I’ve been in jobs where I’m basically waiting out the clock.
I’ve been stuck quarantined indoors without much to do.
I can even remember being stuck in a classroom, waiting desperately for class to end.
In all of these situations, and more, I’m eager to make time go faster. I want to push the clock forward and get to the next thing.
I’m sure you do too. That’s why I did some research and collected the best evidence I could to answer the question: is it possible to literally make time go by faster?
Short of building a time machine, or pulling some relativity-based time dilation tricks, you can’t make the flow of time, as a physical phenomenon, go faster. But what you can do is make time feel like it’s passing faster.
And I have a whole list of tricks that are proven to work. Read on to learn how to make time go faster.
Table of Contents
- Why Time Feels Slow
- How to Make Time Go Faster
Why Time Feels Slow
Before we can effectively find ways to make time go faster, we have to examine why time feels slow in the first place.
Most of the time, it’s because of one or more of these reasons:
- Excessive focus on time. “A watched pot never boils.” It’s a simple aphorism, but it captures the spirit here. If you’re focused too much on something, you’ll be all too aware of its slow development. If you’re watching the clock, you’ll be aware of every second. That makes time feel slow. Then acknowledging the slowness of time makes time feel even slower! It’s a vicious cycle.
- Lack of engagement. Most of us feel like time goes quickly, or at least normally, when we’re engaged with something. Let’s say you’re watching your favorite TV show. You’re doing a hard crossword puzzle. You’re laughing with your friends. You’re driving carefully in the snow and ice. In all these situations, you’re actively engaged—which means you’re not thinking about time, so time passes quickly. If you’re not engaged, time will seem to crawl.
- Lack of familiarity. Do you always remember your daily commute? Probably not. The routine is so familiar to you, it doesn’t even register. You don’t pay attention, and you don’t log it as a memory, so time feels like it flies. The opposite situation, where you’re doing something for the first time, usually is associated with slower subjective feelings of time passage. Arguably, this can be a good thing; it’s why we’re more likely to remember and appreciate novel experiences. However, if you’re stuck doing something completely new that you don’t like, it can make time drag on and on.
- Boredom, discomfort, and other unpleasantness. Vacations go quickly. Trips to the dentist’s office go slowly. Great movies are over in a flash. Witnessing a boring slideshow presentation lasts forever. You get the idea, right? Boredom, discomfort, and other feelings of unpleasantness will invariably make you feel like time is passing slower.
- Drugs and sensory deprivation. It’s also worth noting that some physical effects can make you feel like time is going slower. On mescaline, DMT, and other hallucinogenic substances, some users report feelings of distorted time. And if you ever find yourself locked in a room with no light and no sound, time will probably play some weird tricks on you. But I’m guessing you’re not looking to speed up time for these reasons.
How to Make Time Go Faster
Okay. So we know why time goes slowly sometimes.
Now what can you do to make it go faster?
1. Stop looking at the clock.
Experts of all varieties seem to agree that one of the best ways to make time seem faster is to simply stop looking at the clock. A piece in The Atlantic cited time enthusiast Alan Burdick and psychologist William James as agreeing on that fundamental notion. James wrote, “A day full of excitement, with no pause, is said to pass ’ere we know it.’ On the contrary, a day full of waiting, of unsatisfied desire for change, will seem a small eternity.”
Now, obviously, it’s going to be hard to stop looking at clocks. They’re all around us. Your phone, your watch (if you wear one), your computer, and your office wall are all probably screaming the time at you. Yikes. But if you want to know how to make time go faster, this is the absolute most important thing you can do.
I recommend blocking whatever time indications you can, whenever you can. You could put a small sticky note over the corner of your screen, where the time is displayed, for example. In any case, try to do something other than constantly looking at the clock or thinking about how much time has passed.
2. Create a predictable routine.
Yeah, routines are kind of boring. But here’s the thing—they’re totally forgettable.
When you have a set routine, you can kind of turn your brain off and just run through the motions. I know that’s weird advice; it’s not the best for increasing productivity, improving engagement, or finding fulfillment. But I can practically guarantee it will make time go faster.
Depending on what you’re facing, this may be anything from easy to impossible. Some tasks will be so unpredictable, you can’t turn them into a routine. Others can be almost automated. Do whatever you can to keep things consistent, and your workday will fly.
3. Achieve flow.
The best way to make time go fast is to achieve flow.
In case you aren’t familiar, in psychology, a “flow state” is a psychological state in which a person is fully immersed in a task. They feel energy and focus, and tend to be completely absorbed in what they’re doing. You can also call this “being in the zone.”
When you’re in a flow state, you won’t even be tempted to look at the clock. You’ll be so immersed in what you’re doing that time will become a secondary consideration. Hours may pass without your notice.
So how do you achieve this?
There are a few different theories, but the general consensus is that flow requires you to find the perfect balance of interest and challenge. You should be actively interested and engaged with what you’re doing. You should also be challenged enough that you aren’t bored, but not so challenged that you can’t relax.
Accomplishing this is trivially easy if you have full choice of activities. Some people achieve flow when playing basketball. Others feel it when washing windows, or playing video games, or folding origami. If you’re stuck at work or at school, your only real option here is to try and change the responsibilities you have.
4. Break time down into blocks.
This goes against our first advice to stop paying attention to time, but you can also try breaking your time into blocks. (You might even want to use time blocking apps to do it—check out our guide on the best time blocking apps available).
What do I mean by “blocks?”
Basically, you’ll reduce time intervals into smaller and smaller chunks. If you head into work at 9 and lament the fact that you have to stay for 8 hours, until 5, you’ll naturally feel overwhelmed. But it’s much easier to say you have to work for 30 minutes until the next meeting or break.
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Consider breaking your day down into 30-minute or even 15-minute chunks. That way, you’ll never feel too far from the next milestone—and time will flow more quickly as a result.
5. Split your least pleasant tasks.
Remember, one of the reasons why time passes slowly is because you aren’t enjoying yourself. The obvious solution is to just stop doing things you don’t enjoy—but the reality is, no matter what, you’re going to have to do something you don’t like.
So what do you do?
You split the task up.
It’s much easier to do 4 15-minute tasks, spread across a couple of days, than it is to try and muscle through a single, 60-minute task. At least, that’s true for most people.
This tip is only marginal in usefulness, given that some tasks are practically impossible to split up. For example, if you’re stuck in a 2-hour meeting, you probably won’t be able to convince the other members to break it up into 4 30-minute meetings.
6. Put something on in the background.
Here’s another way to handle your least pleasant tasks; try to do something else in the background.
I have an analogy, so bear with me.
Strong spirits tend to be hard for people to consume. To make up for this, some people mix cocktails with cordials and/or sweet flavors like juices or sodas; this makes the alcohol much easier to take. You might also take a shot of a strong spirit, then “chase” it with something more pleasant.
You may be able to do the same with some of your unpleasant work responsibilities. For example, if you’re doing something tedious and repetitive, you might be able to put a podcast on in the background. If you’re researching something boring or uninteresting, you can jazz things up with background music. You could even put on an episode of your favorite TV show in the background, depending on what you’re doing.
You have to be careful here, since your background entertainment could end up distracting you and compromising your productivity. But even if it does, it could still help you feel like time is passing faster; for example, it might take you 15 percent longer to accomplish the task, but you’ll subjectively feel much better about doing it.
It’s a tradeoff worth considering if you’re desperate to accelerate the flow of time.
7. Do things you genuinely enjoy.
Having fun makes time go fast. It just does. It’s why vacations, holidays, good movies, and great meals all seem to be gone in an instant.
Accordingly, you can make time go faster by doing things you genuinely enjoy. If you’re at work, you might be limited in what you can do. Consider playing a quick game or doing a quick puzzle on a break, or calling a loved one for a brief conversation. Otherwise, consider breaking up your day by occasionally switching to tasks you like (or at least ones you can tolerate).
If time is passing slowly because you’re bored at home, you’ll have much more flexibility. You could watch a favorite movie, read a book, play a game, make art, build something, fix something, or learn something on YouTube. This is probably my favorite trick for how to make time go faster.
Don’t enjoy anything? Then it’s time to find a new hobby. Learn a new craft, try to play a new instrument, or ask your friends to learn some of the things they’ve been into lately.
8. Practice a mental challenge.
Let’s say you’re stuck in line at the DMV or you’re idling in traffic. There’s no hobby to try and no task to switch to. You’re stuck. How can you make time pass faster here?
The best idea here is to practice some kind of mental challenge. Pick a category (like types of food, rock bands, or supernatural monsters) and try to name something in that category for every letter of the alphabet.
Or try to count to 10,000 by intervals of 14.
Or practice explaining something complex to an imaginary 5-year-old.
Any of these mental challenges should help you take your mind off the boring thing in front of you, and make time feel like it’s going by more quickly.
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Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.