Under Pressure: Finding The Balance – The Tyranny Of Time

By Gaia Grant

If there were 25 hours in the day rather than 24, what would you do with the extra hour?

How often have you heard the lament: “If only there were more hours in the day…”? It’s a common cry of despair from both the harried housewife and stressed executive. But if there really were more hours in a day, chances are most of us would probably not notice any difference to how stressed we feel. The extra time would easily become absorbed into the regular patterns of daily life. Rather than creating more space, what we currently do would expand to fill the available space – the same way that air expands to fill a container of any size.

Why do so many of us feel pressured? Because we are burdened by the fear that we simply won’t have the time to deal with the ever-increasing needs and expectations of modern life. But perhaps we don’t actually need more time. Perhaps, instead, we need to know how to make the most of the time we have …

The value of an hour

What is your time worth? An economist from Warwick University in England, Ian Walker, has come up with an equation that neatly explains the value of our time

V = (W((100-t)/100))/C, where
V = the value of an hour
W = a person’s hourly wage
T = the tax rate, and
C = the cost of living

What does this mean? This mathematical formula enables us to work out what each activity we do is worth in monetary terms. It allows us to assess the relative value of what we do each day.

If you apply this formula, as Ian Walker did with business people in England, you will discover it is more cost effective for the average person to order takeaway rather than to prepare their own food. But it does assume that you will use the time saved to earn yourself more money… After all, this equation reminds us, time is money!!

Lawyers have long been conditioned to organize their time into short slots with a monetary value attached. Ten to twenty years ago a lawyer’s day was divided into 15 minute billing periods  – today lawyer must account for every 7 minutes of his or her time, each 7 minutes being worth somewhere in the range of  US$12 to $93. Because such practices teach us that our time really does have a monetary value, the pressure is on to work faster and produce more.

Quantity vs quality

If you want to filter the value of what we do down to simple economics, you will need to start to consider quality of life. Imagine if we were to stop doing all simple household chores simply because it was more cost effective to hire someone else to do them. If choices about how we were to spend our time were made on the basis of what we could or should be earning, life would be reduced to alternating between long working hours and then periods of frantic spending. Where is the quality of life in this sort of scenario?

An interesting twist to the ending of the tale of the ‘value of life’ equation is that the funding for the development of the equation came, in fact, from Barclay’s Bank – who was interested in finding an unusual angle for their ‘Time is Money’ marketing campaign. Do we really want to take the cues on how to live our lives from consumerism driven companies?

Time is money

When we draw a parallel between ‘time’ and ‘money’, we give it a certain value. We talk about ‘saving’, ‘spending’ and ‘budgeting’ time as if it were a commodity to be measured and capitalized on. As a consequence, we often feel the stress of trying to make the best use of every last millisecond, lest we feel that we are ‘squandering’ or ‘wasting’ the time we have.

If we changed our metaphors, we might end up not feeling the same pressure. Try thinking about time as a river, for example. Think about going with the flow, about enjoying the soothing natural rhythm. Somehow the change in metaphor paints a much more relaxing and positive picture.

Our obsession with constantly increasing the pace of life – in trying to squeeze out the most that we can from the available time we have in order to achieve more, earn more, and have more – has, in many ways, been counter productive. Like the mouse that’s stuck on a running wheel that is spinning faster than it knows how to handle, we don’t know how to escape the vicious time commitment cycles. Like people who are stuck in life-sized hedge mazes, we panic and run faster if we can’t find a way out rather than stopping to think logically about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

Working harder and faster

The grand promise of advertisers in the 1960s was that the new fangled machines they were selling would make our lives easier, would give us more time. But somehow the more supposedly time-saving equipment we have acquired the more has become expected of us, and the swifter the pace of life has become. Because we can now communicate faster, we end up feeling as if we’re moving at exponentially faster rates. It’s difficult to predict just how much faster we can move and how much more we can pack into our lives.

The irony is that many of us have almost become addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes with the increased speed, and we continually want more. We almost thrive on being busy, we need to be able to tell others how much we are doing as though it somehow validates our existence. But the faster we go the more we stress our bodies, and the less we can cope – whether we are aware of it or not.

According to the recent TV documentary from BBC called SPEED:

  • For 94 000 years the fastest a person could ever travel was 12 mph
  • A few thousand years ago someone harnessed a horse and the top speed was increased to about 25 mph.
  • This century the car, airplane and rocket were invented, and just this decade crossing the Atlantic channel – which took our grandparents months – took 114 min in the fastest plane.
  • But this all pales into insignificance with the invention of the fastest machine around – the computer. We can send the encyclopedia Britannica across the Atlantic channel faster than information is transferred from our fingertips to our brain.

We are already showing signs of significant stress… and it is affecting our organisations

Can we keep up?

For centuries Asians ate their food on banana leaves, and when they finished eating they simply threw these leaves on the ground. When plastic was introduced – almost overnight – it was too difficult for many local people to adapt, and the plastic was casually cast on the ground in the same manner. As a result, the first thing visitors to many parts of Asia now notice is the pollution problem. The change to plastic was introduced faster than the local people have been able to really understand and effectively cope with.

As the pace of our society speeds up, many people are not able to cope and are similarly in danger of being swamped or of “going under”. Like being stuck in a runaway car, we often have no idea of where we’re headed or what the consequences will be, but as the car gathers more and more speed the end result could be catastrophic. We cannot simply go along with the ride… we must learn to take a conscious step to be aware of where we are going and the impact that these changes will have on ourselves and our workplace.

Our children will never remember what it was like to not have instant communication. To hear ‘the cheque is in the mail’… to have the luxury of time to ‘get back to you about it tomorrow’. With the invention of mail office workers had at least a few days to a few weeks to deal with an issue. Then came the fax machine, which meant that a same-day response could be expected. With email and the expected response time was reduced to a few hours – and with instant internet access and SMS messaging has meant that an immediate response is expected.

The need for more balance

We don’t need more time – we don’t need more hours in the day – we need to know how to manage time better, how to readjust our expectations, and how to balance our lives more effectively so that we can make better use of the time we have. Being more balanced means we have a better appreciation for what we have, a stronger sense of satisfaction, and a more fulfilled life. 

How do you plan to spend the rest of your life??!

Coming up: Under Pressure Part II: Practical hints for getting your life in synch

Pacing yourself for better long term productivity
Performing the balancing act successfully
Simple traditional lifestyle principles for modern times

Please click here to visit The Rhythm of Life article.

Gaia Grant ©2003

 

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