The illusion of managing time

The person who conceives of time differently, as an endless resource, can manage their 'self' by freely choosing what to do in the moment towards achieving a vision. This choice still exists, even if the task had been allocated by another person.

A well-written McKinsey Quarterly article, penned in 2013 by Frankki Bevins and Aaron De Smet, started with this: "To stop wasting a finite resource, companies should tackle time problems systematically rather than leave them to individuals".

The article cites a manager, already working an 18-hour day, who the CEO said has another 30 hours available during the week and 48 hours over the weekend. The resource that is being mismanaged here is not the time, but the leadership and employees.

That opening statement sets the scene and reflects the authors' concept of time as a scarce resource, to be rationed and strictly scheduled. I prefer a concept of time as a valuable resource to be invested carefully. One response to my preference would be that I am just quibbling over words. I am learning that words are powerful in shaping our reality, and so must be used carefully to create the right mindset. If one were to conceive of time as a free resource, it would more naturally be used with generosity and flexibility as needed, rather than being strictly planned and allocated. If time were also to be considered valuable, as with valuable items where one is conscious of where they are, one would choose what to do in every moment of time. Such a choice would not originate from the pressure of scarcity. 

In many ways, time existed before us and is endless. Human beings are the scarce resource, and for this reason must manage themselves, not time. Time keeps moving relentlessly, and we choose what to do as it keeps moving. None of us are allocated a portion of time to secure or manage. I often catch myself voicing a wish that time would slow down for me, so I could have more of it. It is folly, and comes from a place of wanting to control time - an impossibility. When I come to my senses, I re-evaluate what choices I am making, and whether they result in a 2am bedtime or 11pm bedtime. I could have a shorter workday and be unfulfilled, perhaps because it was forced on me - a victim of deadlines I complied to. On the other hand, I could have a longer day where I have chosen my tasks, even if allocated; 'chosen' because I chose to comply for my personal purposes.

The alternatives often seem unavailable, because I may have made previous choices which keep me beholden to other people and things. If I am in rising debt, the urgency of getting debt-free may constrain me to undertake more, which results in working what another might consider to be unreasonable hours. By simplifying our lives and letting go of attachment, we can open up the ability to freely choose what to do with our time, most of the time. Someone close to me now 'travels light', acquiring very little and giving away most gifts they receive. Her ability to make choices is vastly improved.

Seeing time as a scarce resource is more likely to result in a short-term, stressed existence than a value-led, long-term one. According to the Mckinsey article, "...only 52% said that the way they spent their time largely matched their organisations' strategic priorities. Nearly half admitted that they were not concentrating sufficiently on guiding the strategic direction of the business".

So why do we do this, after all, when the projects, structures, and culture of an organisation are shaped by people who know that culture and systems can, with effort, be changed for better organisational health? There are, of course, people who thrive within strict, pressured, rigid time structures, remain healthy and high achieving, within a narrow 'task' performance band. In my experience, this is unsustainable in the long term. Most suffer it for a financial purpose and would exit such an environment at the earliest opportunity, either temporarily or permanently. The hidden costs are substantial.

Leaders in organisations are making decisions that are increasing pressure on everyone, under the overhanging premise that machines will soon out-pace the human if the human does not continue to show added value and do more, faster. Rather than focus on treating time as a finite resource, it would be more sustainable to carefully consider the implications of decisions as choices made by leaders on how they expect employees to manage themselves. Employees, in the same vein as self-leaders, must also approach their life and work with a sense of choice.

Time is its own master, and it cannot be managed.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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