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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Time Management

Too many people try to walk and chew gum at the same time. This is the result of exposure to bad ideas about personal time management, specifically something called "Multi-tasking". More later.

It's often overlooked that the management of personal (individual) time is constrained by how public ( social ) time is managed. The management of public time is in the hands of governments, employers and religious organisations.

So there is a calendar with months and days and there is a clock.

The calendar is marked by religious organisations with holy days and by governments with public holidays and there is some overlap: in the UK, the government advises employers to lock out their workers on Good Friday and Easter Monday, the dates of which are variable and determined by religious astrologers. Few workers actually want holidays on these dates - in general, they would prefer holidays when the sun shines - so their ability to make good use of their time (personal time management) is undermined by the way public time is organised.

The clock is usually set by governments. Here in the south of England (where most of the UK population lives) we would like the clocks to be aligned with those across the Channel in Europe, yielding more daylight (all year round) after working hours. But Mr Cameron's government will not have it - despite the best efforts of a Tory MP, Rebecca Harris - and, as a direct result, not only are there more fatal road accidents in the winter gloom of the early evening rush hour but workers cannot optimise use of their private time.

Working hours are still largely determined by employers. Most public sector employers try to open when everyone else is open, in order to reduce demand on their services. Most private sector employers open at the same time as each other. This is why we have rush hours.

In terms of reducing stressful and unfulfilling activity in life, avoiding rush hour travel must be pretty near the top of effective strategies. It's one main reason why working from home is such a popular day dream. But, in reality, influenced by Time Management, people try to make their time on the Bus or the Tube "useful": read a book, answer emails.

I am not convinced. If the journey was shorter, I think people would enjoy the chance to day dream or simply relax. And the best place to read a book is on the sofa.
And on the sofa, reading the book does not need to be combined with any other activity. If it's not a sufficiently pleasurable activity in itself, then it is best avoided.

Time management is generally interpreted as maximising activity and minimising time committed to it.

There is a different approach which would concentrate simply on minimising time allocated to unpleasant and unrewarding activity. Don't like housework? Employ a cleaner!

Of course, that example shows that we are constrained in various ways - in this case, by whether or not we can afford a cleaner. But many of the constraints on our personal time management are imposed by the way public time is organised and managed for us.

I write this in a week when the Government has launched its scheme to make people regret living and working in London. It's called the Olympics and it's going to waste people's time big time.


"The central fact of our existence is that time is the ultimate finite resource" Daniel Kahnemann, Thinking, Fast and Slow


Added 24 July 2018: see now the chapter on "Time Mismanagement" in my book The Best I Can Do (degree zero 2016), freely available from Amazon, Waterstones and other booksellers.

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