This is an excerpt from my new book, Organizational Psychology for Managers
Perhaps the best definition of time is that it is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop us from trying to do everything at once! Even more unfortunately, this approach triggers that feeling of being rushed and reduces our ability to get things done. It helps, therefore, to view time as a framework within which we organize our tasks and plan out how to accomplish our goals. This means adopting more of an event-based view of time rather than the clock-based (or duration-based) view most of us are accustomed to. In this context, a schedule is a way of organizing and viewing time such that people and resources are in the right places at the right times and flowing from event to event.
What is an event-based view of time?
We are accustomed to scheduling ourselves based on the clock:
7:45 pre-meeting meeting
8:00am Project planning meeting
9:00 am Customer meeting
12:30 – 2:00 Work on presentation
2:00 – 4:00 Brainstorming meeting
And so forth through the day and week. We learned this in school and we do it at work. The problem, though, is that a lot of work needs to be done in ways that don’t always lend themselves to such precise structures and many activities are not always totally one hundred percent precise in their start and stop times. When you have to coordinate a great many people and resources, you need to have a more precise, structured approach to time: colleges, for example, have to manage student schedules, room utilization, professor availability, etc. But that structure comes with a lot of overhead, and is not always all that useful. While we don’t want to completely eliminate structured time, we also don’t want to be totally controlled by it.
A recent article in the NY Times discussed joint military training between the United States and Japan. When asked what the most difficult part of the training was, the Japanese commander commented that he was initally put off by the fact that the US Marines did not have a set schedule. Japanese military exercises are conducted with, “the precision of a Tokyo subway.” Eventually, the Japanese commander realized that the American troops had learned through real combat experience that things do not always, or often, go according to plan. Flexibility is essential. Rigidity leads to defeat.