Airtime is finite. Initiatives, activities, tasks, ideas, attention to people, reaching the boss, innovation discussions, programmes, change programmes, leadership programmes, hiring, firing, training, meetings (meetings above all) , reading reports, providing feed back, coaching employees, doing shopping online and cafeteria, all compete for the same finite airtime. Airtime is the most egalitarian of currencies. It does not distinguish between users. No elasticity, no democracy. The same for all.
When you ‘prioritize’ in your overgrown Outlook calendar, you are in fact given air time to some and no airtime to other. Management is a permanent game of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’.
Airtime is the only real currency, yet we are so unaware and so casual about its use. The only way to know ‘who’ somebody really is (leaders, employees, staff, anybody) is not to interview them but to look at their Outlook calendar. Calendars don’t’ lie. They tell you exactly not just what you do but who (‘what?’) you are.
Initiatives compete for airtime. The average medium to large size organization will have also 6 to 10 parallel, competing initiatives: Quality Improvement Programme, Diversity Programme, Leadership Programme, Change, Digitalization, Engagement, Customer-centric Mindset Programme, you name it. They all are clear and differentiated in the mind of their creators, minders and protectors; but pieces of competing airtime for most of the staff.
I spoke to a recent new employee in a medium size organization who was confronted with 5 initiatives to ‘join in’ in her week one. She said to me that she felt she had not joined the company to do a job but join those initiatives and figure out how to get her job done in between.
The modern organization commoditizes time. This is not going to change.
As far back as 2003, my old friend Jacob Needleman, Professor of Philosophy in California, described what he called ‘time famine’. That famine is still there and even stronger. Time management ‘discipline’ is a kind of superficial answer. The issue is more profound than better scheduling. It is about who we are, or even ‘what’ we are.