FROM endless Zoom calls to evenings spent in a Netflix daze, you’d be forgiven for losing track of time right now – or even wishing it away. As the days blur into each other, more and more of us are suffering from what experts call “time blindness” – and it could be wreaking havoc on our lives, from our mental health to our relationships.
“Time blindness is where a person is generally not mindful of their time,” says Dr Martina Paglia, a psychologist who runs The International Psychology Clinic. “They are mostly only aware of the ‘now’ and have very little awareness about the past or the future. Simply put, it is the inability to effectively gauge the passage of time and plan activities accordingly.
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Has Covid left you time-blind? Here are five ways to beat the clock…Credit: Evgeniy Shvets/Stocksy United
“A person suffering from time blindness might sit down to spend five minutes on a task and then realise that it’s been an hour. Or they might put off sending an email and then when they check back, it’s been weeks since they were supposed to reply. They may also find mundane tasks difficult, like knowing how long to boil water for pasta.”
Dr Paglia points out that not being able to keep track of time happens to the best of us. “But if your sense of time management seems to create more problems for you than usual, then it could be that you are suffering from time blindness,” she says.
So if the hours are slipping through your fingers, here’s how to determine the cause and put some new punctual habits in place.
Your internal clock
With a global pandemic to contend with, to say we’re all feeling a little distracted is an understatement. In fact, a recent study by the Office for National Statistics found 70% of adults admitted to feeling stressed and worried about the future – something that can exacerbate time blindness.
“Evidence from neuro-imaging studies indicates that an area of the brain located deep beneath the cerebral cortex, known as the basal ganglia, and in particular the putamen, plays an important role by acting as an internal clock,” explains Dr William Van Gordon, associate professor in contemplative psychology at the University of Derby.
“However, when we experience stress and trauma, particularly when it relates to uncertainty about the future, it can lead to increased activation in brain areas involved in both time perception and the processing of emotions, which can result in time blindness.”
The illusion of time
Pre-Covid (remember that?), our daily routines acted as consecutive markers of time – the school run, meetings, lunch time, after-work drinks and evening meals. Even the lead-in to our weekends had structure, with end of week deadlines and that celebratory skip out of the office knowing you wouldn’t see it for 60 hours. But at the moment, our days look very different. “Lockdown has stripped us of our usual lifestyles,” Dr Paglia says.
“When we go to work in the morning and our workday is about eight hours, we know what eight hours is like because we are coming and leaving at a certain time. Now many of us are working from home, staring at four walls each day, all our normal cues are gone. Time has become an illusion.”
Having nowhere to go and no one to see may sound like an idyllic escape from the endless rat race, but there’s also a negative knock-on effect to time blindness – chronic lateness. “Being late or forgetting meetings can damage a person’s professional reputation,” says Dr Paglia.
“And showing up late to Zooms and appointments at the doctor or dentist can make people think that you don’t take them seriously. And this goes for personal relationships, too. Friends and family might feel you don’t consider them important enough to be on time. And as a result of letting loved ones down, it can make you feel ashamed and guilty, which in turn damages your self-esteem and confidence.”
Most of us have spent lockdown going from endless Zoom calls to evenings spent in a Netflix dazeCredit: Getty – Contributor
As we all hunker down and binge on Netflix series well into the night, our new relationship with time has inevitably affected our sleep patterns. A study carried out during Italy’s lockdown, looking at the sleeping habits of 18-35 year olds, found that all participants reported they were going to bed on average 40 minutes later during lockdown and using screens immediately before bedtime for longer.
Plus, they were waking up over an hour later. They also admitted they didn’t know what day of the week it was six times in the week-long study, compared to three times before lockdown.*
“For individuals who have been experiencing distorted perceptions of time since the start of the pandemic, it is likely that certain areas of the brain will have become more active, not helped by excessive screen use,” Dr William explains.
“Prolonged and continuous increased activation or over-activation of these brain areas can change how we process neurological signals. This can then lead to mood disturbances and impact our capacity to learn and memorise information.”
For some though, having a loose grip on time has proven to be a positive. Only 12 per cent of participants in a Britain Thinks study were keen for the country to return to the way it operated before coronavirus, stating a slower pace of life as the reason.
We’re a country known for our workaholic tendencies, so many people have welcomed the opportunity for a one-minute commute from bed to desk, an escape from office politics and the chance to make time for daily exercise. But with no set work hours and a blurry line between work and home life, psychologist and mindset coach Ruth Kudzi suggests using this time to our advantage, rather than stumbling around in a time-blind haze.
“Try to spend this time really connecting with who you are by immersing yourself in things that inspire you – whether that’s going for a walk, learning a new skill or finishing that book,” she says.
“This is the time to discover what you want.”
5 WAYS TO BEAT THE CLOCK
Dr Paglia’s top tips for tight timekeeping…
1. Be aware of the activities you know you often get lost in.
If you binge-watch a TV series and lose track of time for hours, then the first step is to be conscious about the fact this might happen before you start.
2. Set multiple alarms.
Use the alarm app on your phone to set multiple alarms before an event so you don’t stay time blind.
3. Get an accountability partner.
Ask someone living with you to remind you of engagements at certain intervals so you don’t lose track of time.
4. Create a planner.
In the morning, make a schedule of tasks you need to complete, putting time for breaks between to-do points.
5. Keep working at it!
Make sure that people close to you are aware of your time blindness, as this can help manage their expectations. Then try to stay organised, make to-do lists and do your best to be conscious and mindful about how you spend your time.