The Tyranny of Time

I have had the privilege of learning about time management from some well respected exponents on the subject. Yet my own time management has never been exemplary. Consciousness of time and tasks can become burdensome reality to many. So time management is a pretty important issue in our lives, especially for those who wish to be high achievers and who need to squeeze all they can out of their available time.

A Time Management Question

Here’s a time management question for you, to help you reflect on some of the philosophical issues of harnessing available time.

“There is never enough time to get everything done, so what are you going to do?”

Now, before you launch off with off-the-cuff answers, let me refine the question a little for you. Let’s image a scenario in which to address this question. Let’s imagine a situation where a person does not have a boss. Maybe they are running their own business, or just managing their life without having to be told what to do, such as a salesman might do.

The point of removing the boss is to have a situation where the person must make their own decisions about time management. If a person is overloaded with work given them by a boss they can always revert to the boss and let the boss solve the problem. I am creating a scenario that does not have that option.

The Scenario

So, we are considering a person trying to achieve various things, but with never enough time to get everything done. Let’s assume that by the end of each day there is at least one more task on the list than there had at the beginning of the day. This just goes on each day, ad infinitum. There is just not enough time to get everything done.

Now, if you were in that situation what would you do?

The Options

One possibility is that you could kill yourself trying to catch up. Since there is never enough time to get everything done (as is my starting premise), there is the option of becoming totally buried and burdened by the tasks. You could, for instance, just spend every waking moment chasing the list of things to do, pushing through them like a galley slave rowing across the ocean.

Some people chose this option. They become a pawn to their workload, ever struggling upstream against it. The work eats up their life and their time and their energy and just about everything else.

Is that how you face your workload?

Alternatively you could just give up. You could realise that the task is undo-able and just not bother trying to do it. “Why bother?” No matter how hard you try you can’t tame the demands, so you will have to leave many things undone. If you have to leave anything undone, then why should you have to do anything at all? Why not leave it ALL undone?

Some people lean toward this option. These are the minimalists. They do as little as they can get away with, because they have lost all heart for the tasks. They feel defeated by the challenge and just can’t face pressing on at all.

Two Extremes

Those two extreme positions stand in contrast to each other. Yet they summarise the limits of our choices. Your approach to the things you have to accomplish will be somewhere between complete slavery to the tasks and complete abandonment.

Some of you are workaholics, completely enslaved to the “To Do” lists in your life. For some that is the secret to their success. For others it is the treadmill that will consume their lives.

Others are work-refusers. They avoid tasks like they avoid leprosy. What they have to do they do as quickly and casually as they can. If they can get out of a task they will go out of their way to do it.

Time is Not the Issue

In either of the extremes which I have drawn out of the simple scenario the issue is not a matter of time-management. The issue is that of heart attitude. It is a character issue.

We are not measured by what we achieve or how clever we are at managing the time allotted to us. We are measured by the “who” that we become along the way.

If you become a slave and elevate tasks above the rest of your life, then that is the “who” that you have become. If you become slack and defeated, then that is the “who” that you have become.

The first issue, then, is not how to do more work, or how to get more things done. It is not a matter of priorities, routine, best practice or time and motion studies. The issue is “Who are you?”

What kind of person are you? Do you know diligence? Do you have a faithful spirit? Do you make wise choices? Are you compulsive? Do you let work or other people’s demands rule your life? Have you given up on things? Just how much have you given up on?

Become a Better You

As you become a better you, by developing godly character, doing things as if for God and not for yourself, you will be better able to manage the issues of your life.

Your workload is an issue of your life. It is not your life. Your time is an issue of your life. It is not your life.

Your character IS your life. WHO you are is what your life is all about. You will face eternal consequences for who you are, not for the way you managed time or processed work.

My advice? Become a better you. Call on God’s grace to transform you and your attitudes and character, until the tasks and choices that confront you are met by someone with godly wisdom and divine grace.

The Curse of Beneficial Systems

We create systems to facilitate good practice, but those systems create artefacts and outcomes which become a curse to us. I have an example in mind and you may be able to relate to it. So let me take you on a reflection and observation walk through the subject of ‘systems’.

Let’s Hear it for Systems

Just about everything works best if the processes are understood and the best practices are followed. That fact is where we get such notions as benchmarking, world’s best practice, time and motion studies, efficiency and so on. A good system is a means of streamlining a process and setting in place appropriate checks and balances to ensure that things are done properly.

Jet pilots must go through a disciplined check-list process before take off because so much is at stake once they get into the air. Henry Ford revolutionised vehicle manufacturing through his production line system churning out black Model T Fords. Good salesmen have a mental check-list which they are attentive to as they guide their client toward the sale. Courts, distribution businesses, hospitals, schools, garbage collection and just about all other processes of life are governed by some form or systematic regulation and process.

So let’s hear a big cheer for systems! Without them many things would fall into disarray – the loss of proper array, or order. We enjoy speed, accuracy, efficiency, reliability and service, among many other benefits directly due to good systems. Systems are incredibly beneficial.

Systems Impose Limitation

For all the obvious benefit of systems, however, they impinge on many processes a form of limitation. Every routine and regulation prescribes a preferred process and outcome, but automatically restricts or denies other outcomes, which may have their own inherent benefits.

The process and outcome of a system, assuming it can be properly regulated and achieved consistently, effectively removes variety, diversity and creativity from the process. The choice of process and outcome is made by someone who may not have the best view in mind. Once a system is in place it may work against the discovery of better process and outcome, simply because it limits the possibility for discovery and exploration of other outcomes.

School systems seem to be failing to produce a high level of academic and personal ability in many students. The system itself militates against some exploration of better options. Traffic flow systems are the product of studies and analysis and the best option that seems to be available at the time. But how many times have you been frustrated by a red light that holds you back from an empty intersection? I find it frustrating to stand at a pedestrian light, being held back from walking across a street where there is zero traffic. The system is in place to protect me, but it creates an artificial limitation of freedom which earlier generations enjoyed readily.

Systems impose limitation. Your only hope is that the benefits of the system outweigh the downside imposed by the limitations.

The Smell of a Baby

Last month my tenth grandchild was born. This grand-daughter will be often talked about in the annals of our family history, as she managed to be born on the kitchen floor! Baby Acacia came faster than her mother expected. Before the parents could get off to the hospital my daughter-in-law, Katie, found herself in second stage labour. So she proceeded to give instructions to her husband and promptly gave birth on her father’s kitchen floor. A dinner event turned out to be much more than expected.

When we caught up with the mother and baby the next day my wife, Susan, was in awe of something she had never noticed before. The baby had a most wonderful fragrance on the skin. Susan kept drawing in long breaths to enjoy the amazing scent. It was reminiscent of a lovely powdery perfume.

Baby Acacia had not been bathed by then and so the natural fragrance from the birth was still on her skin. And that’s when the whole impact of systems hit us.

Hospital Births

Susan has given birth to seven children. She is no slouch when it comes to childbirth and mothering. But she had never smelled the lovely fragrance of the baby like she did with baby Acacia. Why not? Because of the “system”! Susan gave birth to seven babies in various hospitals. Hospitals rely on systems to make sure everything that needs to be done is done and nothing is neglected. Those systems may not be perfect, but they are a guarantee against neglect, malpractice, and so on.

In order to mechanise processes and teach systems to a wide range of people so consistent and uniform practice is maintained, the systems need to be fairly straight-forward and as simple as possible. The hospital system for dealing with newborn babies is such a system.

I recall being in the delivery ward when our children were born. With the earlier births the process was taken over by the nurses who weighed the baby and checked various things before the mother was given much time with the baby at all. Washing the baby was seen as an important early process to tick off the list.

So that’s what happened to that lovely newborn baby fragrance on the skin of each of my children. That fragrance was taken from us, by the System! We had had idea we had missed it. The system gave no attention to it and we had no idea of our loss.

Rippling Repercussions

With that one case in mind consider the question of how many other impacts are imposed onto us by systems. The repercussions of these systematic processes and their prescribed outcomes ripple through our society and impact our lives constantly.

We are under constant impact from systems. Roads create regions of higher exhaust pollution. Waiting rooms create highly infectious environments. Schools frustrate highly intelligent children who must stay in step with the class average. Courts employ legal processes not understood by the average citizens they are there to serve. Mass distribution provides variety, but only of the most marketable kind, not the way you may want or need it. Got the picture?

Systems that Blind

Systems also blind us to what else may be possible. The existence of a system that has regulated processes and predictable outcomes imposes a certain stricture on our thinking. People tend to stick with what they know, for better or for worse, and so the existent system imposes itself on the thinking of the populace. This has the effect of blinding us to what else may be available.

Just listen to a conversation where someone announces they are going to do something outside the system. What you will hear is a chorus of protest from people who accept the prevailing system as something like a gift from the gods that is not to be challenged. The person’s choice might be a home birth, running their car on home brew, representing themself in court, owner building, or whatever. If you are near such a conversation listen in to the responses from those who feel bound to the systems.

And mull over the fact that while we are blessed by beneficial systems we are also cursed by them as well. That might help you improve on the systems in your life. It might lead you to help us all enjoy more beneficial systems. Good Luck.