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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSource Manager’s Journal: I Don’t Have Time

Source Manager’s Journal: I Don’t Have Time

Frank SchneigerTwo of the best ways of learning about things are to ask what is it like and what is the story? When you ask What is the story?, you get a clear sense of what has changed over time. Often the big changes are things that we aren’t even aware of because they have occurred gradually and because we have had a lot of time to get used to them. Traffic may be the best example.

But there are others that are even more important. Two that come to mind are how our diet has changed and how much less sleep people seem to get today compared to 40 or 50 years ago.

A time traveler from 1950 would be quite shocked to find people eating large quantities of processed junk food rather than healthy unprocessed meals. The time traveler would also be quite stunned by how overweight so many people had become.

Then there is the question of sleep, especially the amount of sleep that kids get. There is an overall trend of people getting less sleep, and lots of evidence that kids aren’t getting enough, largely because they go to bed too late. Like eating bad food, these trends have negative consequences.

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Next there is the trend of seeking happiness through gadgets and apps. Let’s drop our time traveler on any busy street. First he or she would notice a huge increase in the number of mentally ill people on the street who were talking to themselves. The time traveler wouldn’t notice the little cell phones or cords.

What caused all of these people to crack up? he would wonder. And why were all of these people fiddling around with their thumbs? And why did everyone in this modern world have white earplugs? This is all too weird. Time to go back to the Eisenhower years with normal things like white walls and tailfins on cars.

My dad would go to work every morning and come from the factory late in the afternoon. He would read the paper, have supper and then relax before going to bed. Some nights he would go out to play ball or to watch a game in the park. I don’t ever remember him saying, “I don’t have time” for anything. I think he, like most people, spent a fair amount of time doing nothing. Occasionally, he would watch one of the three blurry channels on our small black and white television.

Although they had friends, neighbors and relatives, neither my mom nor my dad spent time talking on the telephone. Days would pass without the phone ringing or any of us making a call.

Flash-forward to today. Whatever the subject, a common refrain is “I don’t have time.” I recently saw a book of photos of old movie houses. One of the marquees read, “Big Six Unit Show.” This meant two movies, previews, a serial and 10 cartoons, five happy hours spent in the darkness of the theatre. It is unimaginable today. There were also baseball doubleheaders, another five hours. Again unimaginable.

Did you see this movie? No, don’t have time. Did you read this book or article? Strange look and then, “No, don’t have time.”

Years ago, our start-up company hired someone to design an advanced information management system. Within a few weeks, the venture capital group that was financing us wanted to know, “What is Jacob doing? When will we see some code?” I mentioned this to Jacob and said that the bankers wanted to know what he was doing. His response, which was simultaneously 100 percent correct and extremely unhelpful, was, “Tell them I’m thinking.”

I have thought about that response a lot in recent years. We need time to think, and there is less and less of it. Employers are often looking for “successful multi-taskers,” ignoring the fact that there is no such thing, and that multi-tasking means screwing up more than just one thing at a time.

The basic norm of “finished work” gets compromised and it becomes harder and harder to hold people accountable. At the same time, many people report that they are working harder and longer than ever.

Like many other things, “I don’t have time” is unequally distributed. In recent years, I have had projects that required talking to people at various levels in organizations. A hospital project sticks in my mind. There were interviews with CEOs and senior vice-presidents. All of them took place in calm, quiet offices with no interruptions. In the same institutions, nurses and nurse aides were interviewed. It was never possible to complete an interview, despite the fact that they were shorter than those with the executives.

There were constant interruptions for “emergencies,” a term that now applies to all kinds of disruptions and surprises. In the end, all of these interviews were completed by telephone from these workers’ homes at night.

As an outsider with regular contact with the Virgin Islands, it strikes me that the territory experiences a somewhat different version of the “I don’t have time” problem. If you list the sources of strength and weakness of a place, one thing that stands out as a great strength in the Virgin Islands is the critical role played by volunteers and voluntary organizations. In many ways, they are the glue that holds communities together.

And here is the rub. Volunteers face the same “I don’t have time” challenges as everyone else. And there is a significant supply-demand problem. Too many worthwhile projects and issues and too few people with too little time. As a result, things get lost in the shuffle, projects aren’t successfully implemented, doubts creep in about our ability to really get things done, and people start to withdraw. It is a very specific form of “compassion fatigue,” since it isn’t really an overload of compassion that’s producing the fatigue. It’s really “fatigue fatigue.”

So what do you do? In some ways, this is a pretty straightforward supply-demand problem. You can, 1, increase the supply of volunteers, 2, decrease the number orscale of initiatives or, 3, work smarter and better. When you look at this list of choices, the correct answer is: all of the above.

Here are some closing thoughts, all in the form of questions. Questions that require time to think through.

– How do we recruit effective and committed volunteers, especially from groups that have not been previously tapped?
– How do we set clear priorities, in particular, what are the criteria that we should use to say “no” to something?
– How do we make best use of people’s time and also give them a clear sense that what they are doing is valuable and that they are valued?
– How do we hold people accountable for doing things that they are not being paid for?
– How do we achieve coherence across volunteer organizations to make sure that we are not being duplicative, working at cross-purposes or duplicating our efforts, and that we are addressing key community issues?

A current – somewhat premature – idea is that water is the new gold. You could also say that, for many purposes, time is the new money. For achieving important social goals, strengthening voluntary organizations is going to be a big deal in the immediate future, especially as public dollars for social purposes are stretched ever thinner.

Answering the questions just listed can play an important role in getting the most out of that time, and in making sure that those contributing their time come back again and again.

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