July 24, 2014

We know life is too short, so why are we letting it get wasted?

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The sands of time

The Sands of Time by Pieces-of-My-Heart on deviantart.com

A while back, I wrote a post called, “Time: the ultimate currency.“  Since that post, I’ve been focusing more and more on time, especially in the context of contemplating what is waste & what is value.

What I’ve come to realize, is that we all waste an awful lot of time doing nothing value-added.  When I say “time” (or anyone else for that matter) is being wasted, I start to think “life” instead.  Every minute we spend just sitting – accomplishing nothing of value to anyone – is a minute of our lives lost and gone forever.  It doesn’t come back, it doesn’t get recycled, it doesn’t break down or compress and eventually turn into a diamond.  It is just simply gone.

It starts when we are children, and we attend school for 6 hours a day.  Now, why are we at school in the first place?  Well, you could say that the value is to learn (or receive an education, and they’re not the same thing, which you can read about here, and also here).  How much of that time – how much of the students’ lives – is spent on actually learning?  Certainly, it’s not 6 hours’ worth, so why the paradigm that says sitting they should sit there for 6 hours?

We are also spending it at work, doing a job we don’t value, or chasing down errands that are the result of taking on far too many activities than can be accomplished, or any number of things we don’t want to be doing.  All this is just to have an hour or two of personal enjoyment at the end of the day, if we’re lucky.

With this in mind, I must confess that I get a very visceral reaction when I hear folks say they “Just want to win the lottery” or “I wish I could get someone else to do this” or “I wish I could work from home.”  All of those things, to me, sound like expressions of disappointment with how we are spending their time.

So how many minutes of each day are we spending doing something we value?  Is our commute valuable?  No, not really.  Is reading through an inbox full of HR announcements, IT system messages, and group-wide email broadcasts valuable?  Nope.  How about attending meetings for 4 hours a day?  No, nothing there, either.  So what portion of the day do we actually spend creating value for someone?  What if work were about the value you produce, and not the time you spend?  What if we decided to spend that time on something we enjoy, instead?  Would we be able to build that personal wealth we need in order to have what we want?

All of this time spent on things that, in most cases, don’t necessarily add value to anyone and spend our lives producing nothing of consequence for no one who matters.  And all of it to have just enough money to get by with a fraction of the things we want.  So, there are 2 variables that stand out – perhaps we should simplify and change the things we we value, and perhaps we also need to re-think who determines how our life is invested.

What if we judged employers not on the benefits and salaries they provide, but on the how much of our lives they take away?  What if we made it more personal, and instead of the ambiguous term “employers,” we said, “John C. Smith, Vice President of Stuff, requires you spend 47 hours of your life’s limited time in the office, regardless of the amount of work there is to do, because he believes the policy says you must.”  That kind of sheds a different light on John, doesn’t it.  He’s gone from a harmless drone with a rank & a title, to a very harmful drone with a rank & a title.  Hopefully, you value your life more than that.  Hopefully you believe your precious time is worth much, much more than thousands of empty hours creating nothing of value, just to have some of the money you need for what you do value.

Recently, I came across “Why Work Sucks and how to fix it.”  The book lays out the introduction of a Results-Only culture at Best Buy’s headquarters in Minneapolis.  The book goes well beyond the “What” of what transpired at Best Buy, and dives deeper into the organizational and behavioral aspects of why the initiative was successful.  At it’s heart, it is all about valuing people’s lives, and encouraging them to value their own, as well as each other’s, combined with an awareness that work and life are entirely intertwined.

The events at Best Buy are remarkable, and I encourage everyone to check out the book, as well as read the authors blog.  There is, clearly, a need to better understand what we consider waste and value in our organizations and in our lives, as well as a need to redefine how we measure it.

Our lives depend upon it.

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