I misspoke. This is a blog in three parts, not the two parts I originally thought. Part I is available here. This is Part II. Part III is called ‘Post-Clock Time Management’ but in order to have it make sense, I need to finish up the history of time management in Part II below. So bear with me as I lay the groundwork for the exciting Part III ‘Post-Clock Time Management.’
In the 1920s the country prospered. The enormous post-WWI working age population clocked in at factories, meat packing plants and offices, but underlying economic dynamics would soon result in the Great Depression. Fully 25% of the population would be off the clock, jobless, aimless, and without the structure of normal modern life. So deeply felt were the economizing effects of the Depression that the children of the children of the Depression, the Baby Boomers, live by a waste-not-want-not ethic even in a time of prosperity. The massive spending necessary to build the industrial-military complex for WWII finally got people back on the clock. Even kids were on the clock as public schooling exploded with its tight classroom schedule. There’s nothing like the regimentation of a couple of wars to teach an entire society the time-saving power of routines. People worked 9 – 5, brushed their teeth twice daily, a habit brought back by returning soldiers, ate fish on Fridays and did the laundry on Wednesdays.
Time and Fast and Discretionary Time
The most significant development in the management of time in the 1950s was the integration of fast into daily life. The expectation of how quickly it should take to complete mundane household tasks changed. Electric blenders took the place of mixing bowls, vacuum cleaners replaced brooms and the washer and dryer moved into the house. TV taught us about the time management skill of dealing with distraction as many a seasoned cook burned the roast more than once distracted by the Ed Sullivan Show. Children would neglect homework watching television until the invention of TV dinners.
The word “instant” entered the popular lexicon when John Glenn orbited the Earth drinking an instant breakfast drink called Tang. Rockets let the fast genie out of the bottle forever. In the 1960s, automobiles, among the most efficient time-saving device ever created, were owned by the masses and specifically designed to go faster on America’s newly built highways with their off-ramps to fast-food. Multitasking, another time management skill, was taught to us by the automobile as we drove, listened to the radio, screamed at a backseat full of kids, rolled down the window at McDonalds and ate all at the same time. But it was still safer than the Bluetooth, texting, and driving of the new century that would nearly kill us.
For the first time in decades, people had discretionary time. Families vacationed. Employees enjoyed personal days off. Women entered the labor force in unprecedented numbers, creating more wealth and presenting a persistent time management dilemma characterized as balancing work and home. In 1969, we landed on the moon and that was better than drugs, sex and rock and roll. The civil rights movement and the anti-war movement inspired the women’s rights movement and the gay movement. People spent their time not just on making money but on raising their baby-booming families, raising their consciousness and raising the bar on empowerment of all stripes.
Knowledge Work and Time Management
During the 1970s the knowledge worker (KW) emerged. A knowledge worker is someone who creates value by applying judgment to his or her work, not just someone who labors to finish a prescribed task by the hour. The judgment needed was often how to use one’s time to optimize productivity. Sitting at a computer the KW of the 1970s had numerous responsibilities and tools to manage, including multiple telephones that had to be answered because there was no voicemail. Still, it was a relatively disconnected world, and the array of competing tasks was much smaller than it is today. One could still manage their time and actually get something done from beginning to end.
Electronic mail made its appearance, drastically cutting down the interruption of people dropping by the office unannounced. While it decreased long-winded phone calls, email also upped the ante on response time. A prospective client who requested a proposal by mail could expect it in a week. A response to an email request for a proposal shortened it to three days, then two. A phone message could still be courteously responded to in a day. Email required an answer within hours, thus response time was totally revolutionized.
Time Management, Values and Mobility
With all the lip service paid to knowledge work, judged by value and productivity rather than clock-time devotion, people began to work ridiculously long hours. In the 1980s, US corporations faced intense foreign competition and a slowing domestic market. Millions of middle managers were laid off and big business turned to consultants like the Franklin Institute to get more productivity out of a smaller workforce. The Franklin Institute (now called Franklin Covey) is based on Benjamin Franklin’s philosophy that happiness and inner peace do not come from owning things, but from identifying what is important in one’s life. Covey embodied this principle in his 1989 publication, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Unlike the time management books that preceded it with their emphasis on clock-driven efficiencies of the industrial age, Covey’s self-help books connected the management of time with the personal clarification of one’s life purposes, missions, goals and values. Provided with a two pound, three-ring binder, employees dutifully filled out the Day Planner’s planning aids, monthly and annual calendars, personal time management assessments, goal clarifications and personal mission statements to better align their time with their goals even while the work week swelled to over 40 hours a week.
Users of the time management systems were on the move, in planes, on trains, and traveling between offices. Franklin responded with the Pocket Planner that was eventually replaced by a personal digital assistant, most popularly the Blackberry. Devices proliferated and “work anywhere, anytime” was becoming a reality. Desktop computers at work and home were as standard as TVs. Email jumped the corporate fence to the family. Cell phones the size of cats appeared on the scene though without an internet connection.
Time and the Turn of the Century and Beyond
Digital society and the devices that appoint it pose several time management challenges, especially devices with screens. They deliver unmatched productivity, which simply means getting more done in less time. They also gobble up time to generate and respond to texts, tweets, calls, pings, beeps, tags, blogs, comments, friends, fans, emails and other activities associated with ever-expanding, interactive communication and connectivity. The devices meant to help us manage our time sometimes overwhelm us. In 2008, Americans talked, viewed, and listened to media, excluding the workplace, for 1.3 trillion hours, an average of 11 hours per person per day. By 2012, total consumption had increased to 1.46 trillion hours, or an average 13.6 hours per person per day. Time spent on digital activities displaces non-digital, healthful activities like family dinners, socializing with friends, physical exercise, being outdoors, real-time dating, sleep and sex with a real person. Because technology has made it possible to work without walls, bosses, and without regard for geography or time zones, the expectation of work has changed. In the words of Harold Taylor, a foremost authority on time management, “…the time-savings gained by technology have been offset by increases in complexity, choices, interruptions, expectations, stress, delays and errors.”
If you want to learn more about how our world has changed into one full of infinite information, constant distractions and boundless stuff, I recommend my book Getting Organized in the Era of Endless: What to Do When Information, Interruption, Work and Stuff are Endless But Time is Not.
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