Time is a global preoccupation — we never feel like we have enough of it to accomplish all we want to accomplish in the world.
Do we control time, or does time control us? In the opening session of TEDWomen 2016 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, seven speakers explored how time and attention shape our lives, in talks ranging from a practical how-to for better work-life balance to a mind-expanding exploration of the nature of time itself.
The battle over time and space. On the spectrum of history, where do you exist: Are you a space-taker or a world-maker? Culture theorist Brittney Cooper suggests that race is an essential factor into where people fall on this spectrum; through past history has run a thread suggesting that black people have had no impact on history, what Cooper calls “one of the foundational ideas of white supremacy.” In the US especially, she says, we must grapple with the damaging effects of that embedded racism — including the reality that white society gets to decide how long social progress must take. In order to look toward a brighter, most inclusive future, those in power must accept that time — especially progress — belongs to all of us.
How to find time. We have plenty of time, says Laura Vanderkam, we’re just not using it well. The author of I Know How She Does It, Vanderkam studies how busy women spend their lives hour by hour, and she has found that we drastically overestimate our commitments each week while underestimating the time we have to ourselves. When we say “I don’t have time,” what we actually mean is, “It’s not a priority,” she says. Vanderkam offers practical strategies to help us zero in on what actually matters to us — whether professional, personal, or in our relationships, so we can “build the lives we want in the time we’ve got.” To get started, she suggests a simple exercise every Friday afternoon: make a list with three headings, career, relationships and self, and set a few goals in each category. (And no, not just in the career heading.)
How to create a better world by cleaning out your inbox. Social entrepreneur and Time4Good founder Peter Boyd thinks in-demand leaders can better manage their overflowing inboxes and increase their positive impact on the world — all at the same time. The solution lies in tackling emails that fall in the middle-ground between urgent and unimportant, Boyd explains, those inquiries that form a large part of the inbox, require relatively little time, and offer fun, meaningful opportunities. With Time4Good, leaders can connect to inquirers, offering them the opportunity to buy a raffle ticket for a space on their calendar, with 70 percent of proceeds going to a charity of the leader’s choice and 20 percent going to a charity of the inquirer’s choice. It’s a win on all accounts, Boyd says, “helping in-demand leaders, the rising stars who are trying to get hold of them, and the charities loved by both sides.”
Confessions of a time debtor. We often feel that we don’t have enough time in the day to deal with both our professional and personal lives. In the name of maximizing our time, we pull all-nighters and ignore our health, to the detriment of relationships and self-care. Unlike billable hours at work, which can be tracked and quantified, our relationships — which also take up a big chunk of our time — can’t really be measured in the same way. Writer Linda Sivertsen made the app The Boyfriend Log to create a metric for emotions. Her antidote to “time debt” was to create a color-coded tracking system of our feelings about our partners, relationships and previously unmeasurable emotional baggage, identifying patterns and creating billable emotional hours along the way. Her system helps us understand what we need to let go of in order to free up time for positive, fulfilling ventures.
Time is memory. Neuroscientist Lila Davachi studies some of the brain’s most persistent secrets, from memory processing to how our perception of time allows us to construct our own versions of reality. Davachi asks us to consider how we reflect back and remember experiences. When you’re asked to remember a mundane day, the experience shrinks in memory (even if it felt like it dragged on forever in the moment.) But when you’re asked to remember an eventful day, one where a lot happened, estimates of the length of that experience expand. The more memories you have of an experience and the more varied the experience was, the more it becomes expands in time. Davachi backs up this theory about time with a memory experiment from her lab in which participants were presented with pairings of images of famous people and places. The experiment showed that participants rated images as having been presented farther apart in time if they the scenery the faces were paired with changed as opposed to staying the same. But is it really all about the external world? Davachi details another experiment from her lab which compared brain activation patterns at the beginning and end of an experience. When brain patterns change quickly over time, she found, we remember the events as being encountered farther apart in time. When your brain patterns look similar across time, it leads to a compression of time. “Even when the external world is changing, we can maintain a more stable internal experience,” Davachi says. “Time is memory, and you control time.”
Why milk matters. All mammals suck, says Katie Hinde, and milk is why. Hinde is a lactation specialist, and she studies the biology of mother’s milk — how it grows the body, fuels neurodevelopment, provides essential immuno-factors and can even help safeguard babies against famine, drought and infectious disease. Yet we know very little about it — less than we know about, for instance, erectile dysfunction. Given this context, Hinde also considers breastmilk from a socio-cultural perspective. Through her work, she calls on all of us to do more to support mothers and babies through public policy, clinical support, and research and advocacy.
A soul marrow transplant. When Elizabeth Lesser’s sister’s rare blood cancer came out of remission and Lesser was found to be her perfect match for a bone marrow transplant, she had to face the years of “rejection and attack” that had permeated their relationship — despite the love that existed between them. Hoping to help the transplant along, she convinced her sister to undergo a “soul marrow” transplant too — dedicated time to peel back the layers of assumptions, shame, blame and pain that had accumulated between them. It wasn’t the bone marrow transplant that was scary, says Lesser, it was “getting emotionally naked with another human being,” but doing so was deeply rewarding, she says: “You don’t have to wait for a life-or-death situation to clean up the relationships that matter to you, to offer the marrow of your soul, and to seek it in another.”