If only saving time were as easy as rolling back the clocks

Plus, how motivation changes as we age.

“Games are here to stay. People love them. So I think the question is: What can we learn from games?”  — Ethan Mollick

BRAIN WAVES

  • Short on time. Most of us don’t feel like we have free time to spare, yet when an emergency arises, we find a way to take care of business. Time management expert Laura Vanderkam argues that time scarcity is often less a matter of quantity than it is priority. In other words, we think of time as something we have when all of our other obligations are met. But what if we started by taking a hard look at those obligations themselves?  “We don't build the lives we want by saving time,” Vanderkam says in a TED Talk. “We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.” Sounds idealistic, but Vanderkam came to this conclusion after interviewing a thousand busy women. One woman spent a week cleaning up the basement after her water heater busted. That week, she devoted seven hours to fixing the problem. It’s hard to find an extra seven hours a week to work on a hobby, train for a marathon, or spend more time with friends. But when there’s water in the basement, somehow, we find that time. “What this shows us is that time is highly elastic,” Vanderkam says. “We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it.” Perhaps the key to managing our time better is to treat our priorities like a busted water heater. And Vanderkam suggests a few specific strategies to get us started.

  • Don’t look back. As the people we love age, we can’t help but celebrate how long they’ve been alive. But new research suggests that older people respond better to messages that take into account the time they have left,  rather than the years they’ve lived. “As people age, they tend to care more about people and activities that allow them to make the most of the time they have left, to appreciate life, and to savor time,” reports the American Psychological Association. Researchers think this has something to do with socioemotional selectivity theory (SST). SST says motivation changes as people get older and start to view their time as limited. Namely, we become more focused on positive information over negative information. With this in mind, the researchers say older people respond well to messages that encourage them to savor the moment.

  • Think about the resolutions you made this year: to quit smoking, eat better, or get more exercise. If you’re like most people, you probably abandoned those resolutions within a few weeks. Change is hard, but there are ways to turn our obstacles into opportunities to do better. Listen to learn more.

ON THE HIDDEN BRAIN PODCAST

Nov 8: Play and work may have more in common than we think. Both involve painstaking effort and repetitive tasks. Yet many people pay money to do one set of activities and resent doing the other. In this episode, what the world of work can learn from the psychology of games. 

Nov 15: What price do we pay for the constant interruptions from our phones and computers? Is there a better way to handle distraction? We bring you a favorite conversation with the computer scientist Cal Newport.

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ON THE MY UNSUNG HERO PODCAST

Nov 11: In eighth grade, Tony Ludlow hated his English teacher for making him stay after class. But on the last day of school, she told him five words that changed his life. 

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MIND GAMES

A sundial is a timepiece that has the fewest number of moving parts. Which timepiece has the most moving parts?

LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE

Four cars arrive at a four-way stop, all coming from a different direction. They can’t decide who got there first, so they all go forward at the same time. They don’t crash into each other. How is this possible?

The answer: They all make a right turn.

FROM THE TWITTERATI…

A MOMENT OF JOY

You’ve heard of basketball. But have you heard of parrot basketball?

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