For whatever reason, we naturally revert to a pretty zoomed-in time scale. As a player I can recall being very frustrated with this, I’ve often thought (and said), “Can we just skip ahead to when we actually get to the city?”
One of the factors is when the players are short of time, because they’re keen to use every second to their advantage, but it can become a habit, perhaps borne of dungeon crawls when every hour was meaningful (if only because it used up precious lantern oil).
Actually, I have the data for our sessions. We’ve had 31, 3-hour sessions covering almost a year of game time. Anyways, long story short, it turns out we average three days of game time per hour of play.
Here’s my advice to myself:
Watch out for accidental zooms, especially on unimportant things. “What are you all doing while Bartle is sharpening his sword?” is an invitation for plot-irrelevant antics. To put it another way, don’t explore things that are likely to be boring. Whenever you can get away with it, assume that things happen one after another, not in parallel.
Whenever you can, advance the calendar, until it becomes habit. Circles tests are a great pretext for this. From Samual Pepys diary shows how inefficient things were in the past, even in urban settings - without telephones, Pepys would regularly spend half a day travelling to a friend’s place, only to find that he wasn’t there. He comes home, and that’s the day gone. A whole day wasted, completely normal. Even in a city, circling up someone you’ve not met in a while could easily take a week, or more so for important political figures with busy schedules.
But in general, assume everything takes a long time, and that the game’s key events are embedded in a backdrop of boring events you’re not examining - start every scene with the words, “Two weeks later,” unless you absolutely can’t.
Zoom out in narration. This is counter-intuitive, but you can sometimes improve the game by letting yourself off the hook of describing scenes or interactions at the detailed level. So much RP advice is about ‘how to get into character’ and whatnot, but it can be really expedient to say things like, "The bartender prattles on for ages about his experiences in the war,’ without you having to prattle on in character.
Frame scenes with presumption. This is the bossy cousin of advancing the calendar, where you presume the PCs made choices that fit with what you’re trying to do.
For example, instead of saying, 'A messenger in the Duke’s livery arrives," and have a little scene where the players find out what he wants, then decide what to do, and what to bring with them, you just tell the characters they’ve been summoned before the Duke, and have the Duke start speaking.
I confess I’m not very good at this, though playing Fiasco or Burning Empires is good practice (since those games made of ‘scenes’ instead of one continuous stream of events).