Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Time management... how it manages me

How do I make my meetings on time? If someone doesn’t tell me to get a move on, I average all the clocks out and try to get there ten minutes before that.

None of the clocks in my household tells the same time. The car clock is a few minutes ahead of the clock function on my mobile phone, which is another few minutes ahead of the clock in the kitchen. The clocks on my computers at home and at work operate on pre-programmable time zones, none of which recognize where I live or daylight savings time. If it’s 09h45, it must be Baghdad, or perhaps Istanbul.

I don’t need an alarm clock, except as a fail safe device. My internal clock tells me when I am tired and then I sleep for five or six  hours, which almost always means I wake before the first luminous bands of indigo tell me that my beloved blue dawn is on its way. I don’t wear a watch either. There is always someone who will tell me to hurry up or that I am going to be late.

How do I make my meetings on time? If someone doesn’t tell me to get a move on, I average all the clocks out and try to get there ten minutes before that.

Time is almost pure invention. The real truth of time is that we sleep during the dark hours and may be alert and productive during daylight, depending on what we did before we went to bed and whether or not we are motivated to get anything done. The discovery of cultivation added a further behaviour to time: if it’s cold, it is winter, nothing will really grow and you may want to stay home and sleep in a warm bed instead.

The relaxed approach to time began to change with the invention of a fairly accurate clock and disappeared entirely with the industrial revolution, the invention of a very accurate clock and office managers. All of a sudden, hours and minutes became precious: a resource to be measured by the passing of the big and small hands or, if you are younger, the way the numbers change on whatever digital appliance you use to tell the time.

Resource-based measurement of time has even been programmed into our consciousness with expressions such as ‘time is precious’, ‘time is money’ and ‘time waits for no man’. I don’t have a problem with the idea that time and money are the same. The fact that I never have enough and have to work harder than a barman during happy hour to ‘make’ enough of both is plenty of proof for me.

My problem is that although I am adept at managing my time, time has a horrible way of managing me. As things stand right now, I try to get all new projects and tasks done in fifteen minutes. I know for a fact that there is always something else on the way, that planning on a half hour of uninterrupted productivity is a long-term fantasy and that sleep and relaxation are actually decadent personal indulgences.

The other side of the coin of time is our ability to spend time on ourselves. Think of concepts such as ‘quality time’ or ‘taking time out’. In fact the most valuable objects are generally always described as ‘timeless’. Most valuable of all must be the so-called ‘golden moment’, a few short minutes of euphoria and relaxation during which everything is ‘right’. I think I might have had one of those in January 1999.

If ever there was something other than more money on my Christmas wish list, it would be more time.

Christopher Fowler’s ‘The Man Who Wound a Thousand Clocks’ tells the tale of a kingdom run by clocks. A man who is taken into servitude, to wind the kingdom’s clocks, concocts a scheme in which the clocks slowly but imperceptibly run down. Eventually the economy of the kingdom comes to a halt. Fowler makes no mention of the citizen’s reactions, but I read between the lines that they are too busy chilling out and being sluggish to care all that much.

I am very happy with my clocks that are out of synch. They do not diminish my productivity and occasionally they give me a moment or two just to be myself: to sit down, sip on a cup of coffee and take a long, slow drag on a cigarette. Yet still those moments come with all the ugly guilt of theft.

Perhaps I can set one or two of them further ahead and further back to widen the window of time for myself. Time may not wait for any man, but maybe I can delay it just long enough to satisfy me.

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