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Finding time

Aug 27, 2023 by glennji

In the blink of an eye, another weekend has come and gone. It’s a familiar feeling that many of us experience - the sensation that time is flying by, leaving us wondering where the hours and days have vanished to. In this fast-paced world, weekends often feel like a fleeting moment of respite before plunging back into the whirlwind of weekday routines. But why does this happen? Why do weekends seem so short, and why does time appear to accelerate? In this post, I’ll explore the psychology and science behind this phenomenon, as well as strategies to make the most of our precious weekends.

The Psychology of Perception

Our perception of time is far from objective. It’s heavily influenced by our experiences, emotions, and the novelty of our surroundings. During the workweek, our minds are usually engaged in various tasks, meetings, and responsibilities, creating a sense of structure. However, when the weekend arrives, this structure often gives way to a more relaxed and unstructured state. As a result, our minds perceive time as passing quickly when we’re engrossed in activities or when we’re simply enjoying the free moments.

In many ways, our weekend starts on Friday: Jules has a hour-long session with his tutor, which means Dee and I find ourselves out of the house for the morning, working from a cafe or the car, until it’s time to drop him at school. This weekend we found a place that was recommended to us and, contrary to my normal behaviour, I didn’t even bring my laptop out over breakfast.

Friday is typically a quiet day at my startup, with many no longer working a five-day week. Great for getting stuff done without interruption, but also just a more chill environment. I pushed a release, fixed a build, thought about the next big piece of work on our plates … and then rounded out the day with a quiet drink with the Friday crew.

The Weekend Paradox

Have you ever noticed that when you have a long weekend or vacation planned, time seems to crawl in anticipation, but once the event arrives, it speeds by? This phenomenon is known as the “weekend paradox.” The anticipation of a leisurely weekend or a special event makes time appear to drag, as our minds focus on the future. However, when the event finally arrives, we’re caught up in the moment, causing time to seemingly slip through our fingers.

On Saturday we took Jules and Luke to Wylde for a little mountain-biking and barbecue. Not entirely successful – Jules and Luke got lost on the trail, and both took turns injuring themselves – but at the end of the day everyone had a reasonably good time, and we parents got to sit in the shade and eat a nice picnic. (Next time we might have to bring bikes as well.)

Jules is really into his bike at the moment, which is a nice turn-around from years of not riding at all. The only problem is that he has waited until he’s all but outgrown his bike. I’ve already installed a longer seat-post and stem extender (to raise the handlebars) but a new bike may be on the Christmas list this year.

Today was purposefully unplanned: we popped into Broadway for a few hours to let Jules spend a gift-voucher, but otherwise just did our own thing. And yet somehow it’s already 8pm! The weekend is over!

The Routine Effect

Our brain thrives on novelty. During the workweek, our routines become predictable, causing our brain to enter a state of autopilot. This sense of monotony can make time feel like it’s moving slower, as our brains aren’t actively processing new information or experiences. When the weekend comes, and we engage in different activities or break from the routine, our brains become more engaged, and time appears to speed up.

Imagine this: you wake up, have your morning coffee, commute to work, tackle a series of tasks, eat lunch, continue with more tasks, head back home, and unwind with a familiar evening routine. Rinse and repeat. The predictability and repetitiveness of such routines can lead to a sense of monotony. When our brains encounter the same activities repeatedly, they slip into a sort of autopilot mode. This lack of novelty diminishes the cognitive markers our brains use to track the passage of time.

As a result, the days can start to blur together, and the workweek can feel like a continuous stretch of time. It’s as if our minds are running on a track, with the scenery barely changing. This phenomenon is what contributes to the perception that time is moving slowly during the week.

If routines make time feel like it’s moving slowly, and novel experiences make it speed up, how can we strike a balance? The key lies in intentionally injecting moments of novelty into our daily lives, even amidst routine activities. This might involve changing your commute, trying new recipes, engaging in brief mindfulness exercises, or taking short breaks to observe your surroundings. By introducing small changes, you keep your brain engaged and prevent the monotony from taking hold.

Making the Most of Your Weekends

While weekends may be short, they are precious opportunities to recharge, pursue passions, and connect with loved ones. Engaging in activities you’re passionate about, exploring new hobbies, or simply taking a different route during your morning walk can create a sense of time expansion. By making an effort to remain present and attentive to your experiences, you can counteract the routine effect and make your weekends feel longer and more enriching.

Here are some strategies to help you maximize your weekends:

  • Plan with Purpose: Set goals and intentions for your weekends. Whether it’s exploring a new hiking trail, trying a new recipe, or spending quality time with family, having a purposeful plan can make your weekends feel more fulfilling.

  • Unplug and Be Present: Disconnect from digital devices and immerse yourself fully in the present moment. Engage in activities that bring you joy and allow you to fully experience the beauty of the weekend.

  • Embrace Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness techniques can help slow down your perception of time. By focusing on your breath, senses, and surroundings, you can savour each moment and create a sense of time expansion.

  • Cultivate Novelty: Introduce variety into your weekends. Try new hobbies, visit new places, or engage in creative pursuits. Novel experiences can counteract the feeling of time flying by.

  • Prioritize Rest: Remember that weekends are a chance to recharge physically and mentally. Ensure you’re getting adequate rest to make the most of your free time.

Weekends are indeed short, and the phenomenon of time flying by is a product of our perception, routine, and mindset. By understanding the psychological factors at play, we can learn to embrace the beauty of fleeting moments and make the most of our weekends. Through purposeful planning, mindfulness, and the pursuit of novel experiences, we can create weekends that feel rich, fulfilling, and memorable, even in the face of time’s rapid passage.

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