No. 11 | Seven ways to control time

1) Medicating.

The idea of “time management” was effectively meaningless for much of my life. How do you manage a raging bull? A runaway train? There was now, and there was not now — and not in a healthy, mindful sort of way. More like occluded vision. I didn’t manage time; I was assaulted by it.

The force of this perceived assault has lessened with … uh, time. And while I’m sure age and experience and the other things on this list have something to do with that lessening, the first major breakthrough I had in my relationship with time was taking medication for adult ADHD. I spent about two years on medication, first a mood stabilizer and later a stimulant. The meds sucked in a lot of ways but I believe I’d be much worse off had I not done it.

The meds made for a very different experience of time — having access to more focus and attention in any given moment made me feel like I could manage it. There was now, and there was not now, and, what’s that — there were more moments, in between!

The meds helped me open the door to a room I’d never known was there. And although I can’t always find my way back, I can find it more often than not, especially by leaning on the rest of the items in this list.

2) Meditating.

I saw Doctor Strange this weekend (which was excellent, by the way), and I’ve got “time loops” on my mind. A miniature Groundhog Day, if you will. My brain gets stuck in loops at times, with obsessive and intrusive thoughts eating up cycles and drawing my attention away from where I want it to be. It happens less often when I attend to my practice of mindfulness meditation. Even a quick reset, like pausing to take five full deep breaths, can help me get back to in the room.

3) Running.

Exercise shifts my perception of time. It stretches out the moments a bit between now and not now. Weightlifting does it a bit. Aerobics do it a lot. I should probably run in the morning but my Sleepy Carl is strong. Still, I can get a boost of several hours of “time awareness”, as I think of it, from an intense run. If I time exercise right with caffeine (even just a cup of coffee), the effect can be similar to how I remember adderall feeling.

4) Sunning.


I know a lot of people who swear by their light therapy lamps to address Seasonal Affective Disorder. I don’t use it for that precisely, more just to not feel like quite so much of a zombie in the AM, particularly on dreary and overcast days.

I got the Sweethome recommended pick, the Day-Light Classic Plus. (Who names this shit?) Warning: it is comically large. I’ve also found that using it for a bit in the evening if I am dragging but need to stay alert and focused is less disruptive than caffeine (though certainly not ideal).

5) Timing.

When I am Sitting Down to Work, I use the pomodoro technique to divide my time and (try to) maintain focus. Breaking work down into wholly discrete tasks gets a little overwhelming and can give me a bit of the time panics. It’s also often unnecessary.

I find it easier to think about the general things I need to do in a day, guess at how many pomodoros (25 minute blocks of uninterrupted work) I’ll need to get them done, and write down what I do as I do it. If a task that’s not related to my current focus occurs to me, that’s when I’ll add it to my to-do list.

I always start with a “prep” block to go through my inbox, plan out the rest of my blocks and tasks, and fart around on the internet.

It’s not a perfect system, but I’ve observed there tends to be a strong correlation between how I felt about a given working session and how many pomodoros I was actually able to complete.

6) Externalizing.

I can’t make or even discuss plans without a calendar in front of me. Much of my inner life is non-verbal. I think in pictures and feelings as often as words. Time, calendars, and future-planning are all definitely in the non-verbal area for me. I sometimes freeze up when people ask innocent questions like “What are you up to this weekend?” I know the answer, I just don’t have any words associated with it.

I use a Bullet Journal-esque system in Baron Fig notebooks to see the next few days, my Google Calendar to see the next few weeks, and, a Neu Year wall calendar to see the next few months. The Neu Year calendar is especially helpful for big projects with a deadline I can’t control, like preparing a new workshop for a conference.

7) Sleeping.

If I don’t sleep well most of this is moot. A poor night’s sleep makes the day go by in a blur. I can get work done when I haven’t slept. I can sometimes even be chipper and energetic about it. But that’s mostly muscle memory. Being in the room with time just can’t happen for me when I’ve slept like shit. It’s like a reverse adderall. No good.

There are lots of tips on sleeping out there in the world but the only ones that seem to make much difference for me are a dark room and having gotten some exercise during the day.

Originally published as List No. 11 of the 7x77 newsletter project.
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