Most of my books are available on Amazon with prices starting at a penny. Type in "Trevor Pateman" and you will be taken straight to them. A memoir of my childhood (I Have Done This In Secret) was published in June 2018 and is freely available from Waterstones and other bookshops.
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Wednesday, 25 September 2013
Private Time Management, Public Time Mismanagement
We all know
what Time Management is. It’s about making the best use of the finite amount of
time available to us. It’s not just about work time; it’s about how we live our
lives. When a book or a Time Management course – or just our own realisation –
alerts us to the fact that it’s possible to walk and chew gum at the same time,
that’s a liberating and empowering moment.
source of huge satisfaction to get a lot done in a day and, likewise, to
complete a demanding work project without sacrificing the time we want to spend
on other things.
I don’t need
to elaborate. It’s all familiar stuff.
personal Time Management takes place in a social and political context. The
trouble is this, that there are people and organisations out there determined to
waste our time, big time. And I’m not just thinking about Passport Control.
almost universal institution of Public Holidays. These are days on which
governments require or advise employers to lock out their workers. At a stroke, governments thereby deny employees
the possibility of time-managing a part of their (valuable) holiday time – often
a significant part, since public holidays may constitute a quarter or more of
an individual’s annual holiday entitlement.
obvious fact about public holidays is that they lead to overloads – delays - on
public transport systems. Instead of enjoying their time off work, people end
up in queues of one kind or another. And though the committed Time Manager will
find something else to do when in a queue, even if only chewing gum, this is
going to be a second-best use of valuable time.
other frustrations. Here in the UK, Public Holidays – with the exception of
Christmas Day - have never really responded to any popular sense that “This is
when we would all like a day off together”. Instead (to take the worst
example), Easter is dumped on us – and however much it is moved about by the
astrologers, it always seems to coincide with bad weather. Google “Bank Holiday
Washout” and you get a downpour of results.
good our personal Time Management may be, Public Holidays are pretty much a
kick in the teeth. It’s worst in countries where they are compulsory; in the
UK, they are merely advisory – the
Department of Business publishes the annual List of Days. The Prime Minister is
entitled to interfere with the List, adding Days Off to make us stay at home
and watch Royal Weddings and such like. But he never adds days for football
matches or February 15th or November 6th.
Holidays are the paradigm case of organisational mismanagement of other
people’s time. Other examples are more
complicated and vary between countries.
In the UK, the
long-term failure of governments to have
housing policies or transport policies has condemned workers, especially
in the London hub, to longer Home to Work commuting times than are found in
other advanced economies.
Now for sure
there are those who will
insist that they would resist any reduction in their commuting time below the number
of minutes needed to finish the crossword. But in truth, for most
workers commuting time is better shorter. You can try to multi-task on the
daily commute and many succeed, but it’s always a bit forced. As a result,
sixty minutes bad; twenty minutes good.
It would be highly
desirable for governments to have as a policy the aim of cutting average Home
to Work commuting times. That would really improve Quality of Life for millions
of people, because it would free up time for more productive and enjoyable
Of course, the
idea of working towards a Commuting Time target sounds either Utopian or silly.
It is clearly beyond the wit of the kind of governments the UK is blessed with
that housing policies and transport policies should be co-ordinated to get
people closer to their place of work (or vice versa). Some people would say
that it is beyond the capacity of any government. Policy would require endless
tuning and re-tuning and though that’s possible for interest rates,
infrastructure can’t be continuously re- configured.
London had a regional government rather than a glorified Town Council it might
be possible to get the idea on the Agenda. That ain’t going to happen because
central government needs London tax revenues to prop up the loss-making
subsidiaries of Northern Ireland, Northern England and Wales. A London regional
government would almost certainly try to thwart these central government
purposes. The Mayor of London has already caused trouble by suggesting that
Stamp Duty on London house sales should go to his Town Council.
government in the UK is an organisation which camps in London but has no feel
for it. That’s why when Parliament opens each year, governments think nothing
of closing off London streets for a Ruritanian State Opening. So what if people,
on an ordinary working day, are inconvenienced?
Holidays, Commuting Time. These are key areas where public policy or the lack
of it wastes private time. The reader can no doubt begin to think of others. I
will give one final example.
It falls to government to synchronise our watches, to set the time. It is government
which solves this co-ordination problem. Unfortunately, the UK government
chooses a solution which suits the Highlands of Scotland and nowhere else in
Britain, setting the clocks one hour behind those of our near neighbours in
compelling reasons for thinking that south of the Scottish border the clocks
should be aligned with those of Europe (one hour ahead of their current
setting). All the evidence is that road accidents would be reduced if Autumn
and Winter afternoon darkness was not thrust upon us an hour earlier than
necessary. More daylight at the end of the working day would save lives. In
addition, more daylight after work and school increases the range of things
which people (including children) can do with their time. More light enables
people to get more satisfaction from their time.
beginning of the present Parliament, a bold Tory MP (Rebecca Harris) introduced
a parliamentary bill to put the clocks forward one hour from their present
settings. There was a lot of support. But our Prime Minister, David Cameron,
blocked it. I am not sure what compelled him, but it was either the fear of
upsetting Highland Scottish voters or upsetting Eurosceptics in his party who
would reckon sharing clock time with our near neighbours as bad as sharing a
currency with them.
public policy continues to manage our time inefficiently – sub-optimally, if
you like. Time for those who value their time to start protesting. * Added 25 July 2018: See now the chapter on Time Mismanagment in my book The Best I Can Do (degree zero 2016), freely available from Amazon, Waterstones, and other booksellers