To think about time as a tangible notion is like trying to hold onto a very slippery, amorphous fish while it's swimming in a boundless sea. But intrepid anglers know patience pays off.
Here are some other discoveries about the temporal world from the Time Saver notebook. They're under the heading, "Everything I Need to Know I Learned by Forgetting All That Came Before the Moment I Realized I Needed to Know This Thing." If you didn't follow that, read on.
* To use time to best advantage, don't regard it as a taskmaster, foe or inexplicable alien. It best serves when regarded with respect as a friendly, but powerful force that can be compressed, stretched, bent, saved, reallocated and joyfully spent. Even when we're trying to beat the clock in some situation over which we have no control -- the baby decides to make its entrance a week earlier than expected and the bag isn't packed yet or your boss needs a report in an hour for an emergency meeting with the board of directors -- the wise time consumer will waste no energy cussing the clock.
* Time is a commodity. It's as good as gold in business. Robert V. Levine, chair of the department of psychology at California State University, Fresno, says studies show that money does buy happiness. But it doesn't take a Ph.D. to tell time-starved Americans that having time also "buys" happiness. Consider the trend toward negotiating for more vacation time in lieu of a higher salary. Also, now, more than ever before, those who have time on their hands -- for almost any reason except ill health or incarceration -- are looked upon with envy.
And if it's as good as gold in business, it's better than that in personal relationships. Giving time and attention to loved ones reaps the only guaranteed payoff in the world.
* Time is a luxury almost anyone can afford. With perhaps the exception of head-of-household single mothers, almost anyone can carve out a bit of personal time for relaxation, reflection, creative activities. To twist a familiar saying: "If you make it, it will come."
* These days, a mentally healthy person is one who is able to
"time shift," or switch at will between hyperproductivity and an awareness of the present -- which requires a certain stillness of mind and spirit. According to Omega Institute director Stephan Rechtschaffen, who coined the term, time shifting allows us to be human "doings" to meet the demands of our lives and then to slip back into being human "beings" who think and feel and are attuned to the slower, soothing pace of the natural world.
* Find your own time comfort-zone and live there. One person's chilled out is another's frantic. It's hard in the American culture of time machismo to say, "No, I can't do that right now. I'm doing all I can handle." But it's harder to continually live up to someone else's expectations or to expect more from others than they can comfortably deliver within a certain time frame.
* We feel time-poor and blame our speeded up world, but the reality is that our leisure time has decreased only a matter of minutes over the past 30 years, says John Robinson, director of the Americans' Use of Time Project at the University of Maryland. We just allocate it differently now. Want to give yourself six or seven extra leisure hours a week? Turn off the TV for only one day. That's how long Americans watch TV daily on average.
* Two major ideas worth saving and savoring emerge from "Time and the Art of Living" by Robert Grudin. First, living with grace and peace of spirit is an art. Time is the medium from which that art is created. Second, providing time for oneself is an act of personal mercy.
* Value time as life itself because it is.