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  • Writer's pictureA D Ackerman

The Meaning of Time

sunset with fog in foreground, purple mountain
© Alice Ackerman 2019

We talk about time a lot.
We never seem to have enough of it.

Time is a concept. You can’t hold it in your hand. You can’t give it to someone. You can’t buy it or sell it, regardless of what some marketers would have you believe. Apparently time is also very unruly, because it has to be “managed.” Others may judge our value by how we choose to spend our time (“What??!! You spent twelve hours watching TV??”). And truly each of us only has a finite amount of time available to us, although for most of our lives we have no idea how much that time is.

So why is time so important?

I am going to admit something right up front, before you spend too much time reading this post: I DO NOT have the answer to that question.

But I am fascinated by how differently each of us approaches the notion of time. Some of us just see time as being there while we accomplish a task. Others think about what’s happening as the minutes and hours and days, weeks and months, years and decades…go by. Still others want to know how they are spending every single minute of each day. For some of us, if a minute didn’t produce a measurable result it was a wasted minute. For many of the rest of us, minutes spent in contemplation, introspection, reading, stargazing can MAKE the minutes meaningful.

I have also noticed that time seems to pass differently for different people. This is very true when I look at the difference between myself and my husband. He and I have previously discussed how he is like the hare and I am like the tortoise in the well-known fable. This arose when he was describing a Malcolm Gladwell podcast he had listened to that described how the use of standardized tests, such as the LSAT (law school admission test) favor those who are quick at answering and solving problems, the hares, and not those who may be slower and more methodical (the tortoises). The use of such tests as yardsticks for making decisions that may impact a person's future, and yet may have no real relationship to the person's actual future success, doesn't seem to be right or fair to those of us who may be just as smart but take more time. But I will leave the full discussion of this topic for another time.

Getting back to the difference between my husband and myself, he seems to be able to finish a task even before he has begun. I, on the other hand, seem to take forever to get something done.

Our whole family often talks about this time difference. There was a time when all 5 of us were visiting another city, and needed to travel by taxi (pre-Uber or Lyft) to get to a specific location. My 3 kids and myself took the first cab that arrived, and my husband said he would wait for another one. Well, wouldn’t you know it? My husband arrived FIRST at our location. REALLY??? How did that happen? We sometimes wonder if he is a time-traveler (no police call booths have ever been present when he does this, however).

Of course, he and I also treat time differently. He overestimates how long something will take, so he always arrives considerably early for an appointment, whereas I often underestimate how long it will take to get ready, or drive, or whatever, and while I am not often actually LATE, I am usually right on time.

He makes a weekend “to do” list and finishes it in 2 hours. I make a similar list and it may take me a week or a month to complete it. Part of that is because I do things in depth, and if, in the course of trying to get a task accomplished I find something else that needs to be done, I may do that, and then I may do the next thing, and the next, etc (remember the rabbit hole discussion from this post?). So maybe I am overly distractible, or maybe I just can’t stand to leave a little bit of dust behind the dresser that I can’t quite move, and then have to fix the crack I cause, and so on, but this difference is palpable and doesn’t seem to vary regardless of what task each of us is doing.

Is there a “right” way to interact with time?

We certainly are made to think that is the case. We are told that successful entrepreneurs all start their day in a certain way, or have learned to not waste time, or to be super-productive "working" only 4 hours a week. Yet I have never actually seen a scientific study looking at the right way to treat time.

Many of my clients are struggling with what they call time management. They are looking for creative ways to get more done in less time. They are trying to find the courage to be able to say no to tasks they need to give up, in order to have the time they need to do the things they want or need to do. As their coach I am using my sincere curiosity about the most important aspects of their lives to help them make these decisions, and change the way they interact with time.

I assume that others also have life partners who may treat and experience time very differently from themselves. How does that affect you? What techniques have you developed to deal with these differences? Do you have trouble estimating how long it will take you to accomplish the items on your to-do list? What might a coach help you to do that you find difficult to do yourself? Leave me a comment below, or send me a message. Let's talk about it.


Thanks for reading! I value your time and presence. Please come find me on Twitter at @CoachingADA, or on LinkedIn. Or send me an email at

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