It's crunch time before the end of the semester, but the weeks between holidays is often the hardest time to stay organized and on task. This week we are talking time. Our concept of time impacts how we feel and react to events, and our ability to organize ourselves and prioritize and complete important tasks.
Animals and plants keep track of time (think bird migration, bear hibernation, or tress shedding their leaves). Our own internal clock is in an area in the base of our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This part of our brain regulates body functions dependent on an internal clock such as hormones and blood pressure (think jet lag) but when we think consciously about time it happens in the prefrontal cortex. When we prioritize, plan, and organize this is where the action is.
One of the reasons it can be so hard to use our concept of time as a purely organizational tool to stay on task and be productive, is that many of our emotional responses are tightly woven into our concept of time. Fear and anxiety come from imagining a threatening future, and depression comes in part from getting stuck remembering negative past experiences.
This is where things get tricky. One of the most common ways to cope with negative emotion is to "be present" and focus on what is immediately in front of you. This technique can get in the way of planning, prioritizing, and completing important tasks and can contribute to impulsivity.
The solution, is to develop a healthy sense of time which relies on balance in three key areas. Past: It is important to be past positive by reframing negative stories we tell ourselves about past events, forgiving others when appropriate, and avoiding getting caught in negative thought loops. Present: Hedonism in moderation, or as they say in the show Parks and Rec, "Treat 'yo self!". Future: It is important to develop big picture life goals and then work backwards by breaking down tasks into small manageable steps.
Organizational strategies are important, but they all rest on the foundation of a healthy perspective of time!