“Oh shoot, I’m late!”
A jolt of adrenaline hits you as you scurry to get to where you need to go. You reach for your phone. A stack of meticulously organized papers flies off your desk like the most disappointing confetti ever seen. A sigh of frustration. A look of anguish. “I don’t have time for this.”
If that is not one of the most relatable occurrences, I do not know what is.
Let us examine that pressure and how it applies in the workplace. What is the cause of this time-keeping anxiety?
The Issue with Numerical Time
As we know, numeric time is a construct, an illusion working to keep us all on the same beat. I believe the issue of our societal stress around time lies in how we think about it.
We “measure” time with productivity, efficiency, and busyness. We have methodical approaches to managing time like prioritization and workflow organization – it has been implanted within us during youth. There is pressure for kids to be potty trained before sending them off to school with timed tests and project deadlines. We learn “time management skills” so we can slap them on college applications and resumes.
While there is nothing wrong with measuring time, – it is imperative to advance as a species – our overreliance on it has been steeped in our culture, particularly in our workplaces.
Time & Workplace Productivity
A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that many cultures view busyness as a sign of status. The question is: do we need to be overworked and overtired to feel accomplished at work?
When we anxiously race to beat the deadline, we prime ourselves for living in a “reacting” mode. Dr. Jim Taylor in Psychology Today explains that reacting is based on perceiving a threat, while responding flows from “deliberate and thoughtful decision making.” We, as people, need both mechanisms to survive. We need to run if there is a lion chasing us, but do we really need to blow up on an intern who didn’t complete a report on time? When we fall into the pressures of time crunches, we do not give ourselves time to be mindful – of ourselves and others. Constantly reacting to time pressures, we never hone our ability to respond. Think about the times you have reacted versus responded – how has your work or relationship with your team been affected?
Multi-tasking – it’s a skill in almost every job description. According to a study from the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, only 2.5% of the 200 people studied could multitask effectively without causing detriments to the work. Even without science to back it up, how has a distracted mind impacted your workday? Were you a little on edge? Did all the work get done well? While avoiding multitasking completely is impossible, why does it have to be a standard for every workplace?
What is Time Without Numbers?
Time without numbers is mindfulness.
Albert Einstein, a leader in the numbers game, said, “…the past, present, and the future are real illusions, that they only exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.” The truth is: we have only ever experienced the present. The past and the future are only thoughts. The present is here.
A present awareness can mean higher quality projects, reports, team synchronicity. A mindfulness study featured in the National Library of Medicine revealed that participants who practiced mindfulness perceived time passing more slowly than the control group. With the perception that time is longer than it is, we can catch silly proofing or computation mistakes and notice when we need a break. Living presently means we are not bound by the limitations of the past or expectations or the future.
Time without numbers is compassion.
Compassion can take on a myriad of shapes and forms. While it may not include full understanding of others’ struggles, it uncovers the openness to uncover what they may need. It allows people to be responsible for getting their work done but gives them help if it’s needed. Compassion allows for flexibility. In a Gartner survey of 10,000 digital workers, 43% of them attributed “work hours flexibility” as their main reason for increased productivity. The flexibility to work how, when, and where can help those with neurodivergence or other needs to do their best.
A New Approach to Time in the Workplace
A balance between numbers and mindful compassion can be struck. Imagine the glorious potential. Team members are mindful of what they need, while compassionate leaders can actively listen and implement solutions to deliver results.
The choice lies in whether we can embrace new perspectives of time in our own lives and workplaces.
Learn more about approaches on mindfulness in the workplace.