The ancients divided the day into 12 equal parts of day plus 12 equal parts of night. That’s how we got 24 hours in a day—and it changed everything.
Once the idea of time had become normalized and standardized, timepieces proliferated and a common sense of “time” began to drive the flow of human activity.
As early as the sixth century, church bells rang on the hour setting and keeping the rhythm of the day for all. Industrialization drove this to maximum pervasiveness.
We wake, eat, sleep, and work in concert with everyone else in the world.
Useful in many ways, the structure’s influence on human activity has also been lamented since its origins. Seneca and contemporaries viewed timekeeping as an “unnatural innovation” that caused people to eat at fixed mealtimes rather than when they were hungry, to sleep during daylight, and to celebrate when it is dark.
Which leads to the question: Who is in control, “time” or us?
Taking Back Control
Pink Floyd warned us “…you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking, Racing around to come up behind you again…”
Use time wisely or it will be lost to you forever.
But that’s an overwhelmingly tall order. That kind of pressure is de-motivating. And a lack of motivation causes us to waste even more time.
A better approach is to think small. What can you do in a single hour?
That hour passes quickly when we’re watching Netflix. And it slips away easily during our busy days, over and over again.
But what if you could capture one of those hours out of that speedy flow and wrestle it into submission?
Everything would change.
Because making just one hour super-productive pays dividends now and in the future. Getting one thing off of your todo list lessens that load. A sense of completion builds momentum. And proving to yourself that you can master time—even a short amount of time—puts you back in control.
The Immense Power of an Hour
Here’s something you already know: to get anything worthwhile done, you need to focus.
Eliminate distractions. Choose just one thing. Work on it uniterrupted for an hour.
You will make huge progress, if not complete the damn task.
But here’s something you may not have experienced in a long time: what an hour feels like.
You might be thinking that I’m crazy. Tom, you say, we have many hours every day. Our lives are neatly divided into hours, both personally and professionally. You just said so yourself…that this is how it has been for a long time in human history. We are ruled by the clock!
Yes, but when is the last time that you experienced the full effect of an hour?
And I don’t mean by using it in some unique or productive way. I mean by not using it at all…
I’ve done this exercise a bunch of times recently. It is a sort of meditation, but without trying to do any meditating.
Spend an hour sitting quietly, preferably in the morning when you are most awake and alert. Ensure that you have no interruptions, but set a timer so that you will know when the hour is up.
Then sit quietly with your eyes closed. Be alone with your thoughts and just wait for the timer to ring.
What I think you will find is that an hour is an awfully long time. You will find time to think, meditate, ruminate, or just relax.
You will also likely find thoughts emerging of a broken timer or something else feeling “wrong” as the time goes on and on.
I had lost touch with how long an hour actually is, what it really felt like. Sitting alone this way reminded me in no uncertain terms that an hour amounts to a good chunk of time.
Feeling the full hour so directly and completely helped to really bring home the opportunity that each hour represents. If I were to take an hour and dedicate it to one thing, as described above, I can really make progress.
Of course, I knew that before. But after the silent hour experience I really believed it more than ever. And that makes a huge difference.
Feeling the full effect of a full hour has really inspired me to more often dedicate one to something important and productive. In fact, I’m doing this right now as I write this blog post!
Imagining What’s Possible
I think the best way to get more done in an hour than you imagined was possible is to have a solid foundation for the fantasy. It is far easier to imagine new possibilities if you prove to yourself in no uncertain terms just how long a single hour is, viscerally.
Once you have that foundation, you can imagine tackling all sorts of things simply by envisioning taking one hour and totally dedicating it to the task. This builds as you actually do the work. Once you see the results of hour one, you are more likely to take that same approach with another hour on another day.
And that’s kind of the point, too. EVERY hour of every day doesn’t have to be magically productive. If you did this with just one hour per day, things would move forward for you in massive amounts.
Seize the hour, master its power.