“Time is now currency: It is not passed but spent,” wrote historian E. P. Thompson.
I think this is so true – and so sad. When time becomes your boss – and most scarce resource (currency) , instead of being your friend and servant, that has severe consequences. When haste is defining and limiting your actions, it is probable that in some moment of your life, you may realize what John Lennon meant by saying ” Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.
When haste is defining and limiting your actions, it is probable that in some moment of your life, you may realize what John Lennon meant by saying ” Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”
The interesting perspective related to time is that in principle we are all equal, when time is concerned, the poorest in this world have 24 hours a day as well as the ultimate rich. Then we used to say ’You can’t buy time with money’….or can you. Matt Ridley described our approach to time in his great book ”The Rational Optimist” (2010) in a illustrative way.
Each of us starts with the same twenty-four hours in a day. How we utilize those hours determines the quality of our lives. We go to extraordinary lenghts to manage our time, to save time, to make time. In the past just meeting our basic needs just filled most of our hours. In the present for the huge chunk of the word, not much has changed. A rural peasant woman in Malawi spends 35 percent of her time of farming food, 33 percent cooking and cleaning, 17 percent fetching clean drinking water, and 5 percent collecting firewood. This leaves only 10 percent of her day to anything else including finding the gainful employment needed to pull her off this treadmill. Because of all this, Ridley feels that the best definition of prosperity is simply ”saved time”. ”Forget dollars, cowrie shells or gold”, he says. ”The true measure of something’s worth is the hours it takes to acquire it.”
Here we come to the roots of the problem, when our approach is like that, time automatically becomes a currency, or at least with (real) currency one is able to buy time. Putting monetary value on time was the leading principle throughout the industrial era. The industrial era helped the western countries to raise from poverty, but it also brought us an ‘invention’ called work calendar – and a clockcard. The principle of paying per hour or per month did spread from factory floors into knowledge work, the blue and white collar workforce was also paid by time spent in the office. This again created the need to have the middle management as ’gate-keepers’ with the task of command and control that workforce. Their main task was to guarantee that people spent their working days in tasks that benefitted the company in optimal way. No idle time was allowed when ’working’, later on this brought us the insane Time Management practices – and brought us endless and mostly unproductive meetings, everything was discussed, elaborated and decisions made (or even worse – not made!) in a synchronous way.
I like to refer to a comment on my Facebook timeline, when we discussed this question. “Hmm, my experience here, when I was working for someone else, is that when my calendar was ‘full’, 80 % of those appointments, meetings, seminars, workshops etc were time wasted, nothing fruitful coming out of them. But maybe I was working for a very badly managed organization.”
The emergent Postnormal Era is totally different from the Industrial Era, many developments in technology and business are exponential. And we try to handle this with a linear mindset. It’s easy to forecast a huge transformation and dramatic transition time for our businesses and societies, if we are not able to switch into a logarithmic mindset. And this applies also to our thinking of time.
When we are able to enter a state of flow, then people describe either the feeling of the time stoping – or that they loose the sense of the time altogether.
How do we see time, is it better seen linear .. or not. What is our feeling of the time passing by, the future awaiting us. When discussing this with fellow citizens I get a response that sometimes a moment feels like an eternity, sometimes ’time flies’ like we say. When we are able to enter a state of flow, then people describe either the feeling of the time stoping – or that they loose the sense of the time altogether. I think these diverse experiences clearly show us that time is not linear, at least in a way how we sense it in different situations.
The ancient Greeks had two different perspectives on time, Chronos and Kairos. We have throughout the history of western society mostly used the first one, Chronos. Chronos governes linear, chronological time, all is kept in chronological order, the past, the present and the future are clearly and linearly organized. Kairos as a description of time was in western culture forgotten, because it didn’t support the objectives of the Industrial Era. ”On one hand, Kairos is spontaneous, and one must be able to recognize the situation as opportunity in order to take advantage of it. On the other hand, there is the need to be knowledgeable and involved in the surrounding environment in order to fully profit from the situation. It also means the indeterminate moment that is right for something to occur.” (ref Wikipedia). With emergent Postnormal Era ahead of us, the understanding of time in a multi-dimensional way is fundamental, the full understanding of Kairos will greatly help to prosper in VUCA times, it encourages us to harness serendipity and improves our ’vucability’.
Being self-employed for ten years now, it’s easy for me to understand the trade; my leisure time vs. paid time of potential working gigs. That also means in many cases that a working day may have more than eight hours and Saturdays and Sundays are just as valid working days as the other weekdays. And in many occasions Mondays, Tuesdays etc. can be perfect for going to the lake, having exercise, reading – or just sitting on my rocking chair and thinking, waiting what might unfold in coming moments. So, for me in my current business and life Kairos defines my time frame much better than Chronos.
Yes, I am privileged, and grateful of that. No boss, no strict family obligations, no mortgage, no need ‘to work my brains off’. My calendar is almost empty of scheduled meetings, I have plenty of empty slots – “serendipity slots” like I call them in my calendar. It’s easy to book a Skype or other type of meeting with me, I highly respect the sense of urgency of other people. ” I have time…”, how wonderful this saying sounds when you urgently need someone to reflect your idea or when asking for a small favor – like quick advice etc. But don’t get me wrong, I do work and I earn my living, the difference is that I have ’unplugged’ myself from that unsustainable system with endless talk and synchronous communication.
The urgent need to fulfill one’s calendar with meaningless meetings and ’workshops’ and ’Njet-working events’ with likeminded (and their salaries also paid by taxpayer’s money) bureaucrats looks like a perfect ’busyness plan’.
And I know so many people who are actually the slaves of their calendar, it’s impossible to talk with them spontaneously, or make an appointment, or book time for conversation, ask for help, or actually do anything sensible with them in some reasonable time frame. The answer and an explanation that his/her calendar is full in the coming three week’s time is so pathetic that I really feel sad for them… being a slave of the calendar and a clock… the worst nightmare of industrial era to come true. Actually in many cases, especially in public organizations where the salaries are paid by tax-payer’s money and measuring the impact of action is an unknown concept , ’busyness’ is becoming the mainstream. The urgent need to fulfill one’s calendar with meaningless meetings and ’workshops’ and ’Njet-working events’ with likeminded (and their salaries also paid by taxpayer’s money) bureaucrats looks like a perfect ’busyness plan’. But as everyone understands this ’busyness’ has nothing to do with the real business! The real business people always have some Kairos-type of calendar with ’serendipity slots’ for urgent matters, they have the ’carpe diem’- attitude to benefit from the situation before the window of opportunity closes.
Fifty years from now people will wonder and laugh, how we once had a silly practice – a remaining feature of the industrial era – to actually pay knowledge workers for their time, to take them first to your pay-roll and then try to control that they will be occupied with something which generates value to your organization. This was so ridiculous (they continue laughing and discussing this…), it forced organizations to introduce all these middle management levels just for ’gate-keeping’ and controlling….
But we have hope, this is clearly shown in some comments of my friends in my Facebook stream when discussing this topic, this one will nicely summarize the message: “Right. Actually I dislike the notion ‘spend time’ – it really emphasizes that we talk about currency. If we could see time as a valuable, non renewable resource, we might treat it with some respect. Respecting our own time and especially the time of others is highly needed in our society. Instead of ‘spending’ we probably should start to ‘harness’ or ‘celebrate’ our time.”