Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

We were chatting about iPads in the general store one morning, and the owner of a small road construction firm who wandered in was dismissive, grousing that too many people are getting connected in fancy ways that aren't needed.

I was sympathetic and iPadless, but I pointed out that he was highly dependent on cellphones, having seen him take calls getting out of his truck or while buying his breakfast sandwich and smokes. He smiled and recalled how 20 years ago, he and his dad would return home in the evening, listen to messages on the answering machine, and then respond to the calls that had built up during the day.

That was perfectly normal. Today, he noted that if he doesn't respond to cell calls immediately or voice messages within the hour, he can lose a contract.

Story continues below advertisement

"Everyone is moving too quickly," he grumbled.

We should all grumble. We are, collectively, nuts. We have allowed the push for efficiency to pump up our stress levels. Ironically, this just-in-time world actually masks our collective inefficiency, at least, or incompetence.

We are living constantly in the present, a frantic present. We are focused on what needs to be done now. And we have decided it has to be done fast, because fast is good and, perhaps less acknowledged, because we have been too busy or too focused on other things so that we need whatever we're working on to be completed now-now-now.

In their 2005 book Time Mastery, Hartwick College management professors John Clemens and Scott Dalrymple point out that farmers and gardeners don't plant seeds one morning and expect them to bear fruit later that day, or the next day, or even the next week. They are patient, working for the future. They have an expanded view of time.

The authors urge us not to get mired in the short term. We should discover the joys – and good business sense – of acting and thinking ahead. They talk of finding a temporal golden mean, with the right proportion of past, present and future to optimize our effectiveness. But the reality is that most of us live life in the present-frantic.

Elliott Jaques, the Toronto-born management scientist, based much of his consulting on organizational hierarchy around the notion of the time frame for decisions required at each level. He had an intricate system for developing requisite levels in an organization and assigning individuals to those posts based on the longest time span for a decision required in that job and the ability of an individual to operate with the cognitive complexity required to make decisions for that time frame. So someone on a shop floor perhaps doesn't think beyond a day or two and a CEO is supposed to be thinking 20 or 30 years out for the organization, making some decisions that will decide that future.

What if we rewrote the system to consider the average time span – or most common time span – that people are operating in, rather than the longest time span for a decision? I think we would find most individuals are consumed with the immediate. Even CEOs are often focused on what they can do today to affect results this quarter – that's becoming today's long-time horizon for too many of them.

Story continues below advertisement

So we stumble around, because we haven't properly prepared for today. A task comes to the top of our 'To Do' list, and our heart sinks if we are honest with ourselves because we know if we had squeezed out five minutes a month ago, and ten minutes two weeks ago, we would be in a better position today. Perhaps some research material we could use would be here, properly gathered, and we won't have to make a last-ditch scramble to find that material or, worse, write the report without the details we truly need. Or perhaps we won't have to call contractors and insist on a quote in the next few hours, if we had called two weeks ago.

But we don't reassess the time frames under which we operate. We don't admit a certain incompetence, or inability, to operate in different time frames, and work to adjust our life so we can come closer to that temporal golden mean, and be better balanced between time frames. Instead, we blame others for the rush that consumes us, brag about how busy we are, and buy another gadget to make us more consumed with the present.

We start our days with a 'To Do' list. Perhaps we need a 'To Prepare' list. Perhaps our calendar needs temporal golden mean times, when we take a short break from immediacy to prepare, like a farmer, for the future. Perhaps our organizations need to add training in this area and evaluate people for promotion by this element of time span.

Bilingual people have a facility to operate effortlessly in two languages. We need to become more effortless at operating in two time frames. In the end, today will be less frantic.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies