“Night and stars.

Time moving fast but too slow. Sad, but also happy decisions taken, bridges to cross.”

<possibly Neruda, but for sure written in a William Montalbano book>


“A work measurement technique consisting of careful time measurement of the task with a time measuring instrument, adjusted for any observed variance from normal effort or pace and to allow adequate time for such items as foreign elements, unavoidable or machine delays, rest to overcome fatigue, and personal needs.”

definition of Time Study <early 1900’s>


“The whole point of efficiency is to maximize “happiness minutes.”

Lillian  Gilbreth <the mother of Time Study in early 1900’s>


This is about Time.

Stressing and obsessing.

Doing and not doing.

Doing it all and having it all.

It is a given we are all stressed out over time <or the seeming lack thereof>.

It is a given we are all obsessed with time <note: at least in the western world>.

Ok. Stressed? That is okay. Painful, but okay.

Obsessed? It is silly.

So let’s discuss this overall obsession with time. It is an odd paradox in that with life expectancy is increasing and people living longer it means we actually have more time than we have ever had before. And yet it seems all around the world – because we are all connected <to each other as well as the global economy> – that we feel like time is getting tighter.

<Reminder: Not so long ago it was money that was tight and time was pretty much taken for granted>

obsessed with time breaking upThere are no more hours in the day than there were a millennium ago, but there seems to be more to do in those hours. In addition there is no longer a clear demarcation between time to do things and time to ‘don’t do’ things. In fact, this is all being compounded by the fact more people are actually choosing to be busier despite complaining about not having enough time to relax and ‘do nothing.’

Now. It is easy to blame technology for all its distractions and 24/7 connectivity, but the truth is that this is more about us <people> than it is technology.

2 thoughts on this:

–          Desire to ‘do’.  Just do It was not only a Nike slogan but an entire attitude … for all of America <bleeding into many western countries>. In other words … if we are not ‘doing’ than something is wrong with us. Activity is often confused with productivity but it doesn’t matter in our culture. Just do. That is, and has been, our mentality. Technology? It simply took our own attitudes and desire to show behavior to an entirely new <higher level>. Technology didn’t create this situation <or attitude> it simply enabled us to do more than we have ever been able to do before.

–          Chemicals <within us>. Every time we feel our mobile phone vibrate or ring or ding … we get a small dopamine injection in our brains. Over time this serves almost like an addiction … which results in us wanting this distraction more and more. So when we aren’t being interrupted we go and seek interruptions <check our twitter accounts, Facebook, pinterest, emails> in order to re-inject the ‘doing chemical’ into our brains <and we feel good within the moments>. Oops. The trouble with this? Every time we are interrupted we need to refocus ourselves afterwards which takes time and energy.

With both of those things said think about this, every second more than 600+ tweets are posted on twitter and over 700+ status updates posted on Facebook. At exactly the same time <within that same second> you are receiving text messages, emails, phone calls and possibly listening to radio or watching TV.

Oh. Our brains can only process 40 bits/second <that is something like a 7 digit phone number>.

No wonder we are not only stressed, but obsessed with time. With so many stimuli bombarding us we have no time for reflection. And reflection is important in that research has shown deliberation affects – with a statistically significant shift – opinions & responses 3 out of every 4 times you make a decision.

Yup. Some reflection can make us change our initial response & decision about 75% of the time.

Oh. And the statistical significance increases even more so with regard to situations in which gains in knowledge were the greatest.

This suggests two things:

–          In a hasty world our hasty decisions tend to suck. Think of it. If, given time, we only stick with our initial gut decision 25% of the time … well … that means most of us are crappy decision makers in a rushed world.

–          Haste makes waste. We are faster but less effective. Oops. Sticking with that formula … uh oh … that means we are less efficient with our time <DOH!>.

But let’s face the facts. It may seem like a ‘hasty world’ but in fact the world is not getting faster <or let’s just says it is a fruitless exercise to invest a shitload of energy wondering why or if the world is constantly getting faster>.

Time is still moving at the same pace it was 3,000 years ago. The issue is simply how we elect to divide up our time.

Whoops. Let me repeat that. Despite the stress, despite our obsession with time and how we use, or don’t use, it – the issue remains — how we elect to divide up our time. Whoa. I have met the enemy and it is I <and not technology or the internet or even some conspiracy>.

Regardless. We have always been obsessed with time.

Which leads me to remind everyone how in the early 1900’s a bunch of relatively smart people analyzed how to most effectively divide up our time in a number of studies call ‘time and motion studies.’ This business efficiency technique study was primarily the work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. The Gilbreths wanted to eliminate wasted motion so workers wouldn’t get so tired in the first place and inevitably increase productivity. Interestingly … the Gilbreths also brought time efficiency management into the home as they raised twelve children <can be found in the book “Cheaper by the Dozen”>. The Gilbreths divided human action into seventeen motions, which they called “therbligs” in order to determine the one best way to do a piece of work. In the end these kind of studies made businesses more efficient as well as speeding up workflow <albeit I could write several scathing articles about how absurd this analysis became as it tried to squeeze every microsecond increment of effort out of every worker>.

<note: this is ‘Taylorism’ and ignore the mental health of those being driven to be more efficient>

Now. One would think that by speeding up at work it would translate into slowing down at home. Instead it meant just the opposite – home life sped up too. In fact, Frank Gilbreth’s wife, who had a lot to say on the subject of exhaustion, understood that scientific time management isn’t something you can leave at the office. By the way this topic wasn’t being discussed last decade, but 10 decades ago. Early 1900’s.

Lillian Gilbreth’s view was that the whole point of efficiency was to maximize “happiness minutes.”

<me> Excuse me, happiness minutes?

For Lillian Gilbreth scientific management wasn’t just a business practice it was a habit of mind and a way of life. From her perspective it was the path to happiness.time is money focus

And, oh, by the way … we <like most of us> drank this kool-aid <efficiency leads to happiness> like it was the best drink we have ever had.

A truth? Lillian was a time obsessed nutjob.

She didn’t know how to cook and yet she still designed ‘scientific housekeeping’ purporting to eliminate wasted motion in the kitchen <around 1927 Lillian Gilbreth published “The Home-maker and Her Job”>:

A housewife should make a study of the science of dishwashing, in order to find the one best way: “In washing dishes, Mary may have the best posture, Mother may move her eyes and head least, Johnny may move his feet least, Sarah may make the best use of her hands.” The trick was to combine the best of everyone’s methods, and then Mary, Mother, Johnny, and Sarah could spend more time doing something other than washing the dishes.

All that said I hesitate to suggest that technology is at the root of any cultural attitudinal shift with regard to time <which affects behavior>. Technology has just facilitated an additional layer of faster choice/decision making mentality (mostly in the form of amplification of process obsessed people and myths that productivity is soley tied to time) which bleeds into the everyday life. Sociologically there are a shit load of things going on <I highly recommend Toffler’s thoughts on social fragmentation) so the people who suggest we have many more possibilities, activities, distractions from which to choose are, well,choosing to ignore the underlying attitudinal change.

The result is, and has always been, that people feel more and more pressed for time mostly because we have always perceived that we don’t have enough of it. And that means we’re less willing to give away bits of it without thinking about it.

It can get a little overwhelming if you take a moment <yes, that is Time> and think of the constant stream of choices facing us. One could regard much of  life as an almost unbroken stream of choice points almost like a ceaseless fast moving river of decisions to be made. This suggests that Time is stressful because it isn’t about seconds or minutes, it is about choices and the fact that people are constantly facing a choice. Make a decision … yes or no, do it or don’t do it.

And in order to make that choice everyone goes through a cost-benefit check that may last anywhere from a split second to days, weeks, or even months. All these choices come up many times a day and time <timely action> is a factor in virtually all of them.

Now. About that ‘timely decision making’ thing. In a book called “Decisive” the authors do a nice job of calling attention to a number of psychological quirks in our decision-making instincts. One of them is our tendency to get trapped in small space decision modes … such as either-or decisions.

This is often called the false dilemma fallacy. It is false because we need not make an either-or decision <there are other alternatives available upon some deliberation and reflection> but we are faced with the dilemma of the impending ‘next choice to be made.’

<reminder: We elect how to divide up our time.>

Recognize this bias and we can consciously broaden the frame of our decision considering “and” instead of “or” as well as exploring entirely different options. All this false dilemma stuff inevitably means that Time becomes a handy shorthand term for other intangibles that are deeply connected with time in people’s minds – things like energy, effort, and attention.


“We observe it, mark it, wish for more or less of it, and even try to escape it. Our relationship with time is constantly changing. Our perception of time does influence our behavior and the way we manage it.

The problems of time in a hectically busy world I think is akin to an addiction to urgency, which demonstrates a need to prioritize anything. Every task becomes urgent, and thus all-absorbing whilst trying to attempt to accomplish too many things in too little time. The relationship between time perception is behavioral, past, or future-oriented.

the infinite mind


Now. In  particular we Americans are obsessed with time. We order our lives around each day’s allotted amount of hours trying desperately to utilize our time as efficiently as possible with all the things that consistently fight for our time.

I won’t list the unending list of ‘possible things to do that fill up Time, but suffice it to say all of this stresses us out.

Many of us feel as if there is not enough time in the day or even in the week to fit in all the things that we need to do. Many of us get anxious when our time is ‘wasted’ by what we see as frivolous yet we struggle to evaluate what frivolous actually is.

This makes Time our friend and our enemy.

time no such thingWe often look back and wish that we had more time, more time to work on relationships, more time to learn the things we feel we need to know to make us more successful, more time with people we care about and even more time creating memories with some adventures <fun>.

And yet we also look back at ‘the good times.’

The struggle inevitably centers around the fact that there are so MANY moments to assess that good and bad also gets blurred. And if you are not careful, despite obsessing over time, you will simply find time is slipping by. It slips by faster and faster always seemingly accelerating <certainly never slowing down> and yet we seem to be gaining nothing. It’s a one way race, with only one end in sight, getting nearer and near, closer and unbelievable closer with every passing moment.

A second is gone.

A minute is gone.

A hour is gone.

A day is gone.

A week is gone.

A month is gone.

Six months is gone.

A year is gone.

A lifetime gone.

In the blink of an eye all those hectic moments have become a burred nothingness of time.

Here is the odd thing. With all this obsessing over these small increments of daily time we are living longer and longer lives. So we actually have more time than ever to do what we want to do. However. We seem to run the risk that in our obsession with time we could end up with a nothingness of Life <or maybe better said a compilation of blurred moments>. And, if you take this thought to its inevitable conclusion, Time has not only lost definition but also meaning it just goes and goes and goes.

We become obsessed with time and doing and hoping to find some meaning <or something meaningful> within that time, but time just keeps going while we are hoping.

Oh. We should note that ‘doing’ and ‘meaning’ are often at odds.

It is an odd relationship we have with time in that with our preoccupation comes a rising perception that time is moving more rapidly that less of it is discretionary and that anything less than immediate is less than good.

Doing has become defined by immediacy.


Time has become defined by immediacy.


“Time is a measurement, it’s not time itself. We’ve given it borders and the more finite we make it, the faster it goes.”

Regis McKenna


Technology is certainly contributing to our warped perspective with regard to time as it collapses time and space, shrinking the gap between idea and action, and the distance between what you want and where you are everything gets shrunk down into the smallest increments. These increments are so small you not only cannot ‘savor the moment’, but the increments taken as a whole are simply a blur.

Social behavior experts, both in and out of the workplace, see overwhelming evidence that people perceive their lives to have only gained speed and to have lost what used to be called free time. Basically technology has permitted us to speed up our lives … which is what we actually desired <to feed our ‘do’ internal compass> … and yet we seem to be gaining nothing <or minimal>. And we are certainly not gaining happiness <I could cite a variety of studies stating we people are unhappier than in the past>.

Now. Inevitably, when you discuss time, you have to realize that time is all about perception. I pulled some snippets of research from JWT to share thoughts on this whole perception issue:

In recent surveys JWT found that in Middle East and North Africa, the concern is not about too many things to do, but too few things to do in too much time. People were more likely to be bored than stressed. However, in developed countries people were obviously pressed for time. 43% Americans, 39% British, 60% Dutch and 47% Australians rate themselves as Time Poor. But then again, if people had to choose between being over-stimulated and under-stimulated – stressed or bored – most consumers veer towards overstimulation. It’s a tradeoff people are willing to make to do all things they want to do.

 … we are learning to live with a different sense of time. Sociological behaviorists study Time for businesses to better understand how people view Time and typically break it down into two distinct segments:

–          Time measured: Time is objective. Tangible increments to be used and not used.

–          Time experienced: Time is subjective. Increments are measured by satisfaction attained. Even a short time spent on things that aren’t pleasurable seems much too long; time spent on things that are pleasurable seems too short.


“… the fact is that most people don’t experience or, indeed, think about time as what the clock measures out, constantly and predictably. For sure, Measured Time is an objective reality that we all have to live with, but Experienced Time is a subjective reality that varies according to the individual’s mind and mood. Time speeds up or slows down depending on how a person is feeling and what he or she is paying attention to …”

JWT trends




Measured Time.

Experienced Time.

I am not sure I have the time to think about whether time is measured or experienced, it is simply Time. And whether time speeds up or slows down depending on how I feel … it is passing me <and us> by.

Plain and simple as that. And our obsession with it is consuming us.

It consumes tangibly: In the final two decades of the twentieth century, the average American added a hundred and sixty-four hours of work in the course of a year … that’s an entire extra month. 

It consumes us intangibly: We are not happier. That extra month is not made up of ‘happiness minutes.’

I say all this, but will note that we will never stop doing.time ordinary people

That is who and what we are culturally.

No matter how much we fret and stress and obsess … we will not change … we will always want to not only be ‘doing’ we are going to want to ‘do more’ <and feel less than full if we are not doing enough>.

What can change?

Our attitude toward this whole immediacy thing.

What I am going to suggest is hard … really really hard <but isn’t anything good?>.

Any good decision maker will tell you that good decisions made in the moment are always a great balance of ‘past, present & future.’ Some will call it being able to see the forest through the trees.

I simply believe most decisions are not major pivotal moments but rather minor pivotal moments <although being able to distinguish between the two can sometimes be tricky> and taking even the briefest moment to reflect upon what got you to that decision point and what is the desired outcome <beyond simply making a decision … which is, frankly, lazy> will guide you to a better decision <and a good pivot> within the moment.

Do you need to invest gobs of time doing this? Of course not. It is simply some reflective momentarily deliberate choicefulness.

Will people remember you were slower than someone else with regard to deciding what to do? Nope. They will only remember that you made good decisions.

Uh oh. But what does that really mean ??!!??

You cannot be obsessed with Time.

Now that stresses me out.


originally posted August 2013

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Written by Bruce