Time management: secrets from the brain and mind



To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour

– William Blake, extract from Auguries of innocence


Getting things faster, with less effort, increasing productivity: this is at the core of any theory and practice behind what we call Time Management.

Since the beginning of the last century, it has been a credo followed by many, and an undisputed principle in societies where driving achievement is the most admired and pursued skill.

But, surprisingly enough, it is also how our brains work: always looking for the easiest way and the best results.

Have you ever wondered how our brains perceive time? And how psychology understands it?

Have you asked yourself if our neurons are able to multitask? Or if you can handle any situation effectively, without letting memories or worries about the future interfere?

In this article, I’ll try to address some of these questions, taking a brief look at what neuroscience and psychology have to say us about time.



Part I: The Brain

Part I: The Psyche

Part I: The importance of the here and now. A practical approach and some exercises



Part I: The Brain

Our study reveals how the brain makes sense of time as an event is experienced. The network does not explicitly encode time. What we measure is rather a subjective time derived from the ongoing flow of experience.” Albert Tsao


In our societies, we live immersed in conventions: clocks – and social conventions – measure and establish what a minute or an hour is, and we act accordingly. Nevertheless, our brains process time in a completely different way. Our mind and body have their own rules.

In our body, the experience of time is determined in two ways: by circadian rhythms or measured directly in our brain.

I’ve written an entire article about circadian rhythms; you can check it out here. But for the purpose of this article, let’s mention the basics.

The circadian rhythm is our internal clock. It is regulated mainly by the hypothalamus – which is also in control of other things, such as hormones, temperature, appetite, sexual behaviour, and emotions.

Our biological clock is reset each day, by sunlight. Although its primary function is exactly the same for all of us, the actual regulation of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness varies, depending on the person.

In short, this is the clock which tells us which part of the day when we are more alert and which part when we’ll find energy levels lower and will feel more sleepy. This internal clock which regulates our body is the reason why we feel uneasy when we are forced to adapt ourselves to new social conventions, or when we need to adjust to sudden changes (like travelling and jet lag, for example).


And what about our brains?

Research in the field of neuroscience has shown that the hippocampus – that seahorse-shaped part of the brain within the limbic system – plays a part in the formation of new memories.
In fact, it tracks time, in 10-second laps.

The capacity all we humans have, to associate and remember different events, is an essential part of what is called episodic memory, which will translate into something like “what”, “where” and “when” a particular thing happened.

A recent study by Albert Tsao and colleagues at NTNU’s Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience shows that there is a “neural clock” in our brains, keeping track of time.

Albert Tsao commented, “The network does not explicitly encode time. Instead, what we measure is subjective time, derived from the ongoing flow of experience“.

Let’s stop here for a moment. What does this mean?

It means that our neural clock is a sort of organiser, and what it does is arrange our experiences sequentially.

Therefore, what we experience as time is nothing more than the result of tracking our experiences in a specific order, merely accompanying the ongoing flow.


But there is more from the neuroscience field: a group of researchers in the NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), made a crucial discovery.

In the brain, there is a network of cells (located right next to the areas which also encode space) which expresses our sense of time, within each experience and memory.

This network provides timestamps for events, and keeps track of the order of events within an experience,” says Professor Edvard Moser, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and director of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience.


But enough with neuroscience: what about psychology? How does the psyche interpret time? And how we deal with this interpretation?


Part II: The Psyche


” Psychological time is a product of the mind, more than a reflection of natural chronometric order” T.R. Trautmann

“The unconscious has no time” C. Jung


We all know that the perception of time is subjective. What is a minute for two lovers? Or for somebody who has missed the train? Or for a mother, waiting at the airport for the plane carrying her son to land?

However, despite this subjective aspect of time, humans need to be able to judge the duration of a particular event objectively. It is an essential part of living in society, in relation to others.

So, how does the psyche function to adapt to conventions? Does the mind suffer in any way because of this? How does the mind perceive time?

Psychology has always been fascinated with this subject – the perception of time, and it is in fact an academic field of study.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, never talked specifically about concepts such as time and space. There are no specific articles, chapters or books in his work devoted to the matter. What we have instead are documents and books, focused on what are considered pillars in psychoanalysis, intrinsically related to the notion of time. I’m talking here about subjects such as trauma, amnesia, fixation, repetition, and regression, just to name a few.

Time is undoubtedly at the heart of psychoanalysis, a science which tries to understand how present conflicts are determined and affected by events which occurred in the past.

Well, the thing is that in the unconscious mind, past, present and future coexist. Yes, timelessness is one of the characteristics of the unconscious mind. Time is not linear. (Nachträglichkeit – afterwardsness): we can see the effects of an old traumatic experience reinvesting a current event and arising, here and now, with the strength of then).


Moving away from psychoanalysis, we can see that other theories also put the emphasis on the concept of time.

In the case of the Gestalt, for example, the focus is on the present. Specifically, the here and now.

To me, nothing exists except the now.” said Fritz Perls.

Concepts like awareness and present are fundamental to this theory, and modern times and schools have developed all sorts of exercises to help the mind to remain, as long as possible, in the present moment.

But this emphasis does not mean to ignore the importance of the past and the future.

Acknowledging that the mind will tend to dwell in the past or project into the future, Gestalt reinforces the need to focus on the here and now.


And what about Emotional Intelligence?

Dr Daniel Goleman popularised the words coined by researchers Peter Salovey and John Mayer. With a particular emphasis on the connection between the fields of psychology and neuroscience, this approach sees time as a precious resource.
Thus, time management is a desirable skill in reaching goals and general productivity.

I won’t overextend myself here, because I will dedicate a full article to this subject very soon. What I will say, is that for this theory, time – as well as emotions – can be managed and controlled.

To influence productivity and, therefore, success, you need to understand and control your emotions.





Part III. The importance of the here and now. A practical approach and some exercises


Time is the heart of existence.” Henri Bergson


In this final part, I’d like to share with you some tips and exercises which will help you to remain in the here and now, focused and attentive, increasing your awareness.

Trust me: your brain will thank you.


  • Breath in and breath out

Sit comfortably and relaxed. Check that your spine is straight and that you’re not putting extra pressure on your shoulders.

Pay attention to your breathing, without modifying it. Just observe it.

Now, consciously, inhale slowly through your nose, counting up to 5.

Hold your breath, counting up to 5 again.

Slowly, breath out, always counting up to 5.

Repeat the exercise 3 times and then breathe normally.


  • Focus on the here and now

Choose an external object or sound which catches your attention (a pen, your phone, Alexa, a conversation next door, a dog barking outside the window).

Think about the object. What is it like? Does it have a particular shape, colour, smell, sound? Does it have a specific function? Note everything which comes into your mind.

Now, describe it again, beginning with: “At this moment, I notice the sound of…”, or “Right now, I’m seeing…”

End the exercise whenever you want.


  • Recent past, present and next future

Take a moment and choose a non-work-related activity which you often do and enjoy (e.g. going to the gym, reading, listening to music while commuting, your yoga class in the morning).

Think about the last time you did it. When was it? How was it? Try to use adjectives to describe it: fun, stimulating, challenging, pleasant. Think about it and try to recreate the emotions and sensations felt at the moment of the activity.

Now, think about the next time you will be doing the same activity. When will it be? How do you imagine it will be? Why? Try to anticipate your sensations and emotions and describe them.

Finally, take a deep breath and come back to here and now. Where are you? What objects surround you? How do you feel now?


Following any of these exercises, take a moment to think about your experience. Was it easy? Was it uncomfortable? Would you like to repeat it some other time and see what happens?

I strongly recommend using pen and paper (or your phone for that matter) to record the experience. That way, when you repeat it, you can compare notes and follow up changes and progress.


Note: This article was specially written to complement the course “Time management across different cultures”, that you can check out here.  The course, by Maria Antonietta Marino, is one of the many that Mudita Consultancy offers to those in seek of deeper understandings.”



Sources and recommended readings:

Arlow JA. Psychoanalysis and time. J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 1986;34(3):507-528. doi:10.1177/000306518603400301

Freud, S. Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (SE) (1886-1939) Vol I – XXV

Green, A. (2002). Time in Psychoanalysis: some contradictory aspects. London and New York: Free Association Books.

Goleman, D. (1995)  Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ

Goleman, D. (2000) Working with emotional intelligence.

Perls, F.  (1969) Gestalt Therapy Verbatim

Perls, F., Hefferline, R., & Goodman, P., (1951) Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality.

Rubin A., Geva N., Sheintuch L., Ziv Y. (2015) Hippocampal ensemble dynamics timestamp events in long-term memory. Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. eLife 2015;4:e12247 DOI: 10.7554

Soysal Acar, A.Şebnem & Bodur, Sahin & Hizli Sayar, Gokben. (2005). The here and now therapy. Anadolu Psikiyatri Dergisi. 6. 274-280.

Trautmann, T. R. (1995). Time: Histories and Ethnologies. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Tsao A, Sugar J, Lu L, et al. (2018) Integrating time from experience in the lateral entorhinal cortex. Nature. 2018;561(7721):57-62. doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0459-6.


Leading with Empathy: an essential skill to achieve success

Leading with Empathy: an essential skill to achieve success

Leading with empathy makes the whole difference. In this article, we already discussed the meaning of empathy, the difference between cognitive, emotional and compassionate empathies and the role they each play in workplace dynamics, forming an essential part of any successful business.

Now, having acknowledged that empathy plays such a fundamental role that it might even define the course of the enterprise itself, it’s time to dig deeper, learn how to apply it and also, how to improve it.

A lot has been said already about its implementation, but the truth is that there is still a long way to go.

Most corporations still struggle to understand the real value of empathy which, ultimately, should be at the core of any company culture.

Why? Well, leading with empathy is not easy. Firstly, because it relates to ethics and secondly, because it works in favour of the company, bringing loyalty, productivity, and benefits.

Instead of beginning a real implementation project (like regular meetings and seminars to learn and discuss the topic and decide the best course of action, or getting a consultant in to facilitate the changes), employers are finding more and more employees resigning on a daily basis as a consequence of “false empathy”, or the pretence of an empathetic approach.

Not to mention the high cost of losing clients, which is another flagrant example of the lack of empathy in any business.

So, how does a company take the big step and begin a serious and long-lasting transformation? 

leading with empathy


The first step towards leading with empathy should be to acknowledge the lack of an empathetic culture and the second is to also acknowledge the need to create one at the heart of the company.
Once these two primordial steps are completed, the company can move forward and begin the process.


Here are some ideas that can be implemented across a corporation by each and everyone in it. These strategies/new behaviours will change the face – and the heart – of your company:


• Pay close attention to your clients’ needs and requirements

• Improve timing and quality in the delivery of goods or services, according to your clients’ needs

• Make meaningful and long-lasting connections with key members in the organisation

• Be able to solve difficulties or help others with hindrances, in time

• Create bonds and connections that will form the basis for future loyalty

• Create (physical) space and time for those connections to flourish

• Open the doors to innovation based on trust and respect


But there is more: what else you can do to lead with empathy, right now?

Well, you can:

Show gratitude: say thank you more often, appreciate the time and effort that others invest in you, your product and your service. Give credit for the things well done. Being grateful not only creates bonds but also shows respect and dignity

Show you listen and care: practice active listening which can restore confidence and help build loyalty. A high percentage of employees, as well as customers, feel their opinion doesn’t matter. Make yourself available: create surveys, ask direct questions, handle 1-to-1 meetings, be sure that your customer service is providing the necessary assistance

Share stories with a positive outlook, whenever you can but especially before beginning a meeting. Sharing creates a bond and helps to set an ambiance of collaboration, willingness, openness and receptiveness

Listen to your co-workers and team members. Make some extra time to give others the opportunity to share. Make room, physically and emotionally, for the others’ experiences. Let people talk and listen to their stories.


And…there is even more you can do!

Give constructive feedback. If you find yourself having to give negative feedback, walk the extra mile in the shoes of your employee and try to create a constructive atmosphere. With the right words, you will reinforce your employee’s confidence instead of making them feel demotivated. This will open the doors to change and improvement

Pay real attention to your customers. If you understand their needs and learn to decode them, you will be able to point the company in the right direction, also giving it the chance to be open to creativity and innovation.

(A similar post was previously published in Chery McMillan website).


Maslow and motivation

Maslow and motivation

Where does your drive come from?


Maslow wrote one of the most famous theories about motivation: the Hierarchy of Needs. However, this is just one of the multiple existent theories about motivation

The origin of motivation can be uncertain because it is the by-product of multiple combinations of variables. But we all know that motivation is fundamental. It is a key factor for continual improvement and growth.

Motivation at work is paramount and can determine our professional future, and in many ways, our daily life as well.

Motivation is a fire we all need to keep feeding!

How motivation leads to success is a question I get asked frequently, but to better understand the possible answers, we need to explore the different theories behind them a little.


What will we be covering here

Theories on motivation


Maslow’s pyramid

Critics and updates

Relevance and examples


Some of the most famous theories about motivation are:

📌 Hierarchy of needs, by Maslow.

📌 ERG theory: Existence needs, relatedness needs and growth needs, by Alderfer.

📌 Two-factor theory, by Herzberg.

📌 Reinforcement theory, by Skinner.

📌 Need for achievement, affiliation and power, by McClelland.

There is also:

📌 Adams’ equity theory

📌 Locke’s goal-setting theory

as well as so many more.



In this post, we will cover one of the most famous theory’s: Maslow’s.


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed, in his 1943 paper called “A Theory of Human Motivation“, a first draft of what would be a complete theory regarding human needs.

That theory would be fully explained later in his 1954 book, Motivation and Personality.

At the time, it revolutionised the behavioural sciences worldwide.

Based on stages, Maslow envisioned a theory that takes into consideration the universal needs of human beings and also, that those needs would be at the base of human motivation.

Each level represents a need that must be satisfied first in order to move forward.

That’s the drive for motivation: ultimately, the satisfaction of the needs. And the ultimate goal would be to attain the last level.

The theory is typically depicted as a pyramid where, at the bottom, we find the fundamental, physiological needs (those that relate to survival) and then self-actualisation at the top, the needs that deal with personal growth and development.



Let’s take a look at the hierarchy in detail:

1. Physiological needs. Here we find the need for food, sleep and any activity that prevents distress at a physical level.

2. Safety needs. Here, Maslow talks about the need for safety in terms of protection and being free from danger.

3. Social needs. At this level we find the need for love, affection, friendship, and also, a sense of acceptance, community and belonging.

4. Self-image needs. Also known as self-esteem, includes self-respect, the feeling of achievement and being respected.

5. Self-actualisation needs. The last stop, the ultimate attainable goal. This includes the need to grow and develop as well as the need for personal fulfilment.

How is the theory viewed in today’s world?

Maslow’s theory has been deeply criticised mainly because he made it perfectly clear that each level of the “ladder” had to be climbed before passing to the next one.

In 1976, Wahba and Bridwell presented a paper about the need for additional research that backs up the theory.

In 2010, Renovating the Pyramid of Needs: Contemporary Extensions Built Upon Ancient Foundations, a paper by Douglas T. Kenrick, Vladas Griskevicius, Steven L. Neuberg, and Mark Schaller, published in Perspect Psychol Sci, proposed a new theory (with more levels) and not without controversy.

Today’s view of this is slightly different, as levels are regarded as continuously overlapping each other and not as a strict hierarchy.


“Motivation theory is not synonymous with behavior theory. The motivations are only one class of determinants of behavior. While behavior is almost always motivated, it is also almost always biologically, culturally and situationally determined as well.” 
― Abraham H. Maslow, A Theory of Human Motivation


Why is his theory of any relevance to us?

Because you can use it as a route map, to develop a style of entrepreneurship, management or leadership focused on the needs of your clients, teams, employees and stakeholders.

For example, if you’re an executive or a manager, you can use it in the workplace for:

🔸 Improving safety in the workplace
🔸 Promoting cooperation and teamwork
🔸 Giving credit and value
🔸 Providing space for career guidance and mentoring

If you are an entrepreneur, you might get ideas for producing products or services that have to do with some of the needs. For example:

🔸 Offering support and insurance, as in a refund or a 100% satisfaction guarantee policy
🔸 Creating bonds and the sense of belonging, as in social media communities

Also, if you want to appeal to the need for esteem, you can touch on any area related to lifestyle, vehicles, clubs, entrepreneurship, entertainment, beverages, etc.

And any charity, social responsibility or investment will be linked to the highest level of fulfilment: Self-Actualization.

“Self-actualized people…live more in the real world of nature than in the man-made mass of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs and stereotypes that most people confuse with the world.” 
― Abraham Maslow, Hierarchy of Needs: A Theory of Human Motivation


More examples

Public speaker and author Denise Brosseau, in her course “Becoming a Thought Leader”, mentions that Chip Conley updated Maslow’s hierarchy when he was writing his book about “building one hotel into the second-largest boutique hotel chain in the world”, so that the resultant framework was detailed enough to clearly show the principles behind his actions”

And in fact, in his book, Peak, Conley shows how to apply the “fulfilment principle” to a company, so the businesses can achieve their fullest potential.

Before closing, I’d like to suggest a very short exercise which has already been shared with my LinkedIn friends. It is about self-motivation, and I’d like to know the results if you give it a try.

It goes like this:

📌 write down (in capital letters) one goal you want to accomplish. Just one goal!

📌 below that, write down the reasons for wanting that. Think about Maslow’s pyramid and write down which of the mentioned needs this goal will fulfil

📌 now, write one thing that you can do TODAY to be closer to that goal. An achievable, realistic, very simple thing, you can do TODAY to be closer to that feeling of achievement

📌 commit to it

📌 at the end of the day, go back to your writing and reflect: did you do it? How does it feel?

Drop me a line and let me know.

3 types of empathy for a better life (and business)

3 types of empathy for a better life (and business)

Empathy: a definition

The term empathy was introduced to the English language by American psychologist E.B. Titchener. He coined “empathy” as a translation of the German word “Einfühlung”, but at the time, he was referring more to other phenomena, such as motor mimicry (an imitation of other people’s behaviour).

But what we understand today, is different.

Simply put, empathy can be defined as the ability to comprehend others’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand what is going on, without needing to have had the same experience.

Empathy takes more time and effort than sympathy and it is built on self-awareness.

Why? Because mastering your own emotions leads to being open enough (and willing to) understand others’ emotions as well.

“(…) when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
― Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

What will we be covering here

The importance of empathy

Which results?

Three types of empathy

Words matter

Empathy in the workplace

How to practice empathy

How to improve it

Ever since my first blog post about Emotional Intelligence, I’ve always said that empathy, like any other skill, can be learnt and improved. Just like a muscle. You can take it to the gym to prevent decay or work on it daily to make it strong and significant.

The importance of empathy in our daily life is pretty understandable; but why are its results of such vital importance when it comes to business?

Because if we can tune ourselves to our customers, co-workers, peers and superiors, we might be able to get better and faster results.

Just to name a few of them:

👉 Improving timing and quality in the delivery of goods or services, according to our clients’ needs

👉 Making important and long-lasting connections with key members in the organisation

👉 Being able to solve difficulties or help others with hindrances in time

👉 Creating bonds and connections forming the basis of loyalty

👉 Opening the doors to innovation based on mutual trust and respect

Empathy has its roots in self-awareness, nurtures itself in self-management and paves the way to relationship management.


As with any other skill, empathy needs to be interlinked with other competencies and work in tandem with them to really perform at its maximum potential. 

The three types of empathy according to the Goleman model

Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman broke down the concept of empathy into the following three categories: Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate.

Let’s take a quick look at them:

Cognitive empathy

This refers to the ability to comprehend what a person might feel or think. It is like a channel of “information”.
It answers the question: “What is the other person going through?” For example, “Tom would like to speak with his supervisor about a possible promotion, but he seems to have difficulties in finding the right way to open up a conversation ” or “My clients have been asking for a direct channel of communication with my business; the Q&A page on my website does not seem to be enough for them”.

Emotional empathy

This refers to the ability to understand the feelings of another person through an emotional connection. It answers the question: “How does the other person feel?” For example: “Tom feels his supervisor is not going to pay attention to his request, he feels intimidated and insecure and this is why he is delaying the conversation” or “My clients feel frustrated as they would like to have a direct channel of communication, with a real person and not a bot”.

Compassionate empathy

This is the third type, and goes far beyond the first two, as it involves action: if we understand and share the feelings of the other person, we can actually help. It answers the question: “What can I do to help?” For example, “I might help Tom to find ways to open up and be confident” or “I will implement a direct channel of communication on my website and a customer service line on Social Media”.

TOP TIP: words matter.

Showing empathy through words helps.

After encountering a new situation and needing more information: “Would you mind telling me more about this? The more I know, the quicker we can get it sorted”

After discovering a new event or situation: “I just wanted to let you know that I understand what you feel”

After receiving an email with a request or comment: “Would it be more convenient for you to discuss this over the phone or in person?

If you feel ready to take action: “Is there anything I can do for you? ”

Empathy in the workplace

In their 4th annual empathy study, Businessolvers’ report shows that:

📌 72% of CEOs say the state of empathy needs to evolve

📌 58% of them struggle with showing it in a consistent way

It is clear that there is still a lot to be done. Even though corporations are aware of the importance of incorporating empathy into the culture of the organization, there is still a gap between the intention and the action.

Making empathy part of the company’s culture calls for a conscious effort.

Why is it so important to build emotional empathy and implement it?

Research has already proven that empathy, among other things:

👉 boosts productivity
👉 accelerates innovation
👉 increases loyalty and customer satisfaction
👉 creates long term bonds and cooperation

So, given that there is still so much to do in this field, let’s take a look at simple but effective solutions that we can implement right away:

• Show gratitude: say thank you more often, appreciate the time and effort that others invest in you, your product and your service. Give credit for the things well done. Being grateful not only creates bonds but also shows respect and helps with dignity.

• Show you listen: practicing active listening restores confidence and helps build loyalty. A high percentage of employees, as well as customers, feel their opinion doesn’t matter. Make yourself available: create surveys, ask direct questions, handle 1-to-1 meetings, be sure that your customer service is giving the needed assistance.

• Share stories with a positive outlook, whenever you can but especially before beginning a meeting. Sharing creates a bond and helps to set an ambiance of collaboration and willingness, openness and receptiveness.

• Listen to your co-workers and team members. Make some extra time to give others the opportunity to share. Make room, physically and emotionally, for the others’ experiences. Let people talk and listen to their stories.

3 top tips to improve your empathy

👉 Know yourself and your emotions

👉Practice active listening

👉 Open up space for reflection


👉 Know yourself: self-awareness and self-management are the first steps that will help you improve empathy. Both will help you with: knowing yourself, your emotions and reactions, and also, being ready to manage your own feelings, creating, with confidence, a space to listen carefully to others.

👉Practice active listening and connect with the other person. Be interested in speech but also in body language. Open yourself up to understand and if you don’t, ask questions, be curious and willing to learn and understand new perspectives. Focus on understanding the situation (cognitive empathy) and how the person feels (emotional empathy).

👉 Open up space for reflection and practice self-awareness: you can relate to the others’ experience if you have had a similar one, but you can also imagine how it looks if you don’t. Explore your own feelings and emotions and ask yourself what you would do in a similar situation. Get ready to implement a solution and take action, showing compassionate empathy. Simply, ask: how can I help?


By now, you know that developing these skills will certainly help improve your social and emotional intelligence quotients.

If you want to improve this important skill, book a free 15-minute consultation with me. After the call, you will get a follow-up email with my proposed plan of action.


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