Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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September 4, 2017

How to Use Your Time Personality to Increase Writing Productivity

Colleen Story

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.

Past Oriented

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.

Present Oriented

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.

Future Oriented

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.

Past Oriented

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.

Present Oriented

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.

Future Oriented

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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About Colleen

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).

43 comments on “How to Use Your Time Personality to Increase Writing Productivity”

  1. This is fascinating, Colleen. I've never heard of this! Now, help me out. I may have missed something. I have my results, (where I fall on the 5 scales), but how do I formulate that into the categories, above?

    Thank you for the education!

    1. Hey, Laura! I have all five categories in my book, but for brevity on this blog, I simplified those into just the three above---past, present, and future. You can generalize your results that way to use the tips above.

    2. Same question here! Though I believe, from looking at your narrative, that my 4.0 on the Future scale puts me squarely in the camp of goal-oriented workaholics.

  2. I'm with Laura. I took the test but the results are not clear, Although, I was pretty sure just by reading the descriptions what category I fall in to.

    1. Zimbardo goes into much more detail than I could in a blog post (I have more in the book), but you can generalize your results to past/present/future and still gain insight into your time perspective. The blog was the quick and dirty version! :O)

  3. Very interesting exercise, Colleen. I took the test and the followup one, and came in at one of the "future" types. Your description fits me to a T, so much I burst out laughing. I definitely need to take more time off than I think I should deep down inside, and to get in touch with my inner child on a regular basis.

    1. Fun, Meg! It's so interesting to discover these things. I hope you already marked your next vacation on the calendar!

        1. Well, it's pretty clear that Laura was meant to be a writer! I hope it's true for me, too 🙂 And am planning a long weekend mid-month....

    1. When you get your results, you'll see at the very top that you will have numbers for each of 5 categories. The one that has the highest number is the one you tend to gravitate toward (you can ignore the graph). Zimbardo then goes into more detail than I could cover in this post (past negative, past positive, present fatalism, present hedonism, etc.). These are basically positive/negative points of view on each of the 3 main categories above, and aren't quite as critical to your time personality. I go into more detail on these in the book, but you can use the one that has the highest number to determine your general category, and take the action steps above.

  4. Very interesting! I took the survey, then finished your essay (didn't want to influence my answers). I'm still processing how to apply the results, but thanks for a really interesting contribution.

    1. Hi, James! What worked for me was to focus mainly on the "highest-number" area, as that's either in the past, present, or future, and then apply the tips above related to that. Seeing where you are "in relation to others" as noted in the graph results seemed neither here nor there to me. Hope the tips help!

  5. Well, I'm not telling my non-writing walking-buddy about my results for this test! She points out "my problem" all the time. And now I'll have to admit she's right. Thanks for this fun and informative post, Colleen. It sure validated the exact pinch points of my writing career and has given me much food for thought. (And James, like you I skipped to the test first, but not because I didn't want to influence my answers...)

    1. You math people are all like that. I'm not even sure what I mean by that, but it popped into my head so I get to share it with the world. Ain't technology grand? All kidding aside, this is a thought-provoking post.

    2. Oh no, Fae! So sorry! (ha) Yes, it's fascinating to find these things out about ourselves, but not so great to realize others may have been right (when they seemed "so" off base--I mean, really! Is it me?)

  6. Hmmm, this post got me thinking. I often go back to the past to figure out what's going on in the present. The future looks bright and rosy, if I don't look too far along. I think I'm a combo of all these traits. I love writing and do so for hours a day. I love my novel but don't set enough goals to make a deadline and see the published future. Hmm, I think I know what I need to work on! Thanks. 🙂

    1. Interesting for sure. Based on what you said, you seem more in the present maybe? You love writing for writing without worrying too much about the future? Good luck!

  7. Oh, dear. I'm Future 4.0. Fits me like a glove. I don't take time off. I'm making myself take time away from writing one day a week, the day I go grocery shopping. That chore always wears me out. I'm certainly a planner. And I'm going to start a Bullet Journal this week, as soon as the notebook I ordered arrives tomorrow. Guess I ought to schedule another vacation. I took one last year, the first in many years.

    1. Oh definitely, Barbara, you need "at least" one long vacation a year, but if you're future, more! I make myself go no matter what. The one year I didn't I burned out like crazy. Tip: set the dates the year before and stick with it! Happy writing.

  8. I'm future oriented, but I've noticed I tend to focus that more on the day job that earns me money than on the writing job that doesn't yet. I don't know what that says about me, except that I tend to prioritize the day job higher than the writing job. Any insight?

    1. I talk about this quite a bit in the book, Jenny, as I was in the same boat for a long time (and still have to be careful about it). I'll have a post over on WW tomorrow on dealing with the day job, but it's so easy to make the job a priority because it keeps a roof over our heads and that hits us where survival lives. For me personally, I got tired of investing the best of myself in everyone else's dreams but my own. At some point "making meaning" in our lives becomes more of a priority, and for most of us writing is how we do that. I think regularly imagining how you'll feel when you're 80 helps!

  9. While I'm by no means a believer of star signs, this on the other hand I do find to hold some value. There's truth to this as it implies human nature, and reading this while thinking about others, I see how this can be applied to the way they make decisions.
    That being said I do believe it's possible to shift from one time personality to another depending on the situation in question, with a dominant time personality shadowing the majority of them. Outside influences will aways have an affect on our behaviour. It's the reason we change.

  10. I was future oriented. I made a conscious effort this summer to have lots of downtime. I'm glad I did it, but often I felt guilty for not working harder. Something to work on! Thanks, Colleen.

  11. I took the test and found I was fairly balanced among all 3 perspectives, with future being slightly higher and present being slightly lower. So now I'm really confused! One thing I didn't like about the test: the graph (I know, you said to ignore it!) "is simply our idea of what an ideal time perspective looks like. We have included it, so you can have an indication of how to improve your time perspective." That really rubbed me the wrong way. What makes them arbiters of what your orientation should be? Aren't we supposed to learn from our past so we can work in the present to bring about our desired future? OK, done ranting.
    Knowing what your orientation is, is very useful and understanding how to work with it rather than against it is invaluable. Your concise descriptions of the various orientations had me saying, "Yup! That's me!" (yes, all of them. Go figure!) So now what I need to do is make a plan, finish what I've started, and take time off more frequently than I think I should. Seriously, all of those things are truly appropriate for me. Great post that will help many get on track.

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