A girl goes into a bar. A guy takes a seat in the chair beside her. Using his most charming voice, he says, “Hey, girl, what’s your time personality?”
It could happen. In fact, the guy would likely find out more with that question than with the typical, “What’s your sign?”
In fact, some psychologists believe our time personalities may be just as important as other major personality traits like conscientiousness and openness when it comes to our ability to achieve success and happiness.
As a writer, you need to know your time personality if you want to boost productivity and manage all your writing projects without going crazy. There are many facets to this characteristic, and I talk about them all in my new book, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, but you can get started by figuring out one thing: How do you prefer to perceive time?
How Do You Prefer to Perceive Time?
Stanford University professor Philip Zimbardo is credited with discovering “time perception.” After years of research, he found that our attitude toward time is a personality trait, much like our level of optimism vs. pessimism, or whether we’re introverted or extroverted.
Curious about your time perception personality? You can take Zimbardo’s test here. It consists of 61 easy questions. When you’ve finished them all, you’ll get results showing you which of the personalities you tend to gravitate toward most often.
Meanwhile, here’s a brief summary of the three major types. There are subtypes, too, but I’ve left those out for simplicity. By reviewing these, you can begin to get an idea of the differences, and a sense of which one may best describe you.
Overall, you prefer to focus on the past rather than the present or the future. You base your decisions on what you’ve experienced before, as it’s difficult for you to imagine things being different. “New” things don’t impress you just because they’re new. You probably enjoy honoring certain family traditions, but find it difficult to allow new people (strangers) into your inner circles.
You’re nostalgic by nature, and like activities that connect you to your past, but this can make you hesitate to step out of your comfort zone. You may also remember traumatic experiences you had as a child, and nurse old wounds that you haven’t been able to heal.
Overall, you tend to focus on the now, particularly on what your senses are telling you. You seek out physical and social pleasures, and focus on making yourself feel good today rather than tomorrow. It’s difficult for you to grasp abstract concepts about the future, as they just don’t seem real to you.
Real is what you can see, touch, and smell right now, which means you may be easily distracted and give in to temptations more than you should. You do not believe in the “no pain no gain” idea, as you prefer to just avoid pain, period.
You are all about creating a better future for yourself and those you care about. You tend to base your decisions on where you want to be 5-10 years from now, rather than on where you were in the past. You find it easy to imagine the future, and look forward to it as being a better world for you than the present is.
Because you can imagine the future so easily, you are good at delaying gratification, and are likely to make good choices in terms of health and finances that will set you up for long-term positive consequences. On the downside, you may find it hard to enjoy the present moment.
How Your Time Perception Personality Affects Your Writing Career
Once you have an idea which of the three types fits you best, you can use that information to help push your writing career forward. The main idea is to capitalize on your strengths, and then work on those areas that tend to be weaknesses for you.
The good news is that you are a stable person overall. You have solid relationships with your family and friends, and that can help you weather the ups and downs of the writing life.
You may have difficulty, though, imagining a future that’s different from what your past has been. Even if you dream of publishing a book or building an editing business, your dream rests in some distant time, so it may seem out of reach. You may also find it difficult to try things you haven’t experienced before, which could hold you back from experiences that would boost your career.
Action Step: What you need is to help yourself see the future more clearly. Create a visual collage of where you will be five years from now. Add your own personal touches to images, such as putting your book title on an image of a book, or your name and class title on a schedule of writing workshops.
Next, plan to do something new this year related to your writing. Maybe you’ll submit to some new publications, attend a new conference, join a public speaking group, or take some marketing classes. Realize that your tendency to hesitate when thinking about new experiences may be holding you back. Schedule the activity on your calendar, and when you feel that resistance, push forward and do it anyway.
The good news is that you enjoy today for today. You like writing for writing’s sake, and are likely to have lots of work that you will never publish, and that’s just fine with you.
Where you may struggle is in taking that next step in your career. You may want to earn more money from your writing, for example, but procrastinate when it comes to learning how to do that. Or you may find it difficult to finish a novel when it gets tough in the middle, because it’s hard for you to see past your immediate experience.
Action Step: First, make “finishing projects” just as high a priority as having fun with your writing. Particularly if you have lots of unfinished stories in the drawer, redirect your efforts to finalizing and submitting more of your work.
Next, focus on creating a step-by-step plan for your writing career. If you want to be earning money from your stories in five years, get out a calendar and decide where you need to be by the end of each year to make that happen. Then break it down further so you can set monthly deadlines for yourself. Deadlines can help you bypass your tendency to put things off. If you can focus on the “fun” facets of each task, that will help, too.
Most importantly, create frequent rewards. Present people like feeling good now, so reward yourself for small tasks completed to stoke your own motivation.
The good news is that you are tailor made for the long haul of the writing business. You’re focused on the future, and have no problem toiling away for years working toward your goals.
Your problem is that you tend to work too hard and worry too much, which can create an unhealthy sort of neuroticism and tunnel vision. Your constant focus on the future can also rob you of the joy of writing today, so much so that you can exhaust yourself to the point of burnout.
Action Step: Take time off much more frequently than you think you should. Plan an annual long vacation, at least three shorter (four-day) vacations, and weekly days when you enjoy leisure-time activities that restore you.
Watch for signs of burnout, such as fatigue and insomnia, weight loss or gain, skin breakouts, headaches, muscle aches and pains, and a growing apathy toward your work. Remind yourself that it’s not healthy in the long run to ignore your close relationships, or to make life all work and no play. Find ways to tap into your inner child to keep your creativity alive.
Which time personality best fits you? What is your biggest time challenge?
Jane Collingwood, “What’s Your Time Perspective?” Psych Central, May 17, 2016, https://psychcentral.com/lib/whats-your-time-perspective/.
Zimbardo P. and Boyd J. Putting Time in Perspective: A Valid, Reliable Individual-Difference Metric. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 77, 1999, pp. 1271-88.
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Colleen M. Story is the author of Overwhelmed Writer Rescue: Boost Productivity, Improve Time Management, and Replenish the Creator Within—a motivational read full of practical, personalized solutions to help writers escape the tyranny of the to-do list and nurture the genius within. Discover your unique time personality and personal motivational style, and learn how to keep self-doubt, perfectionism, and workaholism from stealing your writing time. Available at all common book retailers. (Get your free chapter here!)
Colleen is also a novelist and has worked in the creative writing industry for over twenty years. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness. For more information, please see her author website, or follow her on Twitter (@colleen_m_story).