Friday, November 23, 2007

Just Checking!

Losing Track of Time

Remember, a few months ago, when I wrote about losing my debit card? By the next morning the enterprising person who found it had racked up $1200 in unauthorized charges and the card was canceled. It took 10 days or so to get a replacement. That was about the same amount of time I had to wait both for the funds to be replaced by MasterCard and for my next paycheck to be deposited in my checking account. Although I could have dipped into credit or savings, I decided instead to simply stop spending money during that time.

Now I find myself facing a similar opportunity to try “doing without.” My wristwatch had been losing time for a couple of weeks. It finally stopped all together. Rather than replace it I put a new one on my Christmas list and will go through life in a less time-conscious way until then – see how that feels. Hmm… I’ll probably buy myself a new watch if I don’t find one under the Christmas tree, but maybe not. After all, it’s seldom difficult to discover the time when necessary and might be nice to be free from the compulsion to know the time when it doesn’t really matter.

Checking on Things

How many other compulsive “checking” habits do I have? Too many. Mail, voicemail, email; I check ‘em all the time, though I’m less committed to answering messages than checking them. What else? Donation reports, bank balances, interest rates… headlines, other people's blogs. I’m not tempted by weather and traffic reports or sports scores. But I do frequently check how many people are looking at my blog and subscribing to Missions Catalyst or clicking through on the links… and find myself a bit aghast at those who go days, weeks, or months disinterested in such things, for example never checking their email instead of refreshing it every few minutes as I seem to.

The boundaries between what is work and what is personal are not always clear, so I often realize I'm working when I'm supposed to be off or behaving as if I'm 'off' when I'm supposed to be working.

It is perhaps ironic that one of the best ways I’ve found to regulate this compulsive checking behavior is by tracking, somewhat, how much time they take up during the day.

Accountability as Obstacle

Some of you know that among the reasons our previous ministry went down was that it got clogged in bureaucracy. The tools and systems that were supposed to clarify our goals and plans and reduce our inefficiency were themselves inefficient, inaccessible, and inflexible, masking rather than revealing the fact that we weren’t actually accomplishing what we meant to and reduced our ability to respond to changing needs and opportunities. It wasn’t that they were entirely bad systems, but they did not work. The time-tracking system was the one I found most helpful, but it was never harnessed for its best uses, only its worst ones. It also included a rather sinister assumption that time is money. Those most focused on making our non-profit ministry as much like a for-profit business as possible also made the irresponsible financial decisions that led us to the rocks on which we sank – ironically, on the brink of bankruptcy. So frustrating!

So, one reason it’s been hard to get our new ministry on its feet, I think, is that we’re torn between thinking that business-like ways are the answer (we just need to do them RIGHT this time) and preferring to run in the other direction, shying away from anything that too closely resembles the management approaches that ruined us before. Is it possible to hold these things in balance? It’s nice not to have all the bureaucracy but I’d like to see a few more principles and policies nailed down so we know we’re all moving in the same direction.

Accountability as Tool

Recently I acknowledged that if I want more structures for accountability I might just have to create them myself. It’s always been that way somewhat but now more than ever. So, I re-instituted the time-tracking system for my own use, with my own adjustments. So now I know where my time at work is going. When I am at the office nine hours and can only account for five or six, I know that things like those compulsive “checking” behaviors are eating it away.

Anyone else have such problems?

What would it be like if I put them aside? The day-long email and media fasts I used to do are probably not practical at this juncture. I don’t think I could get away with ignoring email and voicemail. But I might be able to limit checking the other things to once or twice a day at most. If I were more disciplined with my time I could, ironically, forget about time: serenely focusing on the things I actually mean to do.

1 comment:

Megan Noel said...

i find i only need to track things like that for a little while. for instance, when i was selling my beadwork i was keeping track of how much time went into each project. after a while i knew how much time things generally took and did not need to track time. for things at work i generally only need to track things the 1st time i complete a process. after that i can estimate how long similar projects will take based on that. and look at all the time i save only tracking my time selectively. i do not own a watch. i use my cellphone as one some, but generally only when waiting for a bus. as long as i get to work on time it does not really matter what else i do.