snuck my supporting argument in in the form of a story. 🙂
      Being outside is great! I don’t know about you, but I have an affliction: being inside four walls makes me think about cleaning them!

    2.  @joeyjoejoe I think we (as animals) are conditioned to be outside. Somewhere deep down we feel more comfortable outdoors. Maybe I’m just a crazy Vermonter. 😉

      1.  @ethanwaldman  @joeyjoejoe I’d love to agree, but I specified screen porch because I hate mosquitoes and other bugs that invade my personal space, and I’m not a terribly huge fan of either sun or wind. I could *totally* live with a partly cloudy or overcast day all the time. There are definite limits to my enjoyment of the outdoors.
        But I figure it’s in the grand tradition of Thoreau, who liked his sanitized New England “wilderness” but basically shit himself when he visited the real frontier. 😀

  4. The fuller you fill your time, the less you enjoy it. That really resonates for me, having just left my full time job. One of the main reasons that the 8-5 world felt so crushing to me was feeling like I had no time for my own interests, or just time to read, strum a guitar, sit by the lake, etc. Not exactly liesure time, but “me” time. 
    I’ve been creating space by taking yet another one of your suggestions: The idea of saying no to things.  I’ve been trying to not schedule appointments in the evenings so I can have a time each day where I shut the laptop screen and focus on something else. 

    1.  @ethanwaldman I know what you mean… back when I was working it felt like my whole life revolved around preparing to make working easier. Blegh!
      Let’s hear it for sacred non-work hours! 

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