So much of productivity is the mental game, and to improve time management, we must optimize how we think about time. Take a moment and try this thought experiment.
Rank the following scenarios according to how energized or excited you feel while imagining them:
- Analyzing or reflecting on what's worked in the past
- Using all your senses as you act in the present moment
- Imagining or planning ahead for something in the future
Which came out on top? And which scenario drained your energy the most?
I've been using a mental model I call the Temporal Frame to get myself unstuck and help transform inertia into momentum. It's all about understanding whether you get energy from the past, present or future -- and then using that intelligence to contextualize your current experience.
Here's how it works, using my own response to the above thought experiment as an example.
The next question: How do you usually operate in each scenario?
For me, it's:
- Future: I imagine something better, create strategies to minimize dangers or avoid obstacles, and obsess in a way that optimizes the process, structure or flow.
- Past: I retell the story so that there's a positive lesson that ties past experiences into my present situation and imagined (better) future.
- Present: My situational awareness goes into hyperdrive as I hunt for nuance and unseen clues that can give me an advantage. I choose inaction and a "wait and see" approach over taking a risk with too many unknowns and potential dangers... until I'm convinced that a bigger future is just beyond this present moment.
Can you identify patterns like this in your typical behavior?
If I were to apply a sentiment filter to my actions as described above, Future and Past are almost always positive, and Present tends to be neutral trending toward negative.
This is priceless information if your results, financial freedom and lifestyle freedom come as a factor of how effectively you manage your own performance.
Now, with my "manager" or "team coach" hat on, I can use the Temporal Frame to contextualize any situation in a way that taps into how someone naturally get energy.
If I'm working with someone who gets energy from the past, I'd ask them to imagine how a present or future circumstance is like something great that happened previously.
"Imagine if the social and political turmoil today ends up leading to something greater... like how the cultural and economic unrest in the Dark Age led to the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment."
If I'm working with someone who's energized by the present, I'd ask them to imagine superhuman sensory capabilities that help them find even more positive cues hidden in plain sight.
"Imagine if you had an augmented reality overlay that shows you all of the hidden opportunities and good things happening all around. What can you notice by being even more present?"
OR, more simply...
"I'd like you to imagine all the things you're grateful for right now, no matter how small they seem. Look at all that's around you. What's led up to this? Where can all this momentum take you?"
If I'm working with someone who's energized by the future, I'd ask them to imagine how positive developments in the future solve a current challenge.
"Can you imagine how technology might solve this challenge in the future? Imagine what life might look like once we're on the other side of this enormous, complex challenge. How might this solve problems from the past?"
Notice there's one common prompt: imagine.
When we can imagine, we tap into our childlike curiosity and wonder. We cultivate hope and possibility.
And when there's hope, possibility, curiosity and wonder, new ideas and potential solutions appear. Best of all, they aren't plans, encumbered with the pressure of an expected outcome. They're simply "What if?" ideas.
Curiosity-driven ideas are useful because they help us climb out of mental holes we've dug and traps we may not even know we've fallen into.
They often lead us down a path to even better ideas, and certainly a more positive emotional state.
I believe that when we're in a positive emotional state, we simply operate better. We can communicate from a place of love rather than fear. We can strategize and create from a place of abundance rather than scarcity, freedom rather than constriction. We can think long-term, in generations rather than days.
And that's where true, lasting change really begins.