Moreover, time saving techniques like Vanderkam’s perpetuate the myth that we can both have it all and be it all, if only we managed our time properly. We save time just so that we can fill it with more stuff, then berate ourselves for running out of it.
To master our time, it would serve us better to refer to the wisdom of those who study the perception of time. In the New Yorker article The Secret Life of Time, Alan Burdick tries to get to the bottom of what time is. Is it finite or infinite? How is it measured? Why do the hours sometimes fly by and at other times drag on? He turns to the first known person dedicated to the study of time, St Augustine of Hippo. Augustine believed that ‘time is a property of the mind’, that we measure time by our thoughts, impressions and experiences. For William James, a 19th century American psychologist, the perception of time’s passage was through change, instant by instant. Time could only be defined if there was something to define it with: a moment, a thought or an action. Nowadays, research by the NYU neuroscientist Lila Davachi has discovered that time expands through memory: the more we experience and the more varied our experiences are, the longer their duration seems to last in our memory. Variety expands the mind, while monotony shrinks it.
The nature and perception of time remains mysterious. The common thread through the literature on time is the focus on the present. There is just one tense according to Augustine: “the present of past things, the present of present things and the present of future things”. By trying to understand time and thus realizing that it is miraculous and wonderful, I become more immune to Vanderkam’s time management advice. I could have all the hours in the world left over to fill with ‘the good stuff’, but if I don’t appreciate the gift of time itself – the present – then what’s the point of having any of it?