Other safe experiments with Time Structuring

I’d like to consider how we use the time available throughout the day.  The Transactional Analytic (TA) model suggests six descriptions for ways in which we can  occupy any 24 hour period.

WITHDRAWAL: this is time spent alone or, indeed, alone in the crowd. It is not simply having no-one near us; it can be in a withdrawn state in, say, a meeting or a party.

ACTIVITY: this is purposeful behaviour intended to get a known result, e.g. preparing a meal or driving a car from A to B. One person’s activity might be another person’s  ….

RITUAL: that is – doing something on auto-pilot, simply because it is what you always do. For instance, I have a routine for preparing my breakfasts most mornings. It is now so familiar I can complete it – half asleep! Rituals are not just what might go on in an organised religion. Rituals are things we do repetitively until we no longer need to think much about them. Some help us run our day efficiently. Others fill the hours providing limited benefit or pleasure.

PASTIMES: similar to activity,  but pastiming is behaviour without an obvious focused result. Usually, it’s just for fun. Sports qualify unless you are a professional because it’s a fun thing. There are plenty of other things you could do, but you choose to play that particular sport. Most leisure activities fall into this category.

INTIMACY: this is the tricky one. Here, intimacy does not refer to the obvious – sexual intimacy. Instead, it is a subtle and fleeting experience, often lasting but a micro-second. Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, told us we’d be lucky to obtain 15 minutes of intimacy throughout our entire life span! Nevertheless, it is an important category as the rewards obtained from intimacy are highly prized by us humans. They can help us deal with our small defeats in a disproportionate way.

The sixth time structure, GAMES, and I can only address that at a later date.

You can research this further via sites such as: https://manchesterpsychotherapy.co.uk/time-structuring/



Consider how you spent your time over the last day, or even last week. Mark the point on the chart where you intuition tells you how you spent time on each of the four elements (notice I’ve exclude two elements in this diagram, below).

For instance, as it stands, 25% would be an equal amount of time spent in each element.  You are likely to notice, however, that there is one element that dominates your timetable. There may be another which appears rather neglected.

When you join up the points, you will get a ‘spidergraph’, a picture that helps convey how balanced, or unbalanced, your time structuring is at this time.

It is just one step to asking the question: how might you prefer it to be and then you are back in the world of small, safe experiments in life planning.

Time Structure Spider

Its subjective; only you can say how you structure your time.

When doing this safe experiment, please be clear that this will be a subjective experience. Therefore, it is best done quickly and intuitively. Thinking about it a lot will make you realise its a difficult task to define terms. There are a lot of if’s and but’s to define what actions go in which box!! Rely less on calculation or consultations of your diary.  Have a rapid and impulsive shot at it. After all, it’s only a first shot and you can redo it or refine it later on, if you feel that might help.

If it helps, use percentages in each box and do not be too troubled if they do not add up to 100%! That said, if there is a large difference, say, under 90% or over 110%, consider what that outcome is telling you about the way you spend your time.

You can put in as much thought into this as you like afterwards.


When you have finished the Part One experiment, look at the results and notice if anything surprises you or has made you curious. Make further notes, including information on specific events:

WHAT you were doing ….

WHEN you were doing it ……

WHERE you were doing it …..

WITH WHOM were you doing it ….

and, rather crucially, how might you have preferred it to be?

Depending on the conclusions you draw, what safe experiments can be designed to make a small difference next time around?

Making a record

By using this experiment, you are starting to create a CBT Thought Record; a systematic way in which you can relate any thought (or image) to people, times, situations and our current mood. More importantly, it gives us the chance to examine the evidence that seems to justify our thought. When a Thought Record works well, it helps us to challenge our evidence and even identify contrary evidence.

What a good way to start to make changes. Changing thoughts can lead to changing actions.  As ever, take time to notice the results when an opportunity arises to do that something ‘a little bit different’  This may include intake of liquids in the evening,  attention to how you prepare for bed (bathing, teeth cleaning and tablet taking), and ways you try to settle immediately on turning the light out. Few of us go to sleep as soon as our head hits the pillow.

By now, you will notice my emphasis on taking action. Now there are times when this might not be so helpful and, night-time, when you are preparing for sleep, is just one such time. If this is relevant to you, then consider my comments about sleep management.

Return to


What is a nudge

How to design safe experiments

Why small?

.… and why scenic

More an Transactional Analysis

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