The Dangers of Saving Time

Recently, after watching “In Time” with Amanda Seyfried & Justin Timberlake, I decided to explore the roots of the story. This led me to discover a book entitled “Momo,” which was written by author Michael End who also penned “The Never Ending Story.”

Momo details the story of a little orphan girl’s trials and tribulations in fighting against the Grey Men. You see, the Grey Men steal people’s time, but they do so in a peculiar manner. Theirs is not a blatant form of time theft. On the contrary, the Grey Men convince their victim that time is limited, and the only way to save time is by becoming quick and efficient. The idea they’re attempting to sell is that time is the most precious resource, it should never be wasted away, and is a commodity to be hoarded rather than spent.

As the people in the story start to adopt the “saving time” psychology, their focus on time becomes an obsession; so much so that it breeds a scarcity mindset. This, in turn, leads to a series of problems that, ultimately, remove the joy of living. No longer are they spending leisure time with friends, neighbors, co-workers or family. Consequently, they become rushed in their daily jobs and are blind to the intrinsic rewards connected to producing high quality work — which, as you can guess, takes a significant investment of time.

“When the first customer of the day entered, Mr. Fusi (the barber) saw to him cantankerously, leaving off all extra niceties; indeed, he was already finished after twenty minutes.”

As the story continues, Mr. Fusi, in his desire to save time, loses the pleasure of doing his work. In a further attempt at ensuring there is no time wasted, he hires employees and places them on a specific schedule. There is not a move they can make, nor a breath they can take that isn’t prescheduled. Mr. Fusi places a new sign in his barbershop window: SAVED TIME IS DOUBLED TIME.

Momo, on the other hand, still has time in abundance. Additionally, she shares her time liberally with others and develops deep, long lasting relationships. She always has time to do the things she wants to do and is never in a hurry. One day, one of her good friends, Beppo the Street Sweeper, teaches Momo a profound lesson about the use of time.

“You see, Momo?” he asked one day. “It’s like this: sometimes you have a very long street ahead of you. It’s so terribly long, you think to yourself, that you’ll never be able to finish sweeping it.”

“So, you begin to hurry. You keep getting faster and faster, but every time you look up, you see that the street isn’t getting any shorter. There’s always just as much left as before. You start straining yourself, even more, you panic, and finally, you’re all out of breath. You can’t go on at all, and the street still stretches out far ahead of you. That’s not the way to do it. You can never think about the whole street all at once, understand? You can only think about the next step, the next breath, the next broom stroke. Only ever the next one. Then it’s pure joy, and that’s the most important thing because then you do your work well. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Suddenly you notice that, step by step, bit by bit, you’ve finished the whole street, and you don’t even know how because you’re not out of breath.”

There exists a stark contrast when comparing the philosophy of each character, and then holding their perspectives in contrast to the prevailing ideas in our culture. One approach says time is scarce and thus we should save it in any way possible. The other philosophy is that time is abundant and should be spent liberally.

What is the perceived difference between spending time and saving it?

Possessing the mindset of trying to save time is precarious. When we are persistently focused on “time” we put ourselves at risk for removing the soul from our work and relationships. Our objective for existing is reduced to mere machinations of getting things done. As such, the diligence and space required for creativity and living fully in the moment disintegrates. As the book reads:

“It had ceased to matter whether or not people enjoyed their work or found pleasure in it. It was important only to finish as much as possible in the shortest amount of time.”

Arguably, the Industrial Revolution cemented this philosophy of finishing as much “as possible in the shortest amount of time.” If we could only produce 5 widgets an hour while our counterpart produced 10, then we must be inferior time managers.

However, viewing our life from narrow lens of being mere “time managers” closes us off from enjoying the world around us. Life begins to lose its purpose; the multidimensional aspects of human experience disappear.

Each of us has a choice regarding how we view our “time.” By observing time as an abundant resource, rather than engaging in the fear of losing it, we can gain satisfaction from spending it in our own unique way. We can slow down or speed up. But, as long we focus on the quality and the intrinsic joy that comes from whatever we are doing in that moment (working, playing, reading this blog), then it is time well spent.

You can either start the day by saying to yourself, “My time is limited today what can I do to save it?” or “I have a lot of time today, how am I going to spend it?”

Just by switching that single thought to one of abundance, you take hold of the inherent power you possess in determining how much joy the day can bring you; and this will naturally improve the quality of work that you produce.

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