Time is Relative

Time is so basic to our lives. We learn to tell time at a very young age. If we want to know the time of day or the day of the week, we simply look at a clock, a calendar, or our iPhone. However, even these aspects of time are not so simple: do you tell time using a 12-hour or 24-hour clock? Do you say ‘half seven’ of ‘half past six’? Moving beyond the basics of time to attitudes toward time and mindsets and approaches can become quite complicated.

For some people time is essential, they might be described as ‘slaves to time.’ But for others, time is inconsequential and they believe ‘good things come to those who wait.’ We might agree in some situations: waiting for the outcome of a critical patient takes an eternity or the exhilaration of riding on a rollercoaster lasts only a few moments. Usually, though, time is not measured in the same units and how it is viewed and valued can vary considerably. People comment that as they get older time seems to move faster. Children believe school days and summer vacations last forever, while many business people wonder what happened to the day because they didn’t get enough accomplished. They say ‘time flies’ or wish they ‘had a few more hours in the day.’ Many factors including culture, stage of life and circumstances influence how people regard time.  The challenges begin when they collide.

Several recent events reiterated the complexities of time:

The manuscript of my book is being proofread because the first time the publishing deadline resulted in a less than perfect product.  In publishing, deadlines are quite stringent so we agreed on a deadline but the proofer contacted me indicating she need more time to complete the work. While deadlines have their place, if meeting a deadline compromises the quality of the product, should one be unyielding? Now some would say, “I want both a quality product and I want it on time,” it may be what we want, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

I spent five hours on a walk with my friend, Ruth, and her walking buddies named the Mama Mias. For this retired group of ladies this weekly outing is a healthy way to spend time with friends; it is invigorating, yet relaxing. While I enjoyed the exercise, taking that much time out of my work day is difficult.  When with friends, five hours is nothing, however five hours away from the job is sizeable. Even though I’m self-employed person, I still struggle with how I should spend my time.

Whether it is about setting family mealtimes, celebrating life’s milestones, or business deadlines, perception of time vary significantlly. No matter a person’s attitude towards time, it is a part of everyone’s life and time is relative.  Don’t judge too quickly this would be a big faux pas.

What situations have you encountered where the differences created challenges? What was the primary source of the differences?

What attitude toward time should dictate in multi-cultural situations? Some people answer that it should be the dominant (host) culture or culture with the customer or purchaser? What do you think?

8 responses to “Time is Relative”

  1. Anouk Thomas says:

    I moved 10 months ago with my family from Belgium to the US – Chicago area. And yes,.. I missed already an appointment because I got day and month in the wrong way in my calendar. The babysitter was really not amused when she stood at our door and I told her it was only next week!
    Luckily, every appointment I make here for visiting a doctor, dentist or even hairdresser is proceeded with a phone call, SMS or email reminder…time is money! I guess that is a’global concept’… These ‘friendly reminders’ are also applied in business as the travel is sometimes of a much bigger extend here in US compared with Europe. You can just fly out here in order to join 1 single meeting.
    While I was french tutoring last week, one of my students brought up the difference in reading the clock…so straightforward in Europe, while here every appointment should include AM or PM! Something I got used to after 10 months…but again, I first had to miss an early running date with my friend as I thought we were running at 19h and she thought it was at 07 AM.
    When we moved over here, I never thought about these differences…but they are present and can make life easier if we had known beforehand!

  2. Judy says:

    Having moved back and forth between North America and Europe/the Middle East several times I agree with Anouk about the easy confusion with dates, particularly when they are expressed in numerical form. Is 4/11/13 April 11, 2013 or 4 November 2013? It depends where you are.

    In the Middle East I found the local culture was much less time-focused than in North America. Meetings rarely began on time or kept to a schedule, which westerners found disconcerting and even rude. However the local view was that westerners allow themselves to be ruled by the clock and they considered it equally rude to end a meeting just because the clock said so, if there were issues still to be discussed.

  3. Rachel says:

    I hear you, although my time dilemma is less cultural and more practical. After 11 years of globetrotting, I still am completely unable to figure out what time it is where (and date too, for that matter). In my personal life, it’s not critical, but in a professional one, it’s meant almost missing webinars that I was supposed to be co-presenting (Australia is ahead of us, so even though I had the correct date on my calendar, it was a day earlier there), missing flights and constantly having to send at least three emails to confirm. For someone who has a punctuality obsession, it’s incredibly stressful, and means that I appear either overly obsessed or (when I get it wrong), unreliable. And just when I get it straightened out, they throw in a Summer Time change somewhere in the world. Sigh.

  4. Happy you enjoyed it. Can you give an example of a situation where a list of do’s and don’ts wouldn’t have helped?

  5. Next blog coming; the topic will be customer service. Watch for it.

  6. Time is indeed money in today’s time. Meeting deadlines or finishing up assignments within promised time should be a professional’s virtue. But if quality of the product is getting compromised while trying to deliver it on the dot then exceptions can be made rarely to ensure that the best possible outcome was obtained.

  7. Thank you for your comment. While deadlines are so important in business, not all polychronic cultures view deadlines as essential. All too often deadlines are viewed as a suggestion and new priorities can change the company’s plan. Discussing the importance of the deadline on the front end can help, but sometimes financial disincentives may be necessary to emphasize the importance of the deadline.

  8. Time,deadlines,are very important to business. Being punctual while convincing someone abroad of some different culture varies, as in Japanese people are very punctual of time, and to deal with people of so punctuality requires to know the work culture for doing business with such nations.Time is the key to get business and signifies trust in business if within the deadlines.

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