"Time is not a reality, but a concept or a measure."

– [Antiphon the Sophist](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiphon_(person%29)

The concept of time is a difficult one to pin down. Through centuries the devising of a non-controversial way of defining it has eluded even the greatest scholars. I’ve been learning a bit about time from my use of the pomodoro technique recently, and I want to discuss two ways that we perceive time, specifically as it relates to getting stuff done.

The concept of “becoming”. This is an abstract, dimensional way of seeing time. It gives rise to the measuring of time in minutes and hours, and the idea of “not having enough time” or of “being late”.

The succession of events. The concept of something being “before” or “after” something else: I do this, then I do that. As children, this is the first understanding of time we grasp, before we learn about the abstract concept.

Why does this matter?

The abstract concept of time is what creates stress. We worry that there’s “not enough time in the day”, or that we’re “wasting time”.

Contrast this: “I’ve been waiting seven hours for my iPad, and I’ve only just got it!” with: “I waited in line, and then I got my iPad.”

Viewing time as a success of events creates rhythm. There’s a certain natural orderly progression when talking about succession: I got up, I had breakfast, I went to work, I phoned Bill, I cleared my inbox, I had lunch, I queued, I bought an iPad… It’s calming and relieves anxiety.

How can this make a difference?

Next time you’re stressing like crazy because you “only have 3 hours left” before the end of the day to get a lot of things done:

Stop. Worrying will make it worse; you’ll have even less time after you’re done.

Work out what you can realistically achieve today. Renegotiate everything else. You’re not going to get it done anyway: why not let people know sooner rather than later?

Write down a list in order of what you’re going to do. Put “go home” at the end of the list.

Follow the list. Don’t pay much attention to the seconds and minutes. Go home when it tells you to.

The subtler aspects of the Pomodoro technique are teaching me a lot. Thanks to Bergson and Minkowski as cited by The Pomodoro Technique book for the raw intel.

Henri Bergson, L’evoluzione creatrice, Cortina Raffaello, 2002; ISBN 88-70-78780-X.

Eugène Minkowski, Il tempo vissuto, Einaudi Editore, Torino, 1971; ISBN 88-06-30767-3.