The Cannibalization of Time

By Nuno Sobrinho | Business Designer at Monday

How often do we feel, across the week, we’re running out of time? No time to pick up the kids, no time to finish that task, or to reach the meeting or simply no time to sleep a bit more. How frustrated do we feel about this? Or anxious about consequences that might result in not having another slot? If this is familiar to you, we have something in common, somehow in a moment of a day, somehow during the week. I feel you, and that links us in a certain way. Why does it seem time is getting shorter week after week, year after year?

No, I don’t think it’s because we’re getting older and things, in general, seem to acquire another scale, thus, time is shorter.

Everyday I listen and observe people showing some struggles with time. If we breakdown our daily schedule and actions on this subject, we may say we have tasks where we are the owner and others whom ownership is held by another player. As an example, if I’m a freelancer and responsible to sell my services reaching potential clients, I’m the owner of preparing a good proposal and selling it to a client on a later stage. For another way, if I work at a factory in the production chain department, processes, and some operations I have to go through and with, are not necessarily under my total ownership. Someone created those and, at some stage, I just need to go through it or apply when needed. In these situations, where I’m not the owner, I lose main control in some parts of the full chain, if I look at it with a global view.

Let’s focus now on situations where we’re the owner of the action, from beginning till the end. Just because when we’re not, someone is and the same applies. In the end, we live in a society where that ownership mixes all the time between players and each of us is responsible for those parts we should call ourselves owners.

So, why do we feel time is getting shorter? Why do we continuously battle against the watch and wish we would have just a couple more minutes? Why do we reply so often “I have no time” during the day?

There may be several reasons why these feelings arise if we go deep on the topic. I share my opinion by summarizing it in five:

We need to question more and all the time. We need to question ourselves if there’s another way to perform the way we desire that would easier our life. Because we tend to accommodate and not question, we end up being very good and proficient doing things wrongly. If I use a tool or an interface to perform an activity for years, ignoring new tools and continuous improvement to make our days easier, I not only procrastinate innovation and adaptation but end up spending time instead of saving it.

Human beings have big struggles prioritizing. Distinguish what is considered urgent to perform from what is important, is hard. The emergency room here pops up when I reach a point where my agenda is full of urgent things and a few more important. This generally happens when we let important things drag for days until they transform themselves into urgent scenarios. The trick here is to manage well important things, so we can avoid them transform and become urgent. This way we can have more important things on the agenda than urgent, as long as we know how to manage and work it out. Knowing why, how and what to prioritize is critical. The more expert in prioritizing we can be, the more we promote time-saving.

Resistance is inherent to our nature. We resist more than we let flow. It is positive to resist a few things, namely, some food temptations or harmful addictions for example. Though, when talking about time under this subject, resistance is usually not a good friend. “Time flies”, it’s commonly said. Additionally, the environment we live in is changing faster than we have ever seen. If around us the speed of change is overwhelming, how can we resist to change that much? How’s it acceptable that we spend such a big amount of time resisting and doing the same old things or having the same old approach? We resist because we fear to fail, we resist because we prefer to stay comfortable where we are, we resist because we don’t feel comfortable in what we perceive as an uncomfortable context. We resist because we reject the unknown. Unknown doesn’t make us feel right nor confident. Sometimes I embrace projects where a client wants to discuss solutions in-depth on our first or second meeting, even before the official kick-off. How can we possibly know the solution at this stage, if we haven’t done any sort of inspiration activity yet? How can we possibly know what the solution might be if we didn’t bring the people we are designing for to the table yet? Because we resist, we don’t capitalize time, and we keep applying the same errors, same methods, same thoughts, which makes us spending time, though without acknowledging it.

Plan A is, generally, our only bet. If an unforeseen issue occurs and plan A doesn’t go through or as we planned, we feel we’re screwed. We tend to not dedicate any time thinking about a plan B, prior to action. We avoid good, thorough and structured plan. What if plan A doesn’t go well? What if we can’t make this happen? What can we prepare in case this doesn’t go as considered? Can we avoid the worst by having a backup?

The truth is that most of us don’t (want to) invest time thinking about alternatives and plans B, C or D. When unsatisfactory things happen, it’s often too late to have a backup alternative. With no plan B, we may end up spending much more than we thought, solving a problem that could have been predicted in recent past, with not much time and money invested.

This one is my favorite! The human being is not minimalist by nature. But we have to, more than ever. Technology, for example, changes too quick nowadays. We’re barely capable to follow daily news with the amount of information we’re faced with when we wake up and check our phone. If we don’t cut the extras and focus on what’s really necessary, we’re just spending extra time on things we don’t have to, and we shouldn’t. Minimalism is today, a great ally to perform efficiently and on schedule.

We need to question ourselves everyday: how might we do this under a more simple and better alternative? How might we cut extras? How might we focus on really what’s needed? What is exactly the real problem we are trying to solve? What’s critical now and what can be solved in a later stage? Is there something we can delegate so we can focus on what’s important?

Minimalism is a common factor in personal and professional life. If we try to make things simple in personal life, it’s easier to replicate that approach at work. We can start where we want. Nevertheless, it’s critical to start from somewhere.

At the end of the day, if we focus on what’s above and rewrite our day on a simple sheet of paper (and this only takes a few minutes!), we may easily identify some things we could have done or approached in a different way, things would have saved us a bit of time. Every bit here can be extremely valuable. So let us not underestimate any inch we’re able to conquer. Otherwise, we’ll keep cannibalizing our time while putting in risk the one we have left. But be aware, we must have courage, assume a risk-taking attitude and be comfortable in a liquid state… with a team player spirit.

Thank you for reading

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Monday is a Business Design Consultancy based in sunny Lisbon. We co-create with ambitious leaders to build better businesses. We use strategy & design to transform businesses from within.

This core philosophy stands at the center of everything we create. Clients include: Mercedes, Red Bull, Banco de Portugal, Mars, Imprensa Nacional Casa da Moeda, Philips, Jogos Santa Casa, Guloso…

We co-create with ambitious leaders to build better businesses. We use strategy & design to transform businesses from within.