Time, all the time

If you read productivity books or speak to any professional about effectiveness and efficiency, you’ll hear mention of time more frequently than is possible to count. It’s everywhere and time management is the flavour of the month. I Googled “time management blogs” and returned 2,900,000 results.

We’re spending a lot of time talking about time.

Further investigation reveals that there are a few mainstream beliefs about time management that seem to attract few arguments:

1) Planning is probably good, but not too much planning and not rigid planning;

2) You should plan to do important things first, but not always, and there is flexibility in the definition of important; and

3) Time is finite. A non-renewable resource. It is the most precious commodity.

I’m going to focus on time as a finite resource. More precisely I am going to focus on how, by wasting the time of others, you are not only committing the biggest productivity sin of all, you are also violating their fundamental human rights as outlined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But first, this

This post is 1362 words long. At an average reading speed of 200 words per minute, you are about to invest 7 minutes in reading it. I think it’s worth the investment, but is right now the best time to read? Are you supposed to be doing something else? Is there an important phone call you need to make, a report to write or a boat to build?

If so, then please, stop reading and go and put your mind and body to that other task. Reading articles (no matter how well written) should not be at the top of your priority list.

It’s okay; these words will still be here when you return.

Finite and non-renewable

Without delving into science I don’t understand, I think we can agree that time is most likely a finite resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. There is no undo or redo button.

Of course, Seneca said it better – “Counting even yesterday, all past time is lost time”.

It was true 2000 years ago, it’s true now, and, even if I understood the movie “Interstellar” correctly, it might be true in the future.

That second that just passed is gone. No value can be placed on an item that cannot be repackaged, rebundled, reused and resold. We can’t barter on getting that second back or change what it was used to accomplish.

Time is finite, non-renewable, and therefore infinitely valuable.

We cannot afford to waste a second

I’m with Ray Kurzweil, and others, in wanting and believing that living forever is possible. Even with that in mind, time is still too valuable to be wasted. Never, ever, should we look back at a moment, a day or a year and say “well, that was a waste of time”.

Even though I plan on living forever, I may not. Hell, I may not even survive this sentence. My heart might give up; I might choke on my espresso or a truck may drive through the front window of this café.

Every minute we survive needs to mean something. There needs to be a constant sense of the value of the activity, the choices we make and how we choose to spend the enormous wealth constantly surrounding us.

Doing nothing may not equal wasting time

I’m not proposing going hard at life 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I don’t believe we should spend every second of the day hunched over a keyboard, an engine or a patient. Time and work are not the same things. Productivity and output are totally different concepts.

There are times when sitting on the sofa for 2 hours reading a magazine is the best thing you can do. Whether it’s washing your car, or standing in line waiting for the best barista to craft you a flat white, or sitting on the beach with your toes in the warm sand, all these things are fine.

If.

If.

If you shouldn’t be doing something else. This is the key. Downtime is crucial to sustained success. Burning out isn’t a sign of Productivity, it’s a sign of a lack of foresight and prioritising. Crashing your car because you are too tired because you stayed up all night finalising a report is not the optimum outcome and does not illustrate good decision making.

So do those things that relax and recharge you. Invest time in yourself. You are worth it!

Everyone’s time has equal value

Not only can we not afford to waste our own time, but how can we be so egotistical and sociologically insane as to think it is acceptable to waste someone else’s time? What is wrong with people who believe this to be a fair exchange? My priorities over someone else’s, or my search for meaning in place of your struggle?

The person you drag into the 3-hour meeting, the co-worker you email at 10 pm because you’re stressed about the final proposal or the supplier you make wait in reception for 15 minutes so you can power frame them in an amateur display at negotiation. These are people whose time you have wasted.

Their time means something. It means the same to them as your time means to you. By definition, a commodity with an infinite value is of equal value to them as it is to you.

In fact, the sin of wasting someone else’s time might just be the worst of all. How do we, as a society grasp the concept of “acceptable” waiting and delays? Is it okay to be 5 minutes late? Maybe. What about 15 minutes? What about 30 minutes?

How do we account for stealing 15 minutes of someone’s time? Can we apply a discount or a surcharge to the next invoice, can we give them some of our time or do we just smile and make an excuse?

There is no excuse

No. There is no excuse and there is no possibility of adequate compensation. We have stolen from them something much more valuable than all the money in their pockets, their intellectual property, or their car and home. We have robbed them of the freedom to choose how to spend their time.

It’s done; it’s gone. Whatever opportunities that time held have now passed. Was there a phone call they could have made or a quick IM they may have sent? All the things that could have been accomplished. In fact, we’ll never know because we don’t get to find out.

We stole their time and we need to promise humanity we will never do that again.

Take the pledge

Commit, from this second, to never waste anyone’s time.

Please don’t ask to waste another’s time because most often they will say yes. Most people will gladly offer you time, especially if they don’t see the true value it has. In fact, even if they are fully cognizant of the value of their time, many people will say yes so that they don’t feel terrible for rejecting your request.

It’s your responsibility to be conscious of the price others pay when you ask them for a minute, or to attend a meeting, or to read a document. Is the matter so significant that they should sacrifice a small amount of their precious time to you? Is it vital that they should place your needs, wants and desires above their own?

Let’s start a campaign to right these wrongs.

Join me, fellow anti-time wasting crusader, and take the pledge:

“I, <insert name>, armed with the knowledge that time is finite and infinitely valuable, promise never to waste anyone’s time.”

Once you’ve taken the pledge, live the promise. Be the one who cares about everyone’s time and is thoughtful, kind and generous when spending the finite resources of others. Be the change you want to see in the world!

But what about violating our fundamental human rights?

I didn’t forget. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights “sets out…fundamental human rights to be universally protected.”

I contend that wasting the time of others is a violation of Articles 1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 17, 18, 20 and 23.

Feel free to leave a comment below. I will respond to all comments when I have time.

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