“Remember that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, it ought not to be reckoned the only expence; he hath really spent or thrown away five shillings besides.”
Benjamin Franklin, "Advice to a Young Tradesman," 1748.
We’ve all heard a version of that Ben Franklin quote at one point in our lives. It’s said from the time we’re in school to the daily grind of our 9 to 5. There is no moment or time to waste because for every minute we throw away, we lose the possibility of creating or achieving more wealth. Anyone who’s felt judged by their video streaming app asking if they’re still binging the show they’ve been watching for five hours figured out that even our lounge time is quantified. There’s plenty of discussion on whether it's ethical for Uber and other cab-like apps to send drivers a notification before logging off, telling them how much they could make if they hold off for one more ride.
The thing is that time is no longer the commodity. Instead, the highest value is placed on efficiency and productivity. We no longer need to have luxury goods to show the world how much we’re making. Instead we now hear people bragging about how much they get done during the day. While it’s usually very positive to listen to someone talk about their passion, this isn’t done out of love for what they do. It’s a game of how much stuff can get crammed into a day’s work, regardless of the quality. Quality has left the building. As long as the boxes get checked, who cares if your product is not as good as it could be? You made ten instead of three. Offices have become factories where, as long as stuff keeps coming out of the oven, the finished product is what matters, not what it’s made of.
But amidst all this use of the factory metaphor, we forget to note that there are still actual factories out there. A recent article in The Guardian pointed out a critical difference between people who gloat about putting in extra hours and those who need all the overtime they can get. It explains how several CEO’s love to tell the world about how they start their days in the middle of the night or how their workweeks are of 100 hours-worth. It’s a brag in the sense of them saying that the reason they have what they have is because of how much they work. Yet for all their claims, there are plenty of people on minimum wage, working two or three jobs, accounting to 100-hour work weeks, who are barely making ends meet. It would be quite ridiculous to assume that working class people are not efficient or productive.
When efficiency and productivity are commodities, it’s easier to justify wealth-gap and inequality. This is where it gets dangerous, because we begin to place people into categories of who deserves nice things, such as economic security and public praise, and who is not working hard enough to achieve it. We forget that there is a world outside of the office and that brilliant "aha!" moments tend to come from random life experiences. If we’re too focused on getting as much done as possible, we might just lose an instant of pure inspiration that could occur on your way to get lunch or a coffee. If you spend your weekends catching up on work instead of hanging out with your loved ones, you might wake up one day realizing your life has gone by and you have yet to get to know your family members.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t strive to do your best every day. It’s that doing your best does not mean doing the most possible. It’s not a race, but a daily attempt at achieving excellence and innovation. Rather than trying too hard to be efficient, while still putting out a mediocre product, challenge yourself each day, not to do more, but to create better ideas and systems.
Photos by David Kashyap