black and white photo of clocks

The length of one minute

Our perception of time is largely personal. As a construct, time exists as part of the human condition. When we’re sitting in what we feel is a boring lecture, time passes extremely slowly. When the topic is engaging, time flies past. Two individuals in the same lecture can have entirely different experiences of time.

Stepping back from our individual perceptions, we can construct time to work in our favour, regardless of our perception. To start, we analyze the specific length of time, look at the facts we can extract, and work from there.

One minute is sixty seconds in length. A second is a unit of measure longer than a moment, and shorter than two seconds. How long it takes to perform a task is now both perception and fact. One might perceive a task to take “15 minutes” because we allot that amount of time for it. In practice though, the task may only have taken 2 minutes. A great example task is clearing one’s inbox. Clearing out an inbox can take anywhere from a moment (“select all”, followed by “archive”) to an hour (“open email”, “read”, “take action”, “forget email”, “remember inbox”, “return”, “repeat”).

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law advocates for starting with time frame, rather than the task itself. Giving yourself permission to work on a task for a certain amount of time ensures the task is handled efficiently, and that the appropriate amount of time is assigned to the task. This application also forces a steadfast approach to ensuring focus on the task (clearing the inbox rather than attending to every email, in the example above).

Looking through this lens, a single minute is actually quite a long time.


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