August 15, 2019 Amanda Smith

Keeping Time in the Right Context

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When it comes to time, The Records Company has one guiding principle: yours is valuable. Our entire service model is built to save you precious minutes and hours, so you can use that time for other tasks besides filling out forms and making calls. However, you’ve probably discovered that not everyone in your life places the same premium on the value of your time, which can cause frustration.

We don’t think a lot about how we look at time, and that means we don’t think a lot about how other people look at time. It turns out, everyone’s perception of time is influenced by context, especially cultural, emotional, and personal factors. If we do take a moment to consider the way context influences the way everyone thinks about time, we can develop strategies to reduce some of that frustration when others don’t approach timing the same way we do.


There’s a large body of research investigating how nationality and cultural background influence the ways people think about time. That body of research continues to grow because so much interaction in business and in life is cross-cultural, so even a basic understanding of these differences can help smooth interactions.

In North America and most of Europe, we tend to see time as linear and finite, a commodity that can’t be recovered once it has been used or wasted. This leads to a focus on punctuality and strict deadlines. Other cultures may see time as cyclical and unlimited. In these cultures, the push to meet deadlines competes with other priorities such as maintaining relationships and building group consensus. Understanding these differences allows you to make plans and address timing issues within your organization in a way that will yield positive results ().


Sometimes the way we think about time changes based on the specific context of the activity we are performing. If we’re working on an activity that requires our brain to process a lot of new information, our sense of time passing tends to slow down. This phenomenon accounts for those occasions when we become so absorbed in an activity we literally lose track of time. This is also why some days of work feel longer than others. (It’s also why time seemed to go more slowly when we were kids than it does now that we’re adults—our added experience means we’re not learning so many new things each day.)

If we’re aware of how our sense of time changes based on our personal engagement in an activity, we can put that awareness to work for productivity. We can build our schedules around those activities and budget time accordingly when we know we will be involved in work that requires intense focus. We can set up our weekly schedules to have more consistent “length” to each workday.


Our emotional state also plays a role in the way we perceive time by changing the way our internal sense of time functions. For example, boredom and fear tend to make us feel time is passing more slowly, while positive emotions tend to cause time to pass more quickly.

It’s useful to be aware of the emotional context of time because it can impact personal interactions. Consider an example in which you have arrangements to meet a colleague for lunch and the colleague is five minutes late. Five minutes is generally an acceptable grace period for a lunch appointment in US culture, but you and your colleague could still have very different perceptions of that time based on differing moods. If you’re feeling bored or anxious, those five minutes could feel more like ten, which would create a far different reaction than a more positive emotional state. In this case, awareness of these differences could prevent conflict or tension.

Deadlines and schedules are important for us to function in work and day-to-day life. If we understand the variations in the ways we each approach those deadlines and schedules, we can make each day run more smoothly.

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