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Where has the time gone? How to stop your life from turning into a blur

How is today going to be different from all the other days?
by A. Pawlowski / / Source: TODAY

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A daily routine makes it frighteningly easy to turn weeks and months into one big blur. Almost half the year has already passed by — where did the time go?

When people ask that question, they're basically saying they don’t remember where the time went because there was nothing memorable about it, noted Laura Vanderkam, a time management expert and author of the new book, “Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.”

Driven by inertia, mindlessness and the part of you that desires to spend time without any effort — like watching Netflix — which Vanderkam calls the “experiencing self,” days end up blending into one another.

“You’re probably doing the exact same thing day in and day out, or doing very normal things that weren’t particularly meaningful or intense or different,” Vanderkam told TODAY.

“The issue is when we pay too much attention to what the experiencing self wants in the here and now, then we never make memories, and that’s when time starts to disappear.”

How to make time more meaningful

To get a sense of why people perceive time differently, Vanderkam asked 900 people who had full-time jobs and families to keep track of their time for a day on an ordinary Monday in March last year. All were leading pretty equally busy lives, but some felt starved for time, while others thought it was abundant.

It turned out the people who had the highest “time perception” scores were highly likely to have done something interesting on that March Monday. Their day didn’t just consist of commuting to their job, working, commuting home, eating dinner, watching TV and going to bed. They did something different and out of the ordinary — something memorable. One person took a salsa dancing class, for example, while another went to see a movie on (gasp) a weekday night.

So one question to ask yourself is: How is today going to be different from all the other days?

Schedule your time by how you’d feel before and after

The first step is to think about what activity you’d look forward to and whether it would be fun to remember afterwards. Then do that activity, knowing part of you will resist a bit.

That’s because each person has three different selves, Vanderkam said.

The “anticipating self” looks forward to something you might do in the future — perhaps going to a concert.

The “experiencing self” is all about things in the here and now — it’s the one who has to drive to the concert, find a parking spot and navigate through the crowd. This is the part of you that will resist: It’s tired, so it offers strong incentive to just stay home. People pay attention to this voice far more than they should, Vanderkam noted.

The “remembering self” thinks back on all the things that have happened in the past. It loves memories of all the cool things you’ve done before.

Listen more to what the anticipating self and the remembering self are interested in when planning your free time, she advised.

Take little adventures

It doesn’t take a lot to make today more memorable, just more “effortful fun” in your free time rather than settling for “effortless fun,” like scrolling through Facebook. Grab a couple of co-workers and go to the restaurant you’ve always wanted to try for lunch. Take that yoga class in the park. Take a walk with your partner after dinner.

“This idea that your fun should be effort strikes people as enough of a paradox that they hate it,” Vanderkam.

“But the net result of that is that you spend your life looking at photos of Instagram of other people’s dinner parties instead of hosting your own dinner party. Your own dinner party would be a lot more fun and a lot more memorable, but that requires you to actually do something.”

Once you engage in effortful fun, savor the experience by fully taking it in. Notice that you’re enjoying it by paying attention to details, talking about it with other people and writing about it in a journal to expand the sense of time. Now you’re making memories.

Follow A. Pawlowski on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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