The Essence of Time

Time is of the essence, as the adage goes. It describes the need to act with haste, and in an age where mastering the art of multitasking has become a necessity in effectively navigating the day­-to­-day, never have the words rung truer.

It’s difficult to pinpoint just when life started to move at such a breakneck speed, but one thing’s for certain, and that’s the correlation with the rate at which digital technology is progressing. Our need for speed is a hotly debated topic, and earlier this year the esteemed writer and commentator, Robert Colvile, addressed the matter in his book The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster. In what can legitimately be described as essential reading for the 21st Century, Colvile presents compelling research on the way in which developments in Silicon Valley have disseminated around the globe, just how we became so obsessed with convenience, and what the future is likely to look like, should things continue in the way in which they are going. Unnerving at points, in the main the book is filled with a sense of optimism, but as with anything in life, striking the right balance is essential, and there is growing consternation that our digitally advanced, fast paced lifestyles have tipped the scales.

So accustomed are we, to busying every hour, minute and second of our days, that the notion of time has come to be considered as one of life’s greatest luxuries. We largely define the idea of so­-called free or quality time by hours or – luxury of all luxuries – days, to spend at will: with friends and family, reading, walking, listening to music or just pottering around doing very little at all, that’s what makes the weekend so special, but living solely for the weekend is a bleak existence, with untold negative effects on out health and happiness. On the surface of it, the outlook may seem gloomy, but there is a burgeoning community of people who are choosing to live their lives in a different way; rejecting the notion of faster necessarily equating to better and savouring the quality of time, even when it isn’t ‘free’. Collectively referred to as the Slow Movement, the philosophy originated in Italy and to begin with, its focus was solely on food and the desire to counterbalance the fast food that has become a cornerstone of the modern western lifestyle. The idea was to savour each and every process that goes into enjoying a nourishing meal: the growing of the ingredients, their preparation, their cooking, and the best bit – the eating. That was back in the 1990s, and since then, the slow philosophy has been applied to virtually every facet of life.

As the Slow Movement has gathered pace, so too has a renewed interest in mindfulness. Originating from ancient Buddhist philosophies but now widely practiced outside the parameters of religion, mindfulness describes focusing one’s attentions solely on the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which may sound easy enough, but for our technology-reduced attention spans, it takes some mastering. Much of the appeal of mindfulness today, is that it’s a meditative state that taps into our modern predisposition to multitask.; it doesn’t require sitting in a silenced room, eyes closed and perfectly still, quite the opposite in fact.

Mindfulness is about switching off our inbuilt autopilot setting and immersing ourselves entirely in the task at hand. Take doing the washing up for example – a recent study published by the Mindfulness Journal found that by doing the washing up mindfully, feelings of stress and anxiety were notably reduced in the subject group, and feelings of mental inspiration were actually increased. This may sound like a ruse, thought up by co-habitors and colleagues in a bid to shirk their fair share of responsibilities, but science is science, and when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. By making the washing up an evening ritual, rather than a chore, it becomes an opportunity to clear your head before settling down for the night. And it’s easy to see how concentrating on how the temperature of the water feels on your skin, tracing the shape of the crockery and with your fingers, and replacing harsh, synthetic detergents with something gentler and sweeter smelling, would have a soothing effect, encouraging a good night’s sleep. And equally, on those evenings when the washing up just has to wait, there’s something nice about the idea of taking some moments when first coming to in the morning – before the rest of the house comes alive – to prepare for the day ahead in a calm and collected way.

So, in lieu of minutes being added to the clock or three day weekends becoming the norm, it seems the next best thing is to focus on reclaiming time for ourselves by making mindfulness a core part of our multitasking repertoire; slowing down, taking pleasure in the mundanity of everyday tasks, and mindfully ticking things off that never­-ending to­-do list.

Robert Colvile, 2016, The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster (Link to Amazon)

Photography by Maria Trofimova,