Stop managing time, it’s been managing you anyway

Time is critical in modern organizations. We have so little of it that, like any other precious commodity, we are urged to manage it effectively. Still, when people started noticing time shortage, they looked for ways to use it more sensibly. Put this in the ambiance of the last century when it all happened, you get time management. We could go back to the Greeks, but I will spare you.

Like gasoline, time is a finite resource. Yet, the gas meter blinks only when it makes real sense. With time, we get constant reminders that we are in the red. The great benefit of time management tools is that they set a framework. Using the gasoline example, time management tools tell you how to adapt your driving/working style to the conditions. They also give you feedback how to how much of a gas/energy and stress guzzler you and your organization are. One noticeable difference: you can turn off your car. Time, you cannot. Another huge and altogether missed difference is that cars are machine, people are not.

Before: if-then…

People in organization tend–it is a big “tend”–to think more on a symptomatic, linear and causal way. In other words: “If this happens and we want to change it, all we need to do it change what causes it, and “voilà!” Except that there are now major limitations to this.

The most obvious is the contextual benefits of the time management tools. We cannot expect them to work everywhere and all the time. The tools that are around are fantastic, and some of them do change people’s life. Another limit is linked to the fact that time management improvements are always under attack. Benefits often does not last because more demands are made and time gets sucked away, so does the energy of the person trying to cope.

We need to repeat the obvious: we are in the second decade of the twenty-first century. A long time ago, in the 80’s and 90’s, we could take care of things in a “if-then” and “plan, do, review” way. That was nice. But this will not happen any more.

Now: a complex world

We are in a complex world and time is not what it used to be. The ever increasing connectivity creates opportunities for complex events to emerge in the most improbable ways and places. This means that control cannot be the way it used to be. The pressing challenge is that organizations tend to look at control the way they did it twenty years ago. And it looks like trying to use horse carriage for express mail delivery.

Lack of time has a tremendous impact in terms of stress. This is a huge cost for the organizations who tend to counter it with more procedures, which require more time… and so on. Trying to fix all the symptoms of organizational acceleration with such tricks has its limits. In the end, it can even become frustrating and exhausting. This is exactly what organizations want to avoid, but that is what they end up doing. Lack of trust gobbles time and this is a reinforcing loop (in laymen’s terms: a vicious circle).

Innovative time

There are places where we haven’t looked enough yet. Here are just a few. Slow people down so they can dream and innovate instead of forcing them to hear a sound whenever an email arrives in they box. Or give more control at the individual level and more responsibility instead of believing that people at the top know better. Reinforce beneficial behaviors such as asking why we are doing the things we do the way we do, and what are the reasons behind the answers. This last point alone can help destroy huge chunks of time thieves. These are so powerful and ever present that no one notices them any more.

In modern organizations, we need to go beyond an operational view of time usage and develop a behavioral and quasi moral approach of time usage. Organizations derive immense benefits from engaging people to become more aware of themselves and the ultimate efficiency of their actions. It gets rid of useless stuff and procedures and creates space for new opportunities and relationships.

Indeed, today’s cream of the crop of time management has become counter-intuitive.

Au sujet de l'auteur

Stephane Baillie Gee

Stephane Baillie-Gee is a senior consultant. He works on advanced management and leadership in the scope of organizations of the future. He also helps bridging the communication gap between Western and Chinese cultures and organizations.

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