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Time Management

"Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed."
Peter F. Drucker

Time is a resource that most people value highly. It follows that a commodity as invaluable as this should be managed to maximize its use. Some people have their time managed for them via mothers or secretaries. Or sometimes it's as simple as an electronic calendar with alarms that more often than not let you know when you are late than get you there on time. People manage their time for various reasons: to become more responsible, more productive, or more organized. Some manage their time to free up their lives and make room for leisure. Whatever the reason, time management is a necessary skill that most people around the world need to acquire. There are numerous forms of self-help in this area—books, television shows, and time management seminars—all being made available to people all around the world.

How we spend our time – a global perspective

"Modern man thinks he loses something - time - when he does not do things quickly. Yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains - except kill it."
Erich Fromm

All around the world people are working, studying, cooking, cleaning, eating, and sleeping. People are busy in Asia and people are busy in Africa. People in Europe, Australia, and the Americas work hard every day to make a decent living while others work hard every day just to survive. Some in developing and ancient cultures live simply and according to ancient traditions. For instance, “ . . . Indians [Machiguenga Indians of Peru] survive by growing food in gardens, hunting, fishing, and collecting wild foods. ‘They are self-sufficient; almost everything they consume is produced by their own labors using materials that are found close at hand’” (Robinson and Godbey 27). It is fascinating to observe how various cultures in different areas of the world use their time, and how this use affects their need for time management.

For example, in the United States, time is like a pressure cooker. There always seems to be far too many tasks to undertake and never enough time to accomplish them, and so the pressure builds. In comparison though, other countries around the world seem to work just as productively and efficiently, but without such excessive amounts of stress. The busy schedule of workers in Japan closely mirrors that of the United States, but “Despite their longer work day. . . the Japanese have found ways to introduce more leisure activities, such as conversation, hobbies, and education, into their lives. Informal conversations with Japanese colleagues and observers in Japan suggest that the pace of life in Japan may generally be as fast as in the United States, but that the pace of life in the Japanese workplace is more relaxed” (Robinson and Godbey 268). Many Japanese firms encourage their employees to participate in stretching exercise programs before work and during their lunch break. All members of the workforce participate from the CEO down to the hourly workers. They find the program not only helps relax muscles and prevents neck and back pain, it also builds community within the work force.

Also, in the United States, one of the most stressful parts of the day can be the morning or afternoon commute. To get around during a typical day in their hectic lives, most American’s choose to move about by car: “87 percent of daily trips take place in personal vehicles” (“National Household Travel”). Many countries use modes of transportation other than the automobile to get from place to place; they often use less stressful and healthier means of transportation such as walking, biking, or they will make use of public transportation instead.

When the workday is over, people in many countries around the world set aside ample time for meals and relaxation. “Sleeping and eating times were below average [in America], particularly in comparison with Germany, Belgium, and France” (Robinson and Godbey 261). Regardless of where a person lives in this world, we all need an adequate amount of food and an adequate amount of time put aside for physical and mental relaxation. Leading a rushed lifestyle without a time management plan to control it can prevent people from fitting these simple yet fundamental necessities into their lives. In some cultures a hurried lifestyle is considered completely normal, while in others the opposite is true. “In some countries, rushing is a sign of rudeness and poverty of spirit, while in others it is a sign of intelligence and importance” (Robinson and Godbey 25). It is not difficult to see how rushing through life, instead of stopping to appreciate it, can indicate a poverty of spirit. Introspection, self-discovery and the understanding of ones’ place in the world all require the benefit of available time to develop.

How time is managed globally

"I would I could stand on a busy corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all their wasted hours."
Bernard Berenson

Many people have access to resources which can help them manage their time more productively. Bookstores often have entire sections dedicated to self-help, with shelves of books from the For Dummies series—a collection of books meant to help anyone who is inept at almost anything. “…For Dummies books are the perfect survival guide for anyone who finds themselves in difficult situations” (“References”). There is even a Time Management for Dummies book in this series. A quote from the introduction of the book gives a general idea of the kind of advice it provides:

To succeed in the 21st century, you’ve got to do more than just get organized. You have to do a better job of staying on top of all your unfinished work, tasks, and projects, and you accomplish this goal by improving your follow-up systems. With an efficient and effective follow-up system, you can convert the time that’s being wasted during a normal business day into time that can be used more efficiently, effectively, and profitably (Mayer).

Still, the self-help industry extends far beyond books. There are television programs such as Dr. Phil, which features a prominent modern American psychiatrist who introduces people around the world to the problems of others, and demonstrates how people can apply the solutions of these problems to their own lives. In addition to the self-help books and television programs, there are self-improvement seminars offered in cities around the world where people listen to lectures given by intelligent, well organized, time-management experts for advice. Time management plays a pivotal role in all of these resources. The popularity of time-management training continues to increase in popularity over time.

As the pace of life quickens and time becomes scarce, there is often no patience for those who lose or squander it. So what do we do? There are several obvious solutions to an overcrowded schedule and the resulting lack of free time: one could participate in fewer activities, forego working overtime, avoid procrastination, or work faster or more efficiently. These are but a few of the basic time-honored, time management principles people subscribe to (McNamara).

There are also options other than books, seminars, and television for those around the world to become better time managers. We can learn by examining the time-use behavior of other cultures. In an online interview, professor Geoffrey Godbey, author of Time for Life, stated his belief that there is much to be learned from the time-use habits of other cultures:

I think we need to understand how time is used in a variety of cultures. In particular, we need to understand the ways of life in Europe, Scandinavia, China and South America, for very different reasons. The Brazilians are capable of leisure—walking in the plaza, talking with friends, lying on the beach. The Scandinavians have figured out how to use time in ways that allow families to prosper, the Chinese have three weeks of holidays—at least in the cities—and the Europeans know how to live . . . So, it can easily be said that when we list those skills that we are most in need of improving, time management finds itself high on the list.

Although the time management resources we mentioned above are available to many people throughout the world, they are not available to all. In developing countries, access to time management seminars, media, and self-help literature is scarce. “In contrast to the situation in the developed world, where transport and communications infrastructures for delivery of both physical goods and information services are well established, the alternatives available within developing countries are generally slow, expensive, or nonexistent” (Sadowsky). According to Sadowski, in his article “The Internet Society and Developing Counties,” Africa is the continent found to be the most lacking.

Of all developing regions, Africa stands out as the least networked of all. Progress has been slow for a number of reasons. A history of colonialism until recent times, poor physical and human infrastructures, patterns of communication tied to colonial powers rather than being intra-African, large distances, and absence of a tradition of stable government all have conspired to retard both development in the region and the introduction of the Internet there.

As time moves on, this will hopefully change, and everyone will have easy access to information which can assist them in effectively managing their day to day lives.