The New Year — time for resolutions. September — time for kids to go back to school. Summer — time to go swimming and take a vacation.
But what if those times were no longer what you thought they were?
For human-centered designer Gioia Arieti, time is only a mental construct. Instead of seeing time as something that’s narrow and set in stone, we can broaden our view to personalize and define the milestones of time for ourselves in ways that work for us. Her concept, which she refers to as “wide time” and explains in her Tedx Talk, might be just what people need to find more meaning, plan more effectively, and stay competitively flexible.
What Wide Time Is (and Isn’t)
Wide time is a way of thinking based on astronauts in space. With no gravity, natural light, or horizon, the struggle to get a sense of time is real. Circadian rhythms get wonky. So astronauts started creating their own points of reference to refer to time, such as before or after the toilet broke.
Connected to all of this is the “overview effect,” the profound inner shift in how a person sees themselves and life that comes from seeing the Earth starkly contrasted against the void of space. The overview effect lets you zoom out and see the bigger picture about your experiences, your place in the world, and how everything interconnects.
Traditionally, people measure time in length — that is, the quantity of time that has passed (e.g., 10 minutes) in one horizontal line. Wide time, however, measures time vertically in width or amplevity — the intensity of the experience. (Amplevity has its roots in the Latin amplitudinem, meaning “wide extent.”) Arieti’s design focus is on how people can increase the memorable, intense stories that break monotony and give life purpose. When we have good self-awareness from zooming out, we can build a satisfying schedule of our own seasons that’s highly customized, effective, and exciting.
The Benefits of Wide Time are … Wide
Because wide time allows us to focus through our own broad lens, it encourages us to be more authentic and innovative. Rather than worry about what others are doing or when they’re doing it, people pay more attention to what makes more sense for their own career, business, or life.
A broader view also connects to the ability to manage anxiety and stress in environments where extreme degrees of control and risk management are coveted.
“When you zoom out, not only can you see the patterns of what works and what doesn’t work, but you also don’t need as much detail, so you can deal with much more uncertainty,” says Arieti. “That really allows you to explore even more or help people discuss alternatives, just by looking at the bigger picture.”
Arieti says that because she wasn’t confined so much by ordinary routine while using wide time, she was able to break out of her rut and finally try more new things to figure out if she liked them. She points out that people can have incredibly innovative ideas when they learn about topics that are extremely conceptually different and then try to merge them together.
In the business context, that willingness to experiment, acquire knowledge, and collaborate is essential for deciding how to change and improve operations and whether to enter new markets.
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Bringing Wide Time to Your Life
Companies, nonprofits, and academic institutions already use wide time in certain ways, such as creating their own fiscal or calendar years. In recent years, businesses have also begun playing with giving workers more flexible hours and/or reducing the number of work hours/days per week.
One such Danish company is Sunset Boulevard, which not only reduced work hours, but set aside specific times for different types of tasks. In the U.S., Facebook and Instagram are now emphasizing “time well spent” on their platforms, basing the newsfeed algorithm on relevance and engagement. And way back in 1998, Swatch created Internet Time so people wouldn’t have to think about time zones. Arieti offers a few tips to get started with wide time yourself:
- Figure out the one thing that made a difference for you throughout the day. Focus on what was most valuable emotionally or logistically. Perhaps you spent the day working but the most meaningful thing was a conversation with a friend or when someone said they had noticed your kindness. Write those things down so you can identify what you value.
- Embrace the overview. Rather than focus on the details, try to find patterns. Connect to the big picture by asking questions such as “Why am I doing this?” or “How will it influence the client?”
- Draw your basic concept. Graphics often allow us to get across abstract ideas that we couldn’t otherwise see. They do a great job of simplifying complex concepts. When time is drawn in width, it is easier to visualize and understand the impact something had on us.
- Keep everything human-centered. Think about the context that would deliver the best value or enjoyment.
- If existing words or phrases don’t encapsulate your idea, create new words or phrases of your own that can. The new terminology — such as “wide time” and “amplevity” — will facilitate the sharing of the concept so everyone can move forward. “Quiet quitting” is a popular recent example.
Arieti says the hardest part of wide time is letting go of the desire for details, such as knowing to the minute when things will happen throughout the day. People also typically want to measure the intensity of an experience, but that’s subjective. Despite these hurdles, using wide time doesn’t have to mean rejecting what society does. It can mean reframing what’s already in someone’s life in a mindful way so they can have the sense of self and calm they deserve.
Context is Everything
Wide time can be transformative in many areas of work and life, but Arieti emphasizes that zooming out and getting into different experiences is critical for finding one’s own value. She notes how bananas are exotic in Denmark but perfectly mundane in the Caribbean. It’s the same with our skills and how we work.
If your skills are a dime a dozen, you’ll likely feel less valuable than if you took your skills to an environment where they are harder to find. By bringing new experiences to your everyday life through a wide-time schedule, you can understand why you do or don’t fit in different situations. “Find where you’re valuable,” she urges, “because for sure, you are a great person. You just need to be in the right context.”