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The Times
Author Stephen Balzac offers ways businesses can increase revenue and attract more clients.
Master of Time and Space
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About this blog
By Stephen Balzac
Author Stephen Balzac offers ways businesses can increase revenue and attract more clients with his 7 Steps Ahead philosophy. Whether you're trying to hire the right people or get your team on track, this is the place for accurate, useful ...
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Author Stephen Balzac offers ways businesses can increase revenue and attract more clients with his 7 Steps Ahead philosophy. Whether you're trying to hire the right people or get your team on track, this is the place for accurate, useful information. Stephen is an expert on leadership and organizational development, a consultant and professional speaker, and author of \x34The 36-Hour Course in Organizational Development,\x34 published by McGraw-Hill, and a contributing author to volume one of \x34Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play.\x34 Contact Steve at steve@7stepsahead.com.
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This is an excerpt from my new book, Organizational Psychology for Managers

Where oh where has my little week gone, where oh where has it gone?

It’s Thursday afternoon and that big project is due at 5pm. There’s no way you can finish it in the time you have available. No problem, you can just go to the time bank. All your life, people have been telling you that it’s important to save time. Well, just like you’ve put away money for a rainy day, you’ve saved quite a lot of time. Now you just need to withdraw some of that time and use it to finish the project.

What do you mean that didn’t work? When you save time, shouldn’t you be able to withdraw it when you need it? Unfortunately, that trick never works. Even Doctor Who, the main character of the popular British science-fiction series about a wandering Time Lord, can’t manage that one. That’s the problem with time: no matter how much we save, it’s never there when we go to make a withdrawal. We all get sixty seconds to a minute, sixty minutes to the hour, and 24 hours in a day. Time passes whether we use it or abuse it. The only choice we have is how we use the time, not whether we use it.

We have so many gadgets now for measuring time: clocks, watches, iPhones, the list goes on and on. But measuring time is not experiencing time: we have thermometers that tell us what the temperature is, but whether we feel warm or cold can depend on many factors other than just the number on that thermometer. 45 degrees in January can feel downright warm, and 55 in July might seem blessedly cool. Time is similar. Our experience of time passing is very different from what the measurement of time might tell us; this is why productivity and time are not the same! While we might measure time by the ticks of a clock or the dropping of grains of sand through an hourglass, we experience time as a series of events. When we have nothing to occupy our brains, time seems to stretch endlessly, each second ticking by with the excrutiating slowness of an overwritten sentence. Watching paint dry is so painful exactly because nothing much is happening. Conversely, when we are engaged in something that fills our brains, time seems to race by. When we look back, though, on a day filled with activity, it often seems like a very long time must have passed. Two people can experience the passage of time in the same situation very differently. Some athletes will view their opponents as moving very rapidly, while other athletes, who trained to manage their perceptions in ways that change their sense of time, will see their opponents apparently moving in slow motion. The second are far more likely to win.

What it boils down to is that we do not experience time or perceive time by the passage of seconds on our watches. We perceive time through the passage of external events: day and night, the waxing and waning of the moon, the changing of the seasons, and so forth. Those who have spent time in a windowless conference room or office may have noticed that feeling of disorientation that occurs when you step out at the end of the day and realize just how much time has passed: working for IBM in the late 1980s, in the winter months I would often arrive at the office before it was light and leave after dark. Spending the day in a windowless office meant that by the end of the day, I felt extremely confused about what time it actually was. Spending the day in an office dealing with a constant barrage of interrupts produces a similar disorienting effect.

At the same time, as it were, how we feel about time can change our perceptions of the world around us. In one classic experiment, divinity students about to give a talk on the Good Samaritan had their sense of time manipulated: while still in their dorm rooms, some of the students received a phone call stating, “Where are you? You were supposed to be in the chapel five minutes ago!” Other students received a phone call stating, “Although we have plenty of time, we’d like everyone in the chapel a few minutes early.”



On the route between the dorm and the chapel was an apparently sick or injured person. Those divinity students who thought they were late went by that person, in many cases without even noticing him lying there. Those who did notice assumed that someone else would take care of it or figured that maybe the person wasn’t that sick, or something. Conversely, those divinity students who thought they had plenty of time were far more likely to notice the sick person and take appropriate action. Feeling rushed reduces our ability to see the world.

Just as our perceptions of time influence our behavior and how effectively we work, pursue goals, and interact with others, the physical space we are in matters as well. Space creates associations and triggers for our behavior; the right space can make us feel safe or in danger, critical or creative. The same space at different times can also trigger different reactions. Fundamentally, we humans are creatures of our environment. We can’t completely ignore our surroundings when looking at organizational psychology and behavior. Rather, we need to understand how space matters and how our interactions with the space around us can serve to reinforce or undermine our organizational culture, narrative, learning, motivation, perceptions of fairness and justice, and goal setting. Even our perceptions of leadership can be affected by how space and time are handled.

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