Distorted Time

Short Term


Imagine you receive a notice to say the road outside your workplace is going to be closed for resurfacing in a couple of weeks’ time. It will be closed for 4 days and you’ll need to find somewhere else to park. You think to yourself it will be an inconvenience, but the road is in a bad state, and anyway, it’s a few weeks off yet. You’ll worry about it when you get there.

Even up until a couple of days before the closure it’s “that thing that is happening soon”. Then the day arrives and it’s total chaos! Between all the traffic diversions and the extra people trying to park on nearby side streets, you end up late for your first meeting and spend the rest of the day playing catch-up. Your journey home takes 15 minutes longer than planned too. The next 3 days feel like forever!

A week later, you admire the smooth new tarmac and have forgotten already what the disruption felt like just a few days earlier. It feels like weeks ago already.

People often ask me “if there was one key to behaviour change where would it lie?” I always say “time”. Humans have a poor grasp of the passage of time, and how our emotions and motivations and intentions and memory changes, even from moment to moment. You will have experienced the phenomenon where an event in the far past feels really recent and when a recent event felts like a much longer time ago. Or when you book a future trip or an event which feels like it is so far away it will never arrive.

An interesting thought exercise… imagine you have to wait 24 hours for something you really want. You’ll get it this time tomorrow.... Now imagine your life 4 weeks from now. Imagine you have to wait a day for something then too. Most people find that somehow the gap between now and tomorrow feels longer than the gap between 28 and 29 days from now.

It’s because we don’t think of time in a linear way, instead in more of a hyperbolic way. We don’t see time, instead we experience it, and our experience is affected by things like our attention and our emotions. Our experience is also a product of ‘now’ – always based on and judged from where we are right now.

How does time show up in your product or service?

• Are you selling something which is still a long time away, like concert tickets or travel? Or something really imminent, like an emergency repair?

• Do customers have to wait for it to be delivered?

• Does it take a long time for customers to go through each step of your service or is it a simple one-off thing?

• Do they have to wait to get started, or referred, or approved?

• Are you waiting on a third party for their contribution?

• Will customers wish their experience would last longer (like a relaxing spa treatment), or shorter (time sitting in the dentist chair)?

• Do customers get the benefit of their purchase or investment now? Or a really long time from now?

• Do customers have to collect items over time, or work their way through levels?

• Does waiting make it a better experience, like a great wine, or a beautifully cooked dinner?

• Is yours a service which creates anxiety and tension and deals with people when they feel vulnerable or afraid? Where dragging it out any longer would just be unkind?

• Is yours a service where people can’t wait until the next time they get an opportunity to do it all over again?

I’ll pick up on this topic of time again in the next blog. That’s 2 days from now…