Who hasn’t wished for the gift of making time pass quicker (or slower, for that matter)?
Getting deep into the concept of time might make your head spin, but know that your perception of the passage of time is just that: a perception.
When you start to feel as if you’re doomed to live through a slow repetition of the same boring days, you can break out of this seemingly endless loop by changing your viewpoint.
Science hasn’t found a way to actually speed up time, of course, but the nine tips below can make you feel as if the days are whipping by — and that’s what matters, right?
You’ve probably heard the saying, “time flies when you’re having fun.” Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you also have some firsthand experience with how time drags when you’re not having much fun.
Well, science has found somewhat of an explanation for this perception. In a 2016 animal study, researchers linked increased dopamine activity in the brain to underestimation of the passage of time.
In other words, in situations where your brain naturally releases more dopamine, you tend to feel as if less time has passed than actually has.
So, how do you get your brain to produce more dopamine?
Try activities that excite you, engage your brain, and motivate you to pursue something you want. Trying a new recipe in the kitchen, tackling a big puzzle, or navigating a new hiking trail are all good options.
When you actively concentrate on reaching a specific goal or doing something you enjoy that yields certain benefits, your focus narrows to that specific activity. This narrowed focus means you probably won’t be looking at the clock or worrying about how much time has passed.
In terms of psychology, flow refers to a state of optimized performance or consciousness. Some people describe this as a peak experience, others say they’re “in the zone.”
However you choose to describe it, flow generally means what you’re working on demands all your skills and abilities and absorbs you entirely — where nothing can intrude or distract you. When in a flow state, you still put effort into the task, but results happen smoothly.
If you’re writing, your pen or typing fingers might seem to take on a life of their own. When drawing, painting, or composing music, the vision in your head might become a tangible reality with what seems like no effort at all.
Flow can even happen when you get into an exercise groove, whether that’s a runner’s high, cycling zone, or other streamlined state of movement.
To achieve flow, you need a task that requires focus and challenges you just the right amount. You know you have the skills necessary to achieve your goal, but you concentrate more on the process as it happens than the end result.
Plenty of activities can generate flow:
- exercise routines
- handicrafts, like knitting, sculpting, or woodworking
- art or music creation
- tasks at work
- chess, shogi, or other strategy games
When you’re in this state of being, you might feel somewhat disconnected from mundane concerns, like hunger, thirst, the passage of time, or even your sense of self. Upon emerging from this flow state, you might discover hours have passed without you realizing it.
When it comes to making time pass faster, walking is an all-around good option.
It doesn’t just get you out of the house and fill the empty hours. It also gets your body moving and your blood flowing.
It can even boost your creativity, which can make it easier to find your flow when you finish your walk.
What’s more, planning regular walks or hikes with a loved one gives you the opportunity to catch up in person while safely distancing yourselves.
Strolling through town puts you in a different environment and distracts you from clock-watching, so why not plan a walk that lets you accomplish errands on foot?
Walking in nature can offer some increased relaxation benefits, but there’s a chance it could make time seem to pass even slower — though it still fills the same amount of time. You also get other mood-boosting benefits from sunlight and fresh air.
When you want time to pass quickly, though, it’s often more helpful to turn your attention toward productive activities. Days when you have a packed schedule often seem to rush by, right? Well, you can apply this principle when you want time to speed up.
Turning your attention to meaningful activities (fun, work, or anything in between) can engage your brain and help you avoid lengthy reflection on how slowly the days seem to pass.
If you don’t have many hobbies, or if COVID-19 safety guidelines have temporarily interrupted your usual hobbies, why not consider some new ones?
- Introduce your kids to tabletop gaming.
- Download Duolingo and refresh your high school German.
- See what it’s like in the Ivy League with free online Open Yale courses.
Just take care to maintain some balance. It can help to fill empty days with productive tasks. But you don’t want to become so busy you end up overwhelmed, with no time to rest and recharge.
Time can certainly seem to slow down when your days don’t have much shape to them. It’s normal to feel at loose ends when you don’t have to be anywhere or do anything at a specific time. Following a regular routine can help fill your time and give your days more structure.
Start by outlining a personalized schedule. You’ll probably find it easier to stick with a routine you enjoy. If you know you aren’t a morning person, for example, don’t try to make yourself wake up an hour earlier every day.
Regularly changing your environment as part of your routine can also help refresh your mindset and increase your engagement. Consider going to a park, hiking a nature trail, wandering through the city center, or taking a walk around the block.
If you can’t get out but have access to a balcony or backyard, that works too.
Who doesn’t have a long list of projects to get around to “someday”? Consider making that elusive future date today.
If your motivation has dwindled to nearly nothing over the last few months, you’re far from alone. After nearly a year of social distancing, quarantines, and pandemic restrictions, most people feel pretty drained.
Still, you can recapture some of that energy by giving yourself a new focus. Taking care of odd jobs around the house can feel pretty satisfying once you get started, and time will start slipping away before you know it.
Put on some energizing music and get to scrubbing the baseboards, organizing the linen closet, sorting through those dusty boxes of photographs in the garage, or catching up on low-priority emails.
If you’re lost in a sea of smaller tasks that you haven’t yet bothered to jot down, start by making a list of what you need to do. Crossing off each item can motivate you to keep working your way down the list.
Reading can benefit your mind and body in several ways. But it’s also just a great way to kill time.
As you become more engaged with the story, you’ll feel more driven to keep going and finish the book. If you have to set it aside, the story might continue occupying your thoughts, helping the time you spend on more mundane tasks pass quicker.
Books set in alternate worlds, historical periods, or the distant future also offer a temporary escape from everyday life. It’s even possible to enter a state of flow while reading.
You don’t need to read fiction, or hold a physical book in your hands, to get these benefits. Try e-books, audiobooks, memoirs, or nonfiction on any topic.
When you have things to do and friends to see, you might feel as if you never have enough time. Not being able to spend time with loved ones or participate in your usual activities can turn this perception upside down.
Staying in touch with friends and family, as much as possible, can help you hold on to some sense of normalcy and make long, dull days more meaningful.
A phone call or video chat isn’t quite the same as sitting in the same room, but it still provides some social connection and helps relieve loneliness. Planning chats and calls with friends and family a few times a week, even daily, adds a rewarding way to pass time to your regular routine.
Keep in mind your loved ones probably feel the same way you do. Making an effort to connect virtually can help relieve feelings of solitude for you and for them.
Stress, uncertainty, and low mood can alter your perception of day-to-day time. Yet, the sheer magnitude of new and difficult challenges might seem to affect your big-picture view.
In the middle of a crisis, the days might feel endless as you wait for news or changes for the better (or worse). When you look back on that period of difficulty, however, it seems much shorter than it felt in the moment.
Perhaps you’ve noticed this yourself when thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic. You feel astonished by how long it’s lasted, even though this presents a stark contrast to the crawling days.
Stress, anxiety, and feelings of depression have increased for many people over the past months, and though you may not realize it, these symptoms can factor into your perception of time.
- Anxiety can interrupt your focus, making it harder to pay attention to specific tasks. Even when you use the tips above to help the days pass quicker, you might have a hard time maintaining your concentration and end up back where you started — trapped in a loop of boredom, racing thoughts, and worries about the future.
- People with depression may perceive time as moving slower, perhaps because of the way depression can affect energy levels and motivation. When you feel low, you might have a hard time trying to improve your mood if you can’t seem to muster up the energy or strength to get going.
Self-care practices — including sleep, exercise, good nutrition, and relaxation — can all have a positive impact on your mood. When self-care and self-help strategies make little difference, it may be time to consider some extra support.
A therapist can offer guidance and help you explore more effective treatment strategies when feelings of depression or anxiety begin to affect your quality of life, create problems in your relationships, or keep you from getting things done.
Time sometimes seems to drag on endlessly, especially when you’re waiting for something or when you’re nervous about what the future holds.
The long, empty days won’t stick around forever, though, and positive distractions can help you disrupt the monotony in the meantime.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.