The tin can

The tin can

20110409 Green giant smiling can 150x150 The tin can

In my last full article I wrote about relative size, but what about time?  In our stressful lives it seems we could all do with more of it.

How often have you heard someone say time flies when you’re having fun?  So if time has flown, you’ve had fun, right?  Not necessarily.  I have known time to fly even when I wasn’t having fun.  This often occurs in situations where I am engrossed in something I have to do – fun or not – or if there are a hundred million things to do all at once.  Work is one such example and many people have deadline upon deadline and everything is equally urgent.  What do you prioritise?  You end up getting into a style of time management where you just deal with whoever shouts the loudest first.  I like to think of the product of this as nagliverables.  Short timescales often result in bodge jobs and nagliverables become bodgeliverables.

The direction of time

People talk with their hands – especially crazy continental types like me – but there seem to be no standard gestures and we just make it up as we go along.  Some standards exist, like British Sign Language or Makaton but even there, some people make up words they are unsure of.  The word Mockaton is used by those in the know.

Observe someone as they talk about an event in the past and they will point in one direction or another.  My “yesterday” is a right thumb pointing over my right shoulder, for example.  Time is perceived as having direction in physical space.

When a meeting that is originally scheduled for Wednesday is moved to the day before, most people will say the meeting has been brought forward.  But consider yourself standing on a timeline, your current position indicating the present.  The future is in front of you, the past behind and whilst the meeting has been brought towards you in an apparently forward move, it has actually moved backwards in time from its point of view, as its perception of forwards in time is the same as yours: away from you.

A sense of scale

Why does time appear to go more quickly as you age?  Perhaps it is to do with proportions.  Consider a newborn baby whose father runs into the maternity ward five minutes late.  To the father, it’s only five minutes – barely enough time to make another cup of coffee – but the baby might be forgiven for asking, “Who are you?  What?  Daddy?  Where have you been all my life?”

Does scale play a part?  Flies and other small insects move fast and are remarkably agile to us and from their perspective we are clumsy, slow-moving creatures – even Usain Bolt.  If you have ever tried to catch a fly you’ll know you have to approach it very slowly from behind so that your motion is barely perceptible to it.  Then you suddenly swoop just above it and snatch it out of the air.  I used to do this as a child but now I find that the tickling sensation as it wriggles around in my clasped hand makes me cringe.  Small creatures’ clocks seem to run faster and our five minutes seems like hours to them.

Time, stress and control

As I said in my previous update I have been very busy, overloaded at work and finalising my submission for my professional qualification, which I should have done perhaps three or four years after graduating from university but have managed to put off in favour of having a social life.  It has been a pretty busy and stressful few weeks.

But what makes people stressed and is it necessarily a bad thing?  Several years ago I was shown a diagram of concentric circles in a time management course.  The middle circle was the comfort zone.  The next ring was the stretch zone and the outer ring the panic or stress zone.  In order to get the best out of any situation you want to be in the stretch zone.  The thing that makes people enter the stress zone is a combination of responsibility but lack of control.  This can be when deadlines are imposed on you, which you can only be achieved by producing bodgeliverables.

A tin can

Sometimes people need to accept that things cannot be done.  Large clients that bully consultants and suppliers, by dictating impossible timelines need to take heed.  Sometimes we need to tell them that we are only human and we can’t do it, but it is not always possible from a political point of view, for fear of getting thown off the job and losing a client.  It’s a delicate balance and in a still fragile economy you have to make do and pretend to be the man who can and try to punch above your weight.  Why can’t a match box?  Because a tin can and he’s got a beaming smile.  But sadly it is only a front and it is displaying signs of bending; he is being stretched.  Still, it won’t last forever and provided he has not entered the panic zone, his comfort zone will be increased, ready to take on the next challenge.  Bring it on!

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