I was first introduced to the concept of taking “time out of time” by Gail Taylor, a founder of one of the methodologies that have influenced our collaborative design practice here at Watershed. At first, I found it confusing, a bit of wishful thinking, and certainly not logistically feasible, and yet I’ve discovered over the years there is something special in this idea.
Collaborative design is a process of working together, really working together. These days, if you work with us, you’ll likely hear us ask participants to “take time out of time” by setting aside uninterrupted time to work together in a collaborative design session. Maybe the phrase confuses you as well. That’s okay.
Literally speaking, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Time isn’t a glacier, cleaving massive pieces of ice into the ocean; we don’t get to separate chunks from the continuous stream of minutes, hours and days that make up our lives and experience it in little suspended bundles while the hustle of the world continues.
So, what do we mean when we talk about taking time out of time?
Odds are, you are probably practicing taking time out of time more than you realize.
- Have you ever hit pause on everything that makes up your “regular” day-to-day activities and immersed yourself in a new activity, place, or experience?
- Have you ever cancelled plans and spent an evening on your own, maybe reading a book or returning to a half-finished passion project?
- Have you ever prioritized spending time with a friend or family member despite there being a million other things on your to-do list?
One of my favourite ways to take time out of time is to steal away for half an hour at lunch and walk through one of the beautiful neighbourhoods in Victoria, listen to a podcast, and let my mind and body wander. Do I have an endless list of things to get done? Of course. Am I a better human for taking that 30 minutes to step outside? 100%.
When we take time out of time we consciously prioritize the things that don’t always have an easily defined or immediate impact on the quality of our lives. We are breaking the mould; taking the divergent path. If we are really doing it right, our time out of time experiences are giving ourselves a break, and our brains an opportunity to re-frame, rewire and re-contextualize the world around us. We are sense-making through alternative means, something which is essential for us to grow and adapt, yet is increasingly pushed to the margins of our lives.
Taking time out of time is extracting time from your scheduled life and repurposing it for something that may seem non-essential in the moment, but in fact, enriches your life —emotionally, physically or mentally. And these days, when work is blurring even farther into our “other” lives as we adapt to working in remote settings (which for many of us, is in our homes) the need to purposely step outside of our regular workflow and environment becomes paramount.
So why do we think our work here at Watershed is important enough to justify asking people to take time out of time? Because to enable transformative change, we need to be able to orient ourselves to new ways of thinking, knowing and being. Taking time out of time offers a unique opportunity to do just that.
And yet, of all of the complex work we take on at Watershed, one of the most difficult conversations we consistently have is when we ask participants to take time out of time for a collaborative design session. And we get it, life demands a lot from people and we’re all feeling pressed for time as it is.
But let me offer you this in departing. Taking time out of time is cumulative. The effects and impacts aren’t always immediately apparent but they shape your actions, thoughts and behaviours over the years. I may not learn something from every podcast I listen to on my meandering walks, but when I add up the collective wisdom and insights I’ve gathered from thousands of minutes of listening over the years, it’s invaluable. I wouldn’t trade those 30 minutes for anything.
In that light, taking the leap of creating space for your own time out of time experiences seems like one of the most important first steps we can take in leading the change we want to see in the world.