Tag Archives: Time

Saving For Retirement — As Simple As Counting in Days

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the problems with saying “I’ll be ready in 5 minutes.” It turns out, there’s now research that — in a way — supports the point I was trying to make.

In this study, the researchers attempted to draw closer the connection between our present selves and our future selves. In particular, they looked at how manipulating the unit used to convey time (days, months, and years) can have an effect on that connection between our present selves and future selves. In plain language, consider the time between now and when you retire. It may be, what, 30, 20, 15, or 10 years away? For those of you closer to 25 years from retirement, that might sound like a long ways away (actually, it’s really not). Have you started saving for retirement? Oh, right, retirement savings, yeah, I’ll start next year.

That attitude right there, the attitude that our “future selves” are far away (when in actuality, they’re not), that’s what the researchers were targeting. From the researchers [Emphasis Added]:

We found that people say they will start saving four times sooner if told how many days rather than how many years they have until their child goes to college or until they want to retire. […] Considering one’s retirement or one’s child’s college education in days rather than years leads people to experience more connection between their present and future selves, which makes the identities linked to these future selves (e.g., “retiree”) feel more congruent with their current self. This reduces the extent that people discount future over current rewards. Less discounting means that saving for the future may feel less painful.

So, when we think about future events in a unit that is more relevant to us (days vs. years), we’re more likely to feel a connection to those future events and by extension, our future selves.


Let’s circle back to my post from a few years ago about 300 seconds:

As a way around this — sometimes — I like to use the term “300 seconds.” Why 300 seconds? Well, 300 seconds is the same amount of time as 5 minutes. (Weird, eh?) But it sounds different, doesn’t it? Similarly, if I’m going to need more than 5 minutes, say 10 minutes, I might say 600 seconds.

To piggyback this research, I’d be interested to see results of a study that looked at our perception of time in an even smaller unit of measurement. For things like retirement and college savings, years to days makes sense, but what about for something that’s going to be happening in less than 5 years or something that will be happening in a few months?

Let’s say we’re hosting a conference in 3 months and we need to get things in order for it. Three months isn’t that far away, but thinking about it in months might not give us the necessary urgency. What if we thought about it in weeks? Twelve. Days? 90. Hours? 2160. Minutes? 129,600.

Ok, so minutes is probably too finite a measurement for this analogy, but I think you get the point. Changing the unit of measurement certainly has an effect on our perspective of future events.

ResearchBlogging.orgLewis, N., & Oyserman, D. (2015). When Does the Future Begin? Time Metrics Matter, Connecting Present and Future Selves Psychological Science, 26 (6), 816-825 DOI: 10.1177/0956797615572231

Travel and Sports: Timezones Used to Have an Effect on Winning Percentage in the NBA

It’s probably not surprising to you to learn that when an NBA team travels east of its “home” timezone, it’s more likely to win and when it travels west of its “home” timezone, it’s more likely to lose. However, you may be surprised that this effect only bears out for games played during the day and more importantly, not for games played at night. This finding surprised the researchers who conducted the study as they expected to find an effect for games played at night in concert with similar studies about the NFL.

It’s important to note that the time span for this research that found this effect was in the 90s. That is, this effect with regard to day games in the NBA only accounts for the time span in the 90s (1991 to 2002, to be exact). When the researchers conducted a similar study for the years between 2002 and 2013, they found no significant effect for either the day or night games. The researchers suggested that by the decade of the 2000s, teams had been better at preparing for day games (when travelling west).


In thinking about this research, I wonder about this effect for other sports. The researchers mentioned the work conducted on the NFL and how West Coast teams benefit when travelling east for games, but what about baseball?

MLB is different from two of the major pro sports (NBA and NHL), as it’s leagues (or conferences, if you prefer) aren’t split up between the West and the East. That is, in the NBA, there’s the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference. Similarly, in the NHL, they have a Western Conference and and Eastern Conference. In baseball (much like football), the two “conferences” are split up, but not necessarily on geographic lines. While there are divisions that are split up regionally within the conference, it’s very common for NFL teams to have to travel across the US to play another team on a semi-regular basis. And in MLB, travel from the East Coast to the West Coast (or vice versa) happens regularly.

So, I wonder, if because there’s more frequent travel to the East/West Coast for baseball teams, would we find an effect (regardless of day/night games)? If I had to hazard a guess, I suspect not. Although, I wonder, if like the researchers did with the NBA, there’d be an effect if we were able to look into the past. Maybe there’d be an effect in MLB if we went back to the 80s or maybe even the 70s.

ResearchBlogging.orgNutting, A., & Price, J. (2015). Time Zones, Game Start Times, and Team Performance: Evidence From the NBA Journal of Sports Economics DOI: 10.1177/1527002515588136

Twenty Online Talks That Will Change Your Life, Part 2

Yesterday, I began going through one of The Guardian’s articles about 20 online talks that could change your life. We got through the first 10 talks yesterday. In this post, we’ll look at the last 10 talks.

11. Shaking Hands With Death – Terry Pratchett

12. The Voices in My Head – Eleanor Longden

If you have no experience with schizophrenia, Longden’s talk will certainly change that. It’s important to note, not everyone comes as ‘far’ as she did. Nonetheless, I hope her story fosters empathy within you.

13. Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Sustainability 101 – Albert Bartlett

I don’t remember when I first saw this lecture from Bartlett, but I know that it was probably one of the first lectures I watched on the internet (maybe 15 years ago?). If you’re captivated by headlines like “Crime Doubles in a Decade,” or you’re confused about inflation then you’ll learn a lot in the first half of the video. As someone who majored (second major) in sociology, I can certainly empathize with the idea of a Malthusian catastrophe. I suppose I’m putting stock in the fact that something will change before it gets to that. You may be tired of hearing that people of time X couldn’t have predicted what life would be like in time Y, but I’d say that this is a big factor in why I think we’re not hurtling toward the future that Bartlett explains. Of course, I could be wrong, but I really think that something will change before it comes to this.

14. The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class – Elizabeth Warren

15. The Secret Powers of Time – Philip Zimbardo

If you’ve ever taken PSYC 100, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Zimbardo. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, his famous experiment will: the Stanford Prison Experiment. I remember watching the RSA Animate version of this talk a couple of years ago. Zimbardo shines a light where you might not have been looking: your relationship to time.

16. The secret to desire in a long-term relationship – Esther Perel

17. Printing a human kidney – Anthony Atala

In 2011 when this talk was given, the idea of 3D printing was brand new. To some, it may still be. I remember talking about it last year in the context of rapid technological change. If you’re still fuzzy on 3D printing, this is an enlightening place to start.

18. Do schools kill creativity? – Ken Robinson

If you’ve ever watched a TEDTalk, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of this one from Ken Robinson. As of this time last year, it was the most watched TEDTalk – ever – with almost 15,000,000 views. If you haven’t seen this one, spend the next 20 minutes doing just that.

19. Sugar: The Bitter Truth – Robert Lustig

20. Moral behavior in animals – Frans de Waal


If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

The Best Laid Plans… Are Flexible

Forgive me for the long absence (it’s been a week since my last post). In fact, I even missed my weekly cognitive bias yesterday. I’ve been out of town for the last couple of weeks. In fact, the last post I wrote was on a train from Toronto to Ottawa. Nonetheless, something happened this weekend that I think makes for a perfect post. (Note: look for the weekly cognitive bias in tomorrow’s post.)

On Sunday morning, I was scheduled to drive from Ottawa back to the DC area. I was in Ottawa for my brother-in-law’s wedding. As Saturday was a rather late night, waking up early and heading back to DC didn’t seem like a good idea, so I woke up without an alarm. Upon waking, I was still pretty tired. As a result, I didn’t get on the road until later than anticipated.

After driving through New York, I was pretty tired. I still had about 5 hours to go and it was nearing the seven o’clock hour. Normally, I would have thought to myself, ‘I’ve gotta get home — push through this.’ Just as an aside: I’ve done quite a bit of ‘long drives’ in my day. I grew up in the Greater Toronto Area and went to school in mid-Michigan, so there were frequent trips back and forth. I’ve also driven across the US twice (remember these two posts?) and back and forth from DC to Toronto or DC to Ottawa.

So, long drives aren’t foreign to me. In fact, of the long drives I’ve done, I can only remember once stopping in a hotel for the night. That was on a drive from Virginia Beach back to mid-Michigan. I was down in Virginia Beach over New Year’s for a conference and when I made my way into Ohio, there was a pretty bad snow storm that made the driving difficult. Instead of pushing through at the end of a long trip, I decided to stay the night somewhere. I was really happy with that decision. Back to this past Sunday.

I’ve got about 5 hours to get back to DC, it’s around 7 o’clock, and I’m still really tired from the night before. I reviewed my Monday schedule to remind myself that I didn’t have any obligations on Monday until the afternoon. I weighed the cons and pros of driving to DC, while still being quite tired. In the end, it didn’t seem worth it — I stopped in Scranton for the night.

What’s the takeaway?

Plans can change. New data are unending and it’s important to notice that. At the 
start of my trip last week, I would have — without a doubt — planned on driving back to DC sans stops. However, with the late night on Saturday and the late start 
to the drive on Sunday, by the time dinnertime on Sunday rolled around, I was ready to grab some grub and hit the sack.

My point here is that it’s important to stay flexible even when you have an idea of how something “should be.”

Note #1: If you’d like a different perspective on the matter of how something “should be,” I’d urge you to read this: “We’ll See…

Note #2: I should say that I wasn’t alone on this drive. My lovely wife was with me and it was our mutual decision to stop in Scranton. Although, we’ve been known to drive straight through on many occasions.

I’ll Be Ready in 300 Seconds…

“I’ll be ready in 5 minutes…”

“Be there in 5…”

“I’m almost ready — give me 5 more minutes…”

How many times have we heard someone say 5 minutes only to have them take triple that time? A very specific measurement (5 minutes) — in my experience — has lost a great deal of its validity. That is, our understanding of 5 minutes is not universal. Five minutes to you is not always 5 minutes to me — but you’re saying to me, “this makes no sense!” Indeed. It doesn’t. And it shouldn’t. “Five minutes” is empirical. It is something we can measure. It has a specific ending. Though, it is rarely used in its proper form.

Michio Kaku had a great series on time for the BBC a few years back and one of those episodes had to do with daytime. In it, Kaku explores the concept and experience of time (on a small scale). He also explores it from the perspective of “life” time, “Earth” time, and “cosmic” time. If you get a chance, I highly recommend watching it. Back to 5 minutes, though.

As I said earlier, part of the problem with using the term “5 minutes” is because we all have a different relationship to time. Some people come from countries that are more polychronic, while others come from countries that are more monochronic. Typically, those who come from cultures that are polychronic tend to have a more fluid understanding of (and relationship to) time. Conversely, those who come from cultures that are monochronic cultures tend to have a more rigid and precise understanding of (and relationship to) time.

As a result, it is my supposition that when folks who come from contrasting cultures (with regard to time), there is bound to be a misunderstanding when using “5 minutes” as a term of measurement.

As a way around this — sometimes — I like to use the term “300 seconds.” Why 300 seconds? Well, 300 seconds is the same amount of time as 5 minutes. (Weird, eh?) But it sounds different, doesn’t it? Similarly, if I’m going to need more than 5 minutes, say 10 minutes, I might say 600 seconds. Of course, if we all start using “seconds” as a more frequent term of measurement (in this way), the same problem is likely to occur. Although, until then, I just may have a unique advantage in communicating as it relates to time.

You Waste a lot of Time at Work

… or at least so says this infographic from Atlassian. I wanted to embed the infographic here, but the infographic is not presented in a way that makes it easy to share (other than giving you the URL, which I’ve already done). So, I’ll just go over some of the key statistics from the inforgraphic. Though, I highly recommend checking out the infographic because the information presented in that fashion might make it more memorable.

They name three main culprits of wasting time at work: email, pointless meetings, and constant interruptions. I think these are probably all things that most people would agree on. Let’s look at some of the costs associated with these “culprits.”


Annual Productivity Costs per Employee:

Spam: $1250

Unnecessary emails: $1800

Poorly written communications: $2100 to $4100


U.S. Business lose $37 billion in salary because of the cost of unnecessary meetings


Interruptions a day for the average employee: 56

Minutes spent working before the average employee switches tasks: 3

Hours spent recovering from distractions per day: 2


If all of this is true, it kind of makes it hard to ignore the costs associated with these three major time-wasters. Of course, Atlassian’s motive isn’t entirely pure. At the bottom of the infographic, they’d like you to sign-up to learn how their business solution (Confluence)* can help your team work more efficiently.

The information provided in the infographic is certainly compelling, isn’t it? The point about email seems particularly poignant, especially the note about poorly written communication. It seems that a team leader would want to host a workshop or hire some help to ensure that the team is communicating at its optimal capacity.

Seeing this infographic also makes me want to revisit Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week. There are lots of important productivity tools in there for making your team more efficient. More than that, be sure to check out Ferriss’ blog, where he continues to talk about ways to improve efficiency (in many different aspects of life: he’s just finishing up a book on cooking and he’s also published a book on dieting/working out).

*Note: Please don’t consider this an endorsement of Atlassian or Confluence. I hadn’t heard of the company (or the product) until I came across this infographic and I have no experience using Confluence.