The way we view and deal with time is central to our life. Some people seem to have all time in the world, while others can't get enough time. Time perspective guru’s Zimardo and Boyd, claim that time perspectives is "one of the most powerful influences on virtually all aspects of human behavior".
Understanding time perspectives can – (i) give us an insight into ourselves and those around us, and (ii) help us make changes to get more from our time. To quickly illustrate, consider the following short video by Philip Zimbardo on the famous marshmallow test with 4 year olds.
What is a time perspective?
A time perspective or time orientation is the "relative importance of past, present or future in a person's thoughts"(Hornik and Zakay).Essentially, our thoughts focus on or drift towards past time, present time or future time, and for each of these we either have a positive or negative outlook. Our time perspective is usually learned or formed from our culture, religion, economic status, education, family, and significant events in our life. According to Zimbardo and Boyd there are five main time-perspectives:
1. Past negative - a generally negative view of the pastFor example:
- “I think about the bad things that have happened to me in the past”
- "I often think of what I should have done differently in my life"
- “I think about the good things that I have missed out on in my life”
2.Past positive - A warm, sentimental attitude toward the past.For example:
- "It gives me pleasure to think about the past"
- "I get nostalgic about my childhood"
- "I enjoy stories about how things used to be in the good old times"
- "I like family rituals and traditions that are regularly repeated"
3. Present hedonistic - a hedonistic, risk-taking attitude towards time and life.For example:
- "Taking risks keeps my life from becoming boring"
- "I do things impulsively"
- "I often follow my heart more than my head"
4. Present-fatalistic - A helpless, hopeless attitude toward the future and life.For example:
- "My life path is controlled by forces I cannot influence"
- "You can't really plan for the future because things change so much"
5. Future - shows a great concern about the consequences of their actions as they work to achieve future goals and rewards. Will delay gratification and avoid time-wasting activities in order to achieve their goals.For example:
- "I am able to resist temptation when I know that there is work to be done"
- "It upsets me to be late for appointments"
- "I complete projects on time by making steady progress"
Why time perspectives matter?
We can learn a lot from understanding time perspectives.
1. Understanding a person’s time orientation helps you understand them.
A persons time perspective will influence their decisions, judgments, and actions.
Consider - Why is someone always late?; Why are some staff more productive than others? Why do some party all night, and others go home early Who are more likely to stop and help someone in need? What issues might people with different time perspectives have? Consider the following:
- The daily lives of a married couple with different time perspectives.
- Employees with different time perspectives
- Travelling friends with different time perspectives
An important lesson for me is to better understand my wife who has a very different time perspective than me.
2. Learning from people with different time perspectives.
There are advantages and disadvantages with each of the time perspectives, and this provides some important learning opportunities.
- Present oriented people can learn from future oriented people on how to get things done on time, and the benefits of delayed gratification. They can also learn about thinking through the consequences of risk-taking activities. Future-oriented people tend to lead healthier lifestyles, and are less likely to drive dangerously or take harmful drugs.
- Future oriented people can learn from present oriented people on how to enjoy the now more. For example, highly future oriented people (such as myself) often get so absorbed into thinking about ‘what is next’ that we forget to make the most of the now. This is something I need to work on. A future-oriented person also needs to be aware that - a present-oriented person is more likely to stop and help someone in need. Why? The future oriented person is more focused on their completing their busy schedule.
- Those with a positive past orientation tend to develop a better self-esteem, than those that view the past negatively. If you are a past negative oriented person, what steps can you take to modify your orientation?
3. Saving time and time perspectives.
Given our differences, we need to be aware that different methods of finding time or saving time will have different levels of effectiveness. For example, many time management practices that work well for future-orientated people may not be effective with present-oriented people.
What is your time perspective?
To find out do the Zimbardo Time Perspective Survey
Please note - we all exhibit each of the time perspectives to varying degrees. The results of this Zimbardo questionarie will show you which are your dominate time perspectives.
For many other insights on time perspectives refer to the very interesting book – “The Time Paradox” by Zimbardo and Boyd.