June 5, 2014

The Clock Doesn't Tell the Whole Story

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“Everyone is given the same 24 hours in a day.”

Well, of course, right? How can you argue with such a simple “truth”?

You can’t at face value, but the meaning behind the statement merits further examination.

Think about how this statement is most commonly used.  I most frequently hear it when people are trying to prod others into being more productive with their day. 
It’s often paired with the example of how some uber-entrepreneur invents some world-changing smartphone app before most of us have finished our morning coffee.
“Look at Erin.  She gets more done in a few hours than most of us accomplish in a full day.”
Be. Like. Erin.

The underlying message is we’re not worthy because we don’t make as much of a difference with our 24 hours as others do with theirs … and remember, we all have the same 24 hours in a day.

Except that we don’t.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.

I am self-employed. I am single. I don’t have kids. I don’t have pets.

These four facts are the basis of a 24-hour day that undoubtedly is very, very different than others.  For the most part, I have almost complete control over my day unless I am speaking or facilitating for an organization or participating in the occasional conference call to plan upcoming client work. In general …

I get up when I want.
I work when I want.
I don’t have to go to meetings.
No one checks when I punch in or out.
I have no family demands on my off-work time.

This is the epitome of privilege.  This is what genuine freedom of choice looks like, and it is a freedom that people possess in widely varying degrees.

We may each start with the same 24 hours in a day, but what is important to acknowledge, understand, and appreciate is how many of those hours are genuinely available for our discretionary use.  And that’s where the clock starts to tell time differently.   

When I was an association executive I found it very helpful to ask my board chair to tell me about his/her typical day.  You can learn a lot about others by getting a sense of how their 24 hours often unfolds and what choices are available to them about how they spend their time.  I’ve since turned that simple conversation into the exercise “A Day in My Life” that I often use as a part of leadership conferences or organizational retreats that I facilitate.

The bottom line is this: we don’t all have 24 hours a day available to us for our use.  In fact many people have very few discretionary hours at their disposal in any given day.

If we want to build more effective teams, if we want to strengthen interpersonal relationships, understanding a day in the life of others is a very good place to begin.

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