Time Bankruptcy and Communications Technology

A friend says that she hasn’t been able to tackle any new projects because she is in “time bankruptcy.” It expresses very well how she feels about her ability to control her schedule, but she has been claiming bankruptcy for over a year now. Even Chapter 11 reorganizations end sooner or later.

Colleague and time management maven Steve Davies in New York tells this story:

A man is transported back to 1991. Upon telling someone that he is from 2016 he is asked “What is the biggest change over the next 25 years?”

He takes out his smartphone. “We all carry these.” He says. “It is a telephone that can make video calls and a camera, but it also has all my contacts, sends and receives both email and instant messages, holds my entire music library, receives TV shows and movies, updates the news constantly, tracks my exercise and diet, and keeps my calendar. It tells me when I have a meeting, gives me directions to get there, and routes me around traffic.”

“Wow!” his acquaintance responds. “What do you do with all the time you save?”

The story is best told with a wry smirk at the end. Of course, our incredible time-saving technology doesn’t save any time at all.

Washing machines were going to free housewives for days of leisure. Automobiles would zip us from place to place, cutting travel time to almost nothing. Email would save the effort and drudgery of typing and circulating memos.

But we choose to utilize each advance in technology to do more. Washing machines allowed us to wear clean clothes every day (or in the case of teenage boys, multiple times daily.) Automobiles extended our tolerance for travel to the point where each of us now averages over 100 minutes in the car daily. (But at least we can make phone calls.) Email for most business people is over 100 “real” messages a day, without even considering the time spent erasing spam.

Time isn’t flexible. You can’t store it or make it up. A minute gone is a minute gone. Time-saving technology is only useful if you use it to do exactly what you were doing before, only faster. When you employ it for added work rather than enhanced productivity, it becomes just another demand on your time.

time-bankruptcyI think more of us are facing time bankruptcy as a permanent condition. The curse of communications technology is that we can start so many things, and take forever to finish them. Why settle for a couple of words that are “close” to what we want in a conversation when we can correct it one more time. Of course, the recipient has to acknowledge the final change (if he doesn’t make another himself) and you have to acknowledge the acknowledgement. Hey, it only takes a minute.

We feel guilty when we aren’t communicating. Have you watched a business audience waiting for a speaker, people on line at the DMV or even at the supermarket? No opportunity to pull out a smartphone and “catch up” is missed. Of course, when you do that, another person is put in the position of not being caught up.

I’d like to offer a solution, but I think it will take some time before we can develop acceptable socials mores that control the flood of communications in our lives. Until then, most of us will struggle with time bankruptcy.

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4 Responses to Time Bankruptcy and Communications Technology

  1. Does calendaring every minute of the day help?

  2. Mike Wright says:

    To solution may come in the difference between management and leadership. “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.”Management’s purpose is to accomplish work efficiently. The phone can help this, but it also makes us spend more time ‘reacting’ to greatly increased stimuli. Leadership is responsible for setting direction and getting the things done that are most important to success. If we can get back more time to spend thinking, planning and acting strategically in a changing world we could accomplish more important things.

  3. Time bankruptcy – I lovge it. So true. Technology is one thing our behaviours another. Someone said to me once “What about if Bill Gates came before Alexander Bell. We are sending everything through email and Bell comes along and says; Don’t worry I’ve got this! I have invented a phone, you can get through to people straight away” Yeah right!

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