01 April 2017

The Guardian: “Why time management is ruining our lives”

Time management Sisyphus
Illustration by Pete Gamlen

The allure of the doctrine of time management is that, one day, everything might finally be under control. Yet work in the modern economy is notable for its limitlessness. And if the stream of incoming emails is endless, Inbox Zero can never bring liberation: you’re still Sisyphus, rolling his boulder up that hill for all eternity – you’re just rolling it slightly faster.

Then there’s the matter of self-consciousness: virtually every time management expert’s first piece of advice is to keep a detailed log of your time use, but doing so just heightens your awareness of the minutes ticking by, then lost for ever. As for focusing on your long-term goals: the more you do that, the more of your daily life you spend feeling vaguely despondent that you have not yet achieved them. Should you manage to achieve one, the satisfaction is strikingly brief – then it’s time to set a new long-term goal. The supposed cure just makes the problem worse.

A similar problem afflicts any corporate cost-cutting exercise that focuses on maximising employees’ efficiency: the more of their hours that are put to productive use, the less available they will be to respond, on the spur of the moment, to critical new demands. For that kind of responsiveness, idle time must be built into the system.

Oliver Burkeman

Interesting article, alternating between describing the current obsession with efficiency and time management and philosophical musings about human life that may well explain the former. In the last paragraph above there’s also a neat justification for Google’s old practice of allowing employees to work on personal projects for 20% of their office time; it was a nice way to balance out corporate and personal goals and encourage innovation and independent thought. Personally, I have never been an adept of strict goals and timelines; I would rather spend my free time traveling, reading and photographing than worrying about attaining some far-fetched goals.

“How we labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, in what reads like a foreshadowing of our present circumstances. “Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.”

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