In the beginning , man got up with the sun and went to sleep with the sun. The passage of time was measured in days or seasons. Time was spent slowly by hunting, farming and sleeping.
Sometime after, with the invention of clocks I suspect, new measures of time took over: hours, minutes and seconds. The passage of time immediately sped up. The longer time between days and seasons was replaced by the shorter time it takes to download an email, to microwave a potato or to clean the house..
Today, our obsession with time and the way we use it may well be killing us. Many people never stop moving and never stop doing, as if the time they have on Earth must be filled to the very last second. Our relationship with time has gone from non-conscious slow natural living in time to an obsessive fast-paced processed life, dominated by time.
But there are many ways to look at time and no-one way is right. Although our upbringing, culture and evolution may have pushed us in one direction, it is still possible to change our vision of and relationship with time… In this post, I propose 4 visions of time-spending.
Imagine a couple preparing for a big dinner party. At 5pm, Jennifer starts to peel potatoes. She stops at 6pm. John, her husband, plays guitar from 5 to 5.30, then peels potatoes for 30 minutes. In terms of potato peeling, Jennifer has been twice as productive.
Productivity is one of the preferred measures of time used in many factory environments, including, in the past, call centres. People judge their time-usage in terms of how much time they spend doing “stuff”. Their “performance” is clocked in and out. The most productive person is the one who “performs” the longest.
In my last full-time employment, I knew a very productive girl. She would arrive at 7am and “do stuff” until at least 7pm. She rarely took the time to stop and chat, eat (or breathe) – she just worked, worked, worked. Unfortunately she wasn’t very good at her work, which was in itself not of the greatest importance to the company. But she was productive.
Between 5 and 6pm, Jennifer peeled 40 potatoes. Starting 30 minutes later, but finishing at the same time, John also peeled 40 potatoes. John was twice as efficient as Jennifer.
Many (poor) time-managers focus on being efficient. Its all about getting the most amount of stuff done in the smallest amount of time. Systems and processes are created to better multi-task. We text while we drive (!) and swallow the last mouth-fulls of dinner whilst already clearing away the dishes.
In the fitness world, much time has been spent maintaining the body through efficiency (or speed) based programs (in 30 minutes, do as many bicycle kilometres as you can…) but in recent years this has changed considerably to the concept of minimum effective dose: do the minimum required of the right stuff to get the desired result.
Create quality, in time
John proudly announced to Jennifer that he had peeled as many potatoes in half the time. At dinner time, all the guests sat down to eat the results. Those on Jennifer’s side of the table said nothing about the potatoes, simply enjoying their meal. On John’s side of the table, there was much discussion about the potatoes, from the fact that there were none left to the fact that each potato was so small. In his “efficiency rush”, John had completely ignored any sense of peeling potatoes well. The potato skins were chopped off in 4 exaggerated slices, leaving a small chip-like result.
Although quality output may seem to go hand-in-hand with time and despite the temptation to associate Jennifer’s potato-peeling time with the good results, quality output is in fact entirely nothing to do with time. When we approach every activity as either a “time-filler” or a race to get things done quickly, quality output is sometimes left aside.
But what is the point of the work anyway, if not about creating good results?
Create quality time
While Jennifer and John were concentrating on the evening’s potato requirements, their son William was playing in the garden. As he went up and down the slide, he created nothing. Going in and out of the wood cabin, each time opening and closing the door in a methodical yet meaningless way, he was lost in time and again created nothing.
In some Eastern cultures, the “single-minded” focus on the quality of some activities has a meditation-like focus. The Japanese tea ceremony is certainly not about the amount of time spent drinking tea, the number of cups drunk or the tea itself. When we sit down to read a novel, we tend not to notice the time fly and most adults don’t proudly count the number of pages they have read.
In Pirsig’s book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, the author notes the difference between making quality time on a road-trip (getting there fast) and making quality time (having a good trip). Creating quality time is about being in “flow“, mastering and loving a task, or doing it for its own sake. * The output is in some respects irrelevant.
* …according to the Yerkes-Dodson law, it also happens to produce the best output.
I am writing this post because I have issues with time. For many years, I have been rushing to get “everything” done. After a long working day, I would proudly announce the number of hours worked to anyone who would listen. I would add that I had done “a thousand things” and go to bed satisfied that my time had been well and efficiently spent. And if I should be bothered by any non-quality-output detail, I might even get out of bed to fix it. “Everything” could never be done and certainly not perfectly, but it was my mission to at least give it a shot.
But in reality, I have been wearing myself out. For the last few months (years?), I have lacked focus and lost flow; only thinking about the next objective and a future that never arrives, less in contact with the present moment. Look at my “2012 annual report” and you may realise that I have spent all my time working. And a LOT has been done. Good output too. I have been both productive, efficient and successful.
Now it is time to focus on creating quality time. On time well spent: flow and passion inducing, McLovin’ it. Because I’m worth it.
If you feel the need to do the same, I would encourage you (to):
- Don’t be afraid to go “all-in”
- Delete as much as possible that doesn’t bring joy to your life
- Make sure your goals are PERSONAL
- ..and don’t be afraid to just do nothing!
(Time for a walk…)
Thanks for reading.
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