Recently, I was given a piece of advice which led to breakthrough for me and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.
It changed my perspective on a couple of things:
- Why I am happy doing certain things.
- Why I am good at certain things.
These might seem like simple questions, but knowing the answers to these two things can be incredibly powerful.
They help guide you to make better decisions about your life – things you do, people you spend time with and ultimately they can influence how successful and happy you are.
Below are just a few of the things, that become easier (I’ll cover these in more detail further below):
- Know which jobs you’ll be best and happiest in.
- Know who to surround yourself with to be more successful (particularly at work).
- Know which hobbies will likely be a good fit for you – aswell as be more motivated and consistent when starting new hobbies.
- Have better personal and professional relationships (specifically because you can understand where others are coming from).
Personal Time Zones
The best way to introduce the concept of personal time zones is to share the conversation when I had my ‘Aha’ moment.
I was talking with someone who I had specifically sought out for some advice, and he asked me the question ‘what do you love doing? – what can you get lost in?’
I typically find this question quite hard to answer. However, we continued to press through several rounds of me trying to come up with stuff – things I liked doing recently, things I enjoyed doing as a kid, particular jobs I really enjoyed (and specifically what parts of those jobs I enjoyed the most).
And then he hit me with it.
‘You sound like a 2-3 steps ahead type of guy’
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, but he asked me a few further questions, and the answers started to highlight that I do indeed think a few steps ahead a lot of the time.
He went on to explain that everyone has a personal time zone that they are best and happiest in.
- Some people like to think a lot about the past and like analysing it.
- Some people are much more comfortable in the now and being present in what they are doing. They easily get lost in what they do and don’t stress much about the future.
- Some people tend to think a few steps ahead, thinking ahead to the next few months.
- Some people find it easier to think a few years ahead.
- Some people find it most natural to think about things 5-10 or even 20+ years ahead
He quickly followed with, each of these is perfectly ok. What’s important is that you know what type of timezone you are most comfortable with and then use that to help guide decisions in your life.
He finished with ‘you seem like a person who is always trying to be 2-3 steps ahead and likes to think forward probably 1-3 months at a time. You probably struggle to get excited and comfortable about the past, or things that are very long term‘
YES. BANG ON.
As soon as he said this, my mind started racing with all of the very obvious examples that seem to back up this statement.
When I read, I tend to skim read. I just want to know the gist of things and am always racing to be a few chapters ahead.
I struggle to sit down and watch a movie. I just see it as a couple of hours of dead time (very much a ‘now’ type of activity).
At work, my default mode seems to be briefly understanding the long term view (say 12-18 months), but then to get very clear on what needs to happen in the next 3-6 months. My only focus then is to start laying out the path towards it and to start building momentum around it.
It’s not a coincidence that there are two types of people who can frustrate me at times (mostly at work). Those that only focus on what they are doing that day (I find this random and disorganised) or those that prefer to talk about things many, many years ahead (It’s not that I think there isn’t a time and place for this, but generally I find this distracting from executing in the short-term).
The projects I have always found the most exciting is when there is a big, juicy goal 3-6 months out (preferably 3). I love building momentum around those types of projects.
I’ve never contributed properly to a pension. Even though I know it’s probably the right thing to do, I just find the whole concept way too far in the future. I would rather build wealth throughout my life so I know for sure what I’m working with when I am older.
When I speak with people, I’m often a few exchanges ahead in my head. I literally consider what the next few talking points / things to say could be in parallel to having the conversation (that actually seems a weird thing to do as I read back on what I typed!) This can be useful in certain types of conversations (influencing people, dealing with a difficult situation etc.), but it also interferes with being able to listen to people properly.
I’ve never been interested enough to ask many questions about my family’s past / history and as a result I have an embarrassingly low understanding of it.
I struggle to be present and simply enjoy the moment – whether that’s reading, enjoying a cold beer in the sun or watching a movie. I always have stuff going on in the back of my mind about what I could be doing next. It’s something I’ve been trying to be better at lately, and I can now see why it isn’t coming easy to me.
Aswell as noticing examples for my own personal time zone preference, I also started to think about other peoples personal time zones. It was actually amazingly obvious. I can picture friends and colleagues who clearly fit into each of the timezones I mentioned above.
I can even picture a few who seem to work quite well across a few of them. This can make someone incredibly effective, but I can only think of a couple of people that are like this. It’s more common that people seem to fit mostly into one.
Back to the five examples above
I mentioned a few things at the beginning, that become easier when you have an awareness of your personal time zone:
Know which jobs you’ll be best and happiest in
If you are like me and you have a view to being a few steps ahead, a role which requires you to spend most of your time either devising very long term strategy or analysing the past probably isn’t going to be a good fit for you.
By knowing your timezone, it can help you pick which types of jobs and responsibilities you will be both good at and happy in.
Know who to surround yourself with to be more successful (particularly at work)
Not only is it important to know your own personal time zone, but knowing other peoples can be really useful too.
We need people that can analyse the past as this helps us make better decisions for the future. We need people who get lost in what they do today and don’t get easily distracted – it’s called actually executing. 😉 We need people that can help lay out short to mid term milestones and keep the team focused and motivated around them. And we also need people that spend time thinking about the bigger picture as this helps guide our decisions in the short to mid term.
When I think back to some work situations / projects, I can see that often when things went well, we seemed to have a good mix of people with different personal time zones. But when there was an over-bias of one time zone, it caused problems (normally when thinking about the past or too far in the future was the bias)
It’s worth spending some time thinking about people in other timezones than yourself and how you can leverage different types of people to get the best overall result.
Know which hobbies will likely be a good fit for you – aswell as be more motivated and consistent when starting new hobbies
If you more naturally think in the past or too far ahead, sticking with hobbies can be tough. You either never get started or you become overwhelmed quickly.
A good example is I have been trying to learn French recently and have been inconsistent with listening to the audio lessons each day. I seem to be more focused on wanting to be quickly at the level where I can hold a good conversation (probably 3-6 months away) and also being fluent (probably 12+ months away). This can cause me to get frustrated with how slow things are going and I get impatient. Sometimes that discomfort causes me to skip listening to the audio lessons. I realised I need to break this down to a 1-3 month view, so that I can get really excited about it, much like I do at work.
So, I am booking in some conversational lessons in 2-3 weeks time. I am also going to book a week trip in France in 8 weeks time. After that, I should be at a point where I can hold down a conversation in French.
Not only does this act as a nice piece of accountability for me, it also gets me focused on just the next 2 months – both the result I want and what I need to do.
You might also want to consider what type of hobbies could best suit you. If you think super long term, something which requires intense day to day focus and activity might not be up your street. But something with a very clear and long term goal (i.e building a boat, car etc.) might be a good fit as it has a clear, long term result.
Have better personal and professional relationships (specifically because you can understand where they are coming from)
As mentioned above, it’s really about knowing your own personal time zone and having a good idea of the personal time zones of those around you. Once you know these, it’s much easier to put yourself in other peoples shoes.
The person that always seems to be going on about things five years ahead might get on your nerves, but at least you know why they do this. In fact, you almost certainly get on their nerves in much the opposite type of way 😉
I don’t like to admit that I can sometimes judge people too easily and harshly (myself included). Being aware of peoples personal time zones can make it easier to be patient and forgiving of others, including ourselves.
Closing thoughts – What this all means for me and you
Firstly, simply knowing what your personal time zone is makes things easier. Whatever it is, that’s perfectly ok.
Being self aware of it will help you see why you’re happy and good at some things, and not so happy or as good at other things.
It will also help you see why you like working with some people and why others can frustrate you. You’ll find that you become less judgemental and forgiving of others (and yourself).
Secondly, try and pick things and jobs to do which fit nicely with your time zone. You’ll achieve more and be happier for it.
Lastly, it can be interesting to experiment with other time zones. For example, I’m currently experimenting being more comfortable in the ‘now’. I really do want to be better at it.
I think I know in my heart it will never be my default zone to be in (although I do think with the right amount of time and effort it is possible to change), and that’s ok.
I’m very happy being a 2-3 steps ahead type of person, I just want to be able to enjoy the ‘now’ more when I choose to.