Four Unusual Yet Useful Periods of Time

Posted by in Uncategorized

The names we give to time affect the way that we think about time passing. A morning is different from a half-hour and that’s very different from a nanosecond. Over the years people have come up with several ways of talking about time that aren’t so common.

Check out these ways of telling time to see if maybe you need to add a new time unit to add to your vocabulary.



The fortnight is two weeks. It’s a useful term for salaries and wages, although in the states we use biweekly instead.

The root of the word is simply the Old English way of saying “fourteen days” and is from before the 12th Century.

My own appreciation of the fortnight comes from when a former apartment was being worked on for a couple months. The bathroom was out of commission and I’d occasionally ask the contractor when it would be done.

Every time his answer was “two weeks.”

I didn’t realize for a month or so that he kept giving me the same answer. I wasn’t sure whether his estimate was always bad or he was just giving me an answer to get me off his back. So the next time I saw him I asked him:

“Hey, you always say ‘two weeks’ when I ask about the bathroom. Are you just saying that because it gives me hope, but is also long enough for me to forget about it?”

“Heheh…. two weeks!” and he walked off.



Sounding like a word to summon the undead, “nychthemeron” is instead a 24-hour period of time.

Where the technical day starts and ends at midnight, the nychthemeron often uses dawn or dusk as endpoints. Similar words in other languages translate to “day-night” or “night-day.”

The idea of one full nychthemeron is often used as an idea of some way to get a good view of someone else. Many articles and movies are about “a day in the life of…” Some examples include Dazed and Confused and the TV show 24.



Lincoln famously uses the term “score” in the Gettysburg Address. Since score means 20, he was able to say “four score and seven years ago” instead of just “eighty-seven.” It adds a little more music and rhythm to the intro of the speech.

The origin of the value of score seems to go back to the use of counting large amounts of items or animals. Instead of making a mark, or a score, on a piece of wood for each animal, a shepherd can make four marks for 80.

The psychology of the value of 20 remains strong today. When talking to other online retailers the $20 level seems to have a magical hold on customers’ minds. Up to that point they’re much more willing to buy something just to try it out. Go beyond and it’s a harder sell.

Over on Kickstarter the most popular pledge level is just a little higher at $25. Of course many Kickstarter projects aren’t done just for buying the item, but the altruistic urge to help someone else achieve their goals.



The Pomodoro Technique is a way of getting things done by focusing on single tasks at a time. The name comes from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that creator Francesco Cirillo was using when he came up with it.

Each “Pomodoro” lasts for 25 minutes. At the end you break for 3-5 minutes. After four Pomodoros you break for 15-30 minutes. Here’s what mine looked like this morning:

  • Pomodoro 1 – Research
  • Pomodoro 2 – Writing
  • Pomodoro 3 – Drawing
  • Pomodoro 4 – Writing
  • Big Break – Outside!

People think that they’re good at multitasking, but a lot of evidence out there shows that that isn’t true. Instead of doing multiple things at once, tasks get juggled and dropped. It can take an average of 25 minutes to resume a task after an interruption. Yup, one whole Pomodoro!

Another benefit is to reinforce the mindset of recovery periods. Thinking of your energy use as oscillations between focus and rest can help you to do better work. For more info, I highly recommend The Power of Full Engagement.

Go your own way

Different ways of telling time are like different tools that we can use. Personally, I’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique and found it to be very useful or getting things done. Everything from new calendar work to writing a blog post like this. Chunk everything down into pieces and before you know it it’s done!