The Theory of Relativity in Action
Letters from the Home Office Volume 14
When I was a little kid I thought the theory of relativity meant how time seems to move slower or faster relative to how interested you were in what you were doing. When you’re in a boring class, time moves slowly, but time moves fast when you’re on vacation.
This is similar to what Dr. Steve Taylor refers to as the Perceptual Theory of Time in his book Making Time. So, how about the fact that I thought of something when I was 7 that a Ph.D. thought of when he was in his thirties? Pretty impressive, huh? Then again, I also thought I could breathe underwater if I wore goggles so believe me, I won’t get too carried away.
The Perceptual Theory of Time holds that as the amount of information one absorbs decreases, the speed with which time passes increases. If we are in a class and information is being thrown at us, the time goes by slowly. If we are on vacation and not absorbing data, the time passes quickly.
This occurred to me recently when, at the end of an interminable conference call somebody wanted to ask “just one quick question.” The quick question was irrelevant to the call and generated an epic tail chasing session that lasted twenty minutes, or so I thought. It actually only lasted about a minute and a half. See? The Theory of Relativity in action. Dr. Taylor contends that as we gain a command of concepts they become routine and we process them faster to the point where we no longer have to consciously process the data. Having a lot of stored experience and encountering fewer new data, makes time seem to pass more quickly.
As we get more experience with our jobs we can execute more quickly. Here is where I differ with the good doctor. If you get use to doing something and it becomes routine, don’t you find that the day drags on more slowly? That’s why I decided to read the rest of his report. Turns out, Taylor is referring to the passage of time on a bigger scale, such as weeks and years versus hours and minutes. But I would suggest that if you apply the theory in a micro approach it can work the same way.
Mixing routine tasks with learning new skills or splitting up activities throughout the day rather doing a whole pile of the same thing can certainly break up monotony and result in a more refreshing pace. To the degree that we have different tasks and tools to work with during a day can make dreary activities feel less onerous. Clearly, having a Milky Way sitting nearby as a reward is always a good idea, but maybe a physical activity like a couple of flights of stairs or a yoga pose is a better pace breaker.
The important thing is to keep your head clear so you can remember to mute your phone when you want to heave a heavy sigh at “one more question.”