Burkeman (2016). Why time management is ruining our lives.

Burkeman, O. (2016, December 22). Why time management is ruining our lives. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/22/why-time-management-is-ruining-our-lives

[Merlin Mann …]

“… advised his audience that day at Google’s Silicon Valley campus, every time you visit your inbox, you should systematically ‘process to zero’. Clarify the action each message requires — a reply, an entry on your to-do list, or just filing it away. Perform that action. Repeat until no emails remain.” (¶2)

“Most of us have experienced this creeping sense of being overwhelmed: the feeling not merely that our lives are full of activity — that can be exhilarating — but that time is slipping out of our control.” (¶5)

“And yet the truth is that more often than not, techniques designed to enhance one’s personal productivity seem to exacerbate the very anxieties they were meant to allay.” (¶7)

“The allure of the doctrine of time management is that, one day, everything might finally be under control.” (¶8)

[“Roman philosopher Seneca wrote [in] _On The Shortness of Life_…” ]

“‘This space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily, and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live …'” (¶11)

“In 1930, John Maynard Keynes famously predicted that within a century, economic growth would mean that we would be working no more than 15 hours per week — whereupon humanity would face its greatest challenge: that of figuring out how to use all those empty hours. Economists still argue about exactly why things turned out so differently, but the simplest answer is ‘capitalism’. Keynes seems to have assumed that we would naturally throttle down on work once our essential needs, plus a few extra desires, were satisfied. Instead, we just keep finding new things to need.” (¶13)

[“Frederick Winslow Taylor, an engineer hired in 1898 by the Bethlehem Steel Works,…” ]

“‘One of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron,’ wrote Taylor, is ‘that he shall be so stupid and phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental makeup the ox than any other type … he is so stupid that the word ‘percentage’ has no meaning for him.'” (¶16)

“The idea of efficiency that Taylor sought to impose on Bethlehem Steel was borrowed from the mechanical engineers of the industrial revolution. It was a way of thinking about improving the functioning of machines, now transferred to humans.” (¶17)

“… efficiency was the promise of doing what you already did, only better, more cheaply, and in less time. What could be wrong with that? Unless you happened to be on the sharp end of attempts to treat humans like machines — like the workers of Bethlehem Steel — there wasn’t an obvious downside.” (¶18)

“But as the century progressed, something important changed: we all became Frederick Winslow Taylors, presiding ruthlessly over our own lives. As the doctrine of efficiency grew entrenched — as the ethos of the market spread to more and more aspects of society, and life became more individualistic — we internalised it.” (¶19)

“(‘Work expands to fill the time available for its completion,’ as the British historian C. Northcote Parkinson realised way back in 1955, when he coined what would come to be known as Parkinson’s law.)” (¶27)

“Then there’s the matter of self-consciousness: virtually every time management expert’s first piece of advice is to keep a detailed log of your time use, but doing so just heightens your awareness of the minutes ticking by, then lost for ever. As for focusing on your long-term goals: the more you do that, the more of your daily life you spend feeling vaguely despondent that you have not yet achieved them.” (¶28)

“But the members of Take Back Your Time were calling for something more radical than merely more time off. They sought to question our whole instrumental attitude towards time — the very idea that ‘getting more done’ ought to be our focus in the first place. ‘You keep hearing people arguing that more time off might be good for the economy,’ said
John de Graaf, the not-even-slightly-relaxed 70-year-old filmmaker who is the organisation’s driving force. ‘But why should we have to justify _life_ in terms of the _economy_? It makes no sense!'” (¶32)

“Plenty of unpleasant chores are essential to survival. But others are not — we have just been conditioned to assume that they are. … Robert Levine, a social psychologist from California, quoted the environmentalist Edward Abbey: ‘Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.'” (¶35)

[From conversation with Tom DeMarco… ]

“‘… you don’t get creativity for free. You _need_ people to be able to sit back, put their feet up, and think.'” (¶38)

“… thinking about time encourages clockwatching, which has been repeatedly shown in studies to undermine the quality of work.” (¶39)

“It is up to us — indeed, it is our obligation — to maximise our productivity. This is a convenient ideology from the point of view of those who stand to profit from our working harder, and our increased capacity for consumer spending.” (¶44)

[Friedrich Nietzsche …]

“‘Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.'” (¶45)

[Merlin Mann …]

“‘Email is not a technical problem. It’s a people problem.'” (¶47)

Selected References

  • Abbey, E. (1988). One Life at a Time, Please. Henry Holt and Company.
  • Keynes, J. M. (2008). Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (1930). In G. Piga & L. Pecchi (Eds.), Revisiting Keynes: Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren (pp. 17–26). Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Nietzsche, F. (1997). Nietzsche: Untimely Meditations. Cambridge University Press.
  • Parkinson, C. N. (1955, November 19). Parkinson’s Law. The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/14116121
  • Seneca, L. A. (1932). On the Shortness of Life (De Brevitate Vitae). In J. W. Basore (Trans.). London: William Heinemann.
  • Taylor, F. W. (1911). Principles of Scientific Management. New York: Harper.
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