Clock Time Vs. Calendar Time

What does it mean to go fast? To get things done quickly? To be productive with time?

Does it mean moving through your tasks with Benny Hill-like speed?

Does it mean, for example, moving your toothbrush up and down faster? Or, perhaps it means brushing for a fraction of the time you usually do?

In the context of a business project with a projected length of weeks or months, it shouldn’t mean these things, but I think that sometimes people get confused. Specifically, they confuse Clock Time for Calendar Time.

Let’s say that a team is used to delivering, for example, new advertising creative in six weeks, but for different reasons, they’re asked to do it in four. That’s a much shorter timeline, but what does it really affect?

I’ve seen teams in similar situations reduce the length of the project planning meetings from, say, 90 minutes to 30 minutes, or to no meeting at all on the grounds that they have less time to do that project. But does this help?*

They’re reducing the Clock Time used on an important part of the project, but doing so doesn’t impact the Calendar Time at all. Calendar Time is affected far more by things like approvals, cycles between revisions, inattentive project management and the existence of other priorities that prevent work from moving forward. One person’s vacation, for example, can add massive Calendar Time to a project while consuming zero Clock Time. So can failure to follow up on an email from a key executive who needs to respond to a request for feedback before something can progress.

Somehow people feel good about skimping on Clock Time — rushing through key tasks, especially thinking-based tasks — while gorging on Calendar Time in the form of needless multi-day delays and pauses. The natural instinct is to sip gingerly on Clock Time like it was top-drawer whisky and drink down Calendar Time like a 7-Eleven Big Gulp with free refills.

But in truth, the way to operate is just the opposite. Take the Clock Time. Think it through. Flail around and flesh it out. Do the work. Think it over. Do it again, but better. The more impact a part of a project has on the success and quality of the outcome, the more Clock Time it deserves. But in a pinch, people tend to confuse the urgency of a project, which is almost always expressed in Calendar Time, with the need to shortcut the key work. It won’t speed up the project by a single day if the strategy session or the ideation work takes 30 minutes instead of three hours.

But sometimes people feel as though that’s what “going fast” means.

John Wooden said, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” Being “quick” means cutting out wasted Calendar Time, challenging the structural ways in which work slows down for no particularly good reason. “Hurrying” means cutting out important clock time, haste, even panic.

Be quick, but don’t hurry. Cut out all unessential Calendar Time, but take all the Clock Time you need.

*Not to mention that saving 90 minutes in Clock Time in the planning phase is almost certain to cost far more Clock Time and Calendar Time later on.

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