Are You A "Clock-Timer" Or An 'Event-Timer"? A New Study Shows Why It Matters

by Carolyn de Lorenzo

Turns out there are, indeed, two types of people: people who think about time in terms of, like, the time on the clock, and people who think about doing what they have to do as they feel they need to do it. And the way you think about time can profoundly affect how you move through our daily lives — and how "in the moment" you feel at any given, well, time.

According to a soon-to-be published study in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology, there are two key distinctions between how people structure their days, and though you might not realize it, you’re either a clock-timer, or, an event-timer. And while, for most of us, daily obligations and work schedules often necessitate a more structured and set scheduling approach, this isn’t an intrinsic way of being for everyone. This understanding is helpful for those who want to be more mindful during your day-to-day life.

Some of us, as reported in The Cut, are event-timers. We would happily glide through the day, from one task to the next, sans rigid scheduling — we like things a bit more open ended. We prefer to eat when we’re hungry, whenever that might be, as opposed to sticking to set, designated mealtimes. Event-timers love to-do lists, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve multiple to-do lists going at any time for the various areas of your life. For others, however, the day is framed as a calendar, and portioned out in blocks of time, with each block of time having an assigned purpose. And this daily structuring — our relationships to time — forms the foundation as to how we experience our lives. In short, “clock-timers are externally motivated by the passage of time; event-timers are internally motivated by their own desires,” The Cut notes. So, if staying in the moment is more challenging for you, no matter how many yoga or meditation classes you take, there could be good reason for that.

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But both clock-timers and event-timers have their strengths. Per the study’s abstract, scheduling styles pivot on either an external sense of time (clock-timers), or an internal sense of time (event-timers). You might say that clock-timers have a mental sense of time, while event-timers have a felt, visceral sense of time. Per The Cut, clock-timers excel at big-picture thinking, which can make them super creative and great at problem-solving, while event-timers have a keen ability to focus inwardly. Meditation, mindfulness, and staying present with emotions, are more intuitive skills for event-timers. Event-timers also tend to have a stronger ability to savor sense perception — like a delicious meal or gorgeous sunset, as well as positive emotions like gratitude and joy.

Simply noticing your emotions [...] is all it takes to tap into your inner event-timer.

If you struggle with staying present, and your scheduling technique is upping your stress levels — say, for example, if you find your mind darts forward to the next scheduled task when you’ve barely finished the first — you might want to try reframing your relationship to time a bit throughout the day. Shifting to an event-timer mindset can help. When you sit down to lunch, tune in to how your body feels in the moment: Are you actually feeling hungry, or are you eating because dinner is at 7 p.m. every day?

And while work-life balance, deadlines, and a veritable slew of daily responsibilities mean that adhering to clock-time is unavoidable, we can also take a beat, wherever possible, to slow down. Simply noticing your emotions, listening to your body and its needs, and taking a few deliberate breaths as you note these inner realities is all it takes to tap into your inner event-timer. And who knows, experimenting with a new way of thinking could mean less stress, more enjoyment, and a deeper sense of well-being in the long run.