Homer Simpson described alcohol as the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. In many organizations, you hear similar statements about time. The timeline is too aggressive. We have plenty of time. We need more time. We’ll have more time next quarter. We have to start now. Time is often perceived as uncontrollable, must like the movements of the sun came to be viewed as being ‘controlled’ by Maya sacred kings. It’s generally not the case. In most environments, a better understanding of time and relevant time pressures can help you better pace activities and control the quality of outcomes.
Time pressure is frequently associated with poor decisions and stress. IT projects procured in the last week of the fiscal year are between two and six times more likely to have a lower quality rating. People simplify selection decisions or defer decisions in the face of time pressure. They become more risk-averse and more affected by unexpected information, particularly if they are less-experienced. This is known information, yet many organizations retain cumbersome structures and entrenched routines that drive work prioritization. Much like time zones, these structures don’t always align to the natural cycles of work.
“Fashion as you know works on calendars and seasons. You have to do a spring/summer. You have to do a fall/winter. You have to do a holiday. And as a designer and creative person, it’s like why?” –Jeff Ng
A good starting point for improving time structures is differentiating between clock time and event time. The clock view implies a mechanical, quantitative, continuous or date notion of time; whereas the event view is considered qualitative, discontinuous, dynamic and subjective. Ideally, activities should be aligned from both perspectives. The clock sets the timeline, and the event view ensure readiness. In most cases, focus needs to be shifted away from the calendar and toward critical activities that flow, avoiding repetitive housework-like tasks. Don’t do something just because it’s on the calendar. Explore the reasons why it’s on the calendar and schedule accordingly. Have a menu of options where possible, and maintain routines for modifying routines.
“I hear you say that the time is not ripe…but if the time is not ripe, then it should be your purpose to ripen the time.” -Dr. Benjamin Mays
Time pressure is often an indicator of underlying issues. Resource mismatches, uncoordinated activities, unclear objectives, etc. While problems are rarely solved by a simple addition of hours, recognizing the time dynamics in your environment can help you set a path forward and lead to a plan that works.