Here is an interesting phrase, “taking time off” because one can not really ever turn time off. What we mean is “time out” from the usual and ordinary, perhaps to invest in the unusual and extraordinary. Like it says in the old ads for Timex, it just keeps on ticking and one day, we will run out of time, or walk out, or lie down and check out. Think of some of the amusing ways people speak about time. “I didn’t have time to do it.” What they really mean is they did not choose to take the time to do it, whatever “it” was, but who is going to say that? How about this one? “It’s time to eat.” That was mother calling from the kitchen. Whether you were actually hungry or not didn’t matter. It was “time” for breakfast, lunch or dinner. One family I knew quite well, not my own, sat down precisely at 5:30 PM every evening for dinner and everyone was expected to be there and be on time. Being “on time” is highly important to many people but different cultures regard that behavior with more or less value. Personal priorities about being “on time” may also vary.
Researchers have found that individuals are divided in two groups in the ways they approach time. The Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning puts it this way:
“Monochronic individuals are those who prefer to complete one task at a time. For them, task-oriented time is distinguished from socio-emotional time. In other words, there is a time to play and a time to work. These individuals value punctuality, completing tasks, and keeping to schedules. They view time as if it were linear, that is, one event happening at a time. Examples of monochronic cultures include the U.S., Israel, Germany, and Switzerland.
Polychronic individuals, on the other hand, are more flexible about time schedules; they have no problem integrating task-oriented activities with socio-emotional ones. For them, maintaining relationships and socializing are more important than accomplishing tasks. These individuals usually see time in a more holistic manner; in other words, many events may happen at once. Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa are places where the polychronic orientation prevails.
In certain cities in the U.S., it is not uncommon for us to find timetables or daily schedules for buses or trains. If the bus is to be at a certain stop at 10:09 PM, for example, one can expect that to happen at the designated time, give or take a minute.
For polychronic individuals such precise timetables are mind-boggling, as many of them are simply used to going to the bus stop and waiting – not knowing whether they will be waiting for five or forty-five minutes. That is just the way things are.
This difference in time orientation is reflected in the complaints of U.S. business people conducting business in Saudi Arabia or in Mexico, for example. A big source of frustration for them is the difficulty of getting through a meeting’s agenda. That is because in these countries meetings begin with an extended socializing time in which time is spent establishing social rapport – usually over many cups of coffee or tea.”
We are often like Pavlov’s dog. The bell rings and we respond whether by changing activities, answering a call or checking something in the oven. We are conditioned and regulated by time. It’s “time” to go to bed. It’s “time” to get up. It’s “time” to go to work. It’s “time out” and “time” to start again. It’s “time” for the meeting. It’s “time” to leave in order to get there in a reasonable amount of time. It’s all about time and yet time is an invention, a construct for our convenience and we are bound by it. How we measure time and how we use it reveals an enormous amount about who we are as individuals and who we are as a culture.
Here’s a phrase that amuses me because of the double entendre. “It’s about time” we say, meaning usually that we have waited for some time for something or other to happen and finally, it has taken place. Whether that expresses gratitude, relief or annoyance depends upon the context. A long-awaited package arrives at the door and we say, “It’s about time!” And really, it is simply that it has taken longer than was expected or desired for the delivery to be accomplished. Big deal! Get over it! At least we got the package.
In order to get more done in the same amount of time the phenomenon of multi-tasking has appeared and it seems to have arrived in conjunction with the advent of computers that are able to perform several functions at the same time. Recent research at Stanford on multi-tasking shows that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.
High-tech jugglers are everywhere – keeping up several e-mail and instant message conversations at once, text messaging while watching television and jumping from one website to another while plowing through homework assignments. But after putting about 100 students through a series of three tests, the researchers realized those heavy media multi-taskers are paying a big mental price.
When it comes to our brain’s ability to pay attention, the brain focuses on concepts sequentially and not on two things at once. In fact, the brain must disengage from one activity in order to engage in another. And it takes several tenths of a second for the brain to make this switch. As John Medina, author of “Brain Rules” says: “To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” ( http://brainrules.blogspot.com/2008/03/brain-cannot-multitask_16.html)
When we are in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, we are apparently not able to filter out what’s not relevant to our current goal. That failure to filter means we are slowed down by that irrelevant information.”
However, that said, there are examples and instances that may show some exceptions and here is one such illustration. The song, “The Time of My Life” which was the music and lyrics used in the final scene of the movie Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, was written by Frankie Previte. Previte said: “I received a call from Jimmy Ienner who asked me to write a song for this little movie. I told him I didn’t have the time and he said, ‘Make time. This could change your life.'” Frankie’s former bandmate John DeNicola and his friend Don Marowitz came up with the music for the song. Says Previte, “I received a track from John and Donny and I wrote the lyric and melody for the chorus in the car while I was driving along the Garden State Parkway, going to a studio session for another song.”
Here’s the message: Making or taking time to do what is really important can change your life. The question is, what is really important? And if you’re driving, be careful!