Saturday, May 21, 2016

Time as a Resource: Inevitable Erosion, Continuous Refill or Invisible Accumulation?

It is well recognised that in human life time is the most precious but most limited resource. From the time one is born to the time one breathes one’s last, time is the constant companion of one’s life. One ought to be conscious of this once the cognitive abilities start developing but unfortunately few accord the importance to time as one must. The importance of time in acquiring education, gaining experience, developing relationships, promoting careers, preserving health and delaying aging is well known. However, how to deploy and utilize ‘unit time’ as a resource for maximal efficiency and effectiveness tends to be a highly personal matter, varying from individual to individual and family to family. Approach to time is a core value that one imbibes based on one’s family and educational backgrounds.

It is not unusual for kids to watch their parents and siblings at work and in undertaking family responsibilities and imbibe certain values with regard to use of time. Likewise, the educational systems of the institution a person joins and the approaches of friends further supplement the approaches to time. Over time, a person develops an approach towards life  that could be ‘structured and systematic’, ‘flexible and tactical’ or ‘fatalistic and philosophical’. Depending on which of the three approaches govern a person’s view of life, his or her attitude towards time also would vary. These approaches to life are not usually static, and could vary with phases in life. Accordingly, one’s approaches to utilization of time would also vary. Though this blog post is not life approaches, some discussion on the topic would be in order.

Approaches to life and time

Structured and systematic approach to life is the ultimate planner’s and productivity expert’s trip. This person is an industrial engineering expert of sorts, knowing exactly what should be done when, how and why. Obviously, the structured and systematic person knows the value of time the best. He or she considers life as a duty to be fulfilled diligently and efficiently. Flexible and tactical approach to life depends on sizing up each activity as it emerges and responding to it accordingly based on perceptions of risk and reward for each activity and the modality/time for fulfilling it. The flexible and tactical person seeks to manage life for happiness than be managed by it as a duty. Fatalistic and philosophical approach to life follows a minimalist and mindful approach to life without exerting effort to seek more than what follows from circumstances. The fatalistic and philosophical person seeks nothing other than emotional fulfilment from life.

Typically, during the educational phase of life, a person is likely to be and expected to be structured and systematic. As one takes up a career job he starts appreciating the utility of a structured and systematic approach to life but also starts understanding the opportunistic benefits of being tactical and flexible. Somewhere during the journey, and certainly after retirement from active service, he starts giving up being in the race of life and begins to appreciate the fulfilment of being fatalistic and philosophical in life. An ideal calibration could be to see a phase-in of the three approaches as being sequential. These approaches are not mutually exclusive. A fatalistic and philosophical person may still be quite ordered and disciplined how he conducts his daily chores. As one struggles in career despite being structured or tactical, one may begin appreciating the benefits of being philosophical. It is easy to appreciate that the approach to life influences one’s approach to time.

Time erodes

Sure, time ticks away from one’s life but one can try to gain a little by trying to live longer, and by living healthier without loss of time. That said, whenever it hits, time erosion as a concept hits one like a sudden fall of a ton of bricks. People respond to this realization with a variety of emotions: from frustration and desperation on one hand to recovery and urgency on the other.  The former is counterproductive while the latter could produce certain results. Both the types of responses lead to needless stress, and if encountered continuously accelerate aging of individuals. That time dissolves is a truism. However, if we fail to make good use of time, negative emotions and stress are not the solutions. Improved learning and enhanced productivity are the better solutions.  

Learning requires additional time even as the pressure of lost time mounts. That is where time management as a concept comes up. By decluttering activities, listing the uncluttered ones, prioritising them, and even delisting the low priority, non-value adding ones, one would be able to release more time in a day than lost. Time thus released can be utilized to learn and carry out things more productively. Structured and systematic people, even when disrupted by flexible and tactical approaches, can overcome erosion of time with the above approach. There is, however, a more meaningful approach to understand the true value of time, as an eternal clock. Life may freeze but time shall never freeze. Therein lies a great awakening.

Time as continuous refill

We know the sand filled hourglass as the classic depiction, and when well engineered a classic measurement, of time. While time for an individual may be limited time as an absolute resource is indeed timeless. The way to look at time is not to get exercised that time is getting lost but also to be excited that time is getting continuously refilled. In fact, compared to any other resource time is the only resource that gets continuously refilled. For example, when we expend money it will not be automatically recouped unless specifically earned. On the other hand, even if we expend time, we can be sure that the next unit of time will be available to be utilized. Time is therefore a continuous refill to be positive and optimistic about. If we are unable to perform certain activity in a given period of time, it can be performed soon after.

The concept of time as continuous refill is not meant to cause complacency. In fact, it is worthwhile for all of us to keep time logs to keep an account of time we spend on different activities such as priority activities or vital-essential-desirable activities, and if the time has been spent productively or wastefully. By linking the time log to results in terms of happiness and satisfaction we could become even better on linking time to our emotional wellbeing. This exercise is an individual choice as each one’s goals, schedules and approaches vary. Many people in work life believe that busyness makes good business. Research has established that doing nothing and concentrating mind on serene matters has helped improve productivity. The greatest support for this approach comes from the fact that the moment a rejuvenated person is ready to take on work again, time will be at hand.

Invisible accumulation

Whether one is productively work focused or meditatively leisure focused, time ticks by alright but something invisibly accumulates. That accumulation takes place in three categories; experience, wisdom and stature. Experience helps one manage time effectively along with other resources. Experience helps one to come up with the right recipe for mixing resources in a time effective manner for desired results. Wisdom helps one identify whether certain endeavours are worth the while at all or those facing neglect are the ones that need to be picked up right away. Experience and wisdom together help a person in accomplishment of results in a more effective manner than others could. Series of such accomplishments based on experience and wisdom lead to stature. Stature again is not something that can be metricised; it is also an invisible accumulation that can be only felt by others.

Invisible accumulation of experience, wisdom and stature ideally must remain invisible. It is a completely personal achievement that is related to one’s approaches to life and time as discussed so far. Any public display by one on what he perceives as his wisdom and stature would only erode those invisible assets. There is reference in Hindu mythology to mystic powers that are developed based on continuous prayers and penances which must be utilized, if at all, for good causes in a discrete manner. Utilization on inappropriate matters and boastful references to such powers are said to lead to dramatic dilution of such powers. Invisibly accumulated experience, wisdom and stature are akin to this. Interestingly, those who are experienced, wise and statured realize the importance of time, and its judicious use in vesting them with such invisible accumulation.

Kala chakra

As understood so far, a typical accomplished person used to reach his or her full wisdom and stature in his or her sixties, and thereupon lose it progressively as he or she falters with age. If one were to see this evolution as wisdom and stature travelling with time, the apogee is reached after six or more decades but thereafter when it gets down to the final low varies with individual, given (a) the low and uncertain longevity, and (b) the differences in longevity. However, with increased longevity of human race, the journey from apogee to low point can no longer be taken as an inconsequential, immaterial and natural decline. On the other hand, with increasing longevity, there is an increasing need to preserve, if not enhance, the invisible accumulation.  

As the human race moves forward on better physical health (with more advanced healthcare and nutrition), the need for better emotional health becomes self-evident. The approaches to life and time discussed in this blog post, structured and systematic, flexible and tactical, fatalistic and philosophical continue to be relevant over a much longer time horizon, beyond the sixties. The need to think of time more as a refilling rather than eroding resource is more important than ever. The need to continue to nurture the invisible accumulation of experience, wisdom and stature is also self-evident. The wheel of time, which starts from the first breath will keep spinning till the last breath of a human. It is entirely up to him or her to govern the speed to apogee and thereafter!

Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 21, 2016

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