There’s no such thing as not enough time

There’s no such thing as not enough time

"What is time...and why are my balls wrinkly?" - Eli, aged 7

Between several grown-ups we answered the second question to Eli's satisfaction i.e. it's probably something to do with surface area and keeping them cool. But we struggled to convince him with any response to the first.

Eli is into philosophy and has some interesting ideas about body, mind, and spirit, but time is one that foxes him.

He is not alone – there are at least two schools of thought on time.

Newtonian time has time as the fourth dimension of our universe i.e. things happen inside of time and in sequence. Time has boundaries; it is a container or a thing that flows.

Another view is that time is not a thing, not a container, not any kind of entity. This says that time is an intellectual tool and rather than being some thing it simply gives humans a way to order and compare things and events.

The latter view is part of the philosophy of Leibniz and Kant, for example.

Personally, I’m a fan of the Leibniz/Kant version and my preference is for very practical reasons. If time is not a thing then we cannot think of it as finite and we can never have too little of it.

I know a good proportion of the people reading this will now be preparing their arguments for their being only 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in every hour, 60 seconds in every minute, and once they’ve passed, they’re gone forever. So let me say now that I don’t have a problem with this – it’s how we’ve chosen to measure our lives and it relates to the physical changes of night and day that we experience. A sensible, rational, and logical way of managing things.

The problem I have is that most of us think we have a daily bucket of 24 hours, which, in sequence, we scoop regular portions from and pour them somewhere. And with each scoop we assign value – did we do a good thing with our time (work, build something, help someone) or did we fritter it away on inconsequential nonsense (watching Jeremy Kyle, drinking alcohol, playing computer games).

I’ve just returned from the two day British Science Association Science Communication Conference in London, which has inspired several blog ideas, including this one. The reason being that the most common reason I have heard for not doing something that we know is useful and important is “I don’t have the time”. In science communication this means that we are missing out on evaluation, our plans are not strategic, we look for quick wins, and we’re constantly stressed.

So, scicommers, consider this: Time is not a thing with which you can make moral acts. Time does not exist. You do not have a bucket full of time to allocate chunks of from the time you wake up one day until the moment before you wake again the next.

“But how will I organize my day!?” I hear you cry.
Firstly, and most crucially, know what journey you are on and know the steps you plan to take in order to get there.

This means you need a vision, or aims for your communications strategy:

AIMS: What do you want the world to look like?

e.g. The UK public understands the concept ‘human genome’. (c.f. the Wellcome Monitor wave 2 published 17 May 2013)

OBJECTIVES: What will have changed for the world to look that way? (Make them SMART)

e.g. Greater than 90% of UK adults have heard of the human genome by May 2015

Question: Which aims and objectives are most important and which are most urgent and are any critical?

Now, it’s crucial to know that human beings are absolutely dreadful at sorting out important from urgent and we often carry out tasks at the level of critical, which is usually stressful or otherwise detrimental.

For example, there’s that pile of washing you’ve been meaning to do for three weeks and it includes the clothes you wear once a month to play golf. Every evening you get in from work and look at the pile of washing and think “oh, I must get that done ‘cos I’m going to need my golf clothes”. Then you walk past the pile and sit down to watch the TV and have a hard earned glass of red wine.

If I asked you, what’s more important, the laundry or the red wine and TV, you’d say the laundry because you love your monthly golf game and you can’t play golf without your golf clothes but you can drink red wine and watch TV any time. But every night when you came home from work you decided that it was more urgent to have your treat on the sofa.

And you did that every night until it was the day before golf and the laundry got re-graded from important to critical – there’s time to get the wash done but the tumble drier is broken so you’re going to have to miss your favourite soap and go to the launderette and spend £3 getting your golf clothes dry.

Sound familiar?

So, now you’ve sorted out what’s important, urgent, and critical for the success of your organization, you can start thinking about your approach.

STRATEGY: What approaches will you use to achieve your objectives?

e.g. Public exhibitions about the human genome

TACTICS: A list of activities – the things you could actually do.

e.g. Develop an activity about the human genome and take it to the Green Man festival in 2013 and 2014

EVALUATION: How do you know you have achieved your objectives?

e.g. Include a question in wave 3 of the Wellcome Trust monitor that asks if adults have heard of the human genome

(NB// There might be multiple strategies and tactics for each objective and multiple objectives for each aim – in this case there definitely would be).

RESOURCES: Know what you need in order to carry out your tactics and know that you have achieved your objectives

e.g. Financial: £10,000 to build the exhibit, including an iPad app, a model of a double helix, and a fee to Brian Cox to record a voice over for a video-based interactive.

e.g. Time: Between 01 June 2013 and 01 June 2014: 350 hours work at experienced communications officer level, 50 hours work at administrative assistant level. 2 hours to convince your boss to include the question in the Wellcome Trust Monitor.

Now you’ve got to decide which strategies and tactics to do and the type and extent of evaluation that will be needed. This is a more tough decision because you may need to balance what you predict to be most effective with what is available by way of resources.

Notice that in this process you using time intellectually i.e. it’s a way of conceptualizing and measuring the resource need. You can then do the work to figure out what you can do to create that resource – you might need to move someone from one project where they are less occupied to this one, you might need to make a case to recruit an additional member of staff for 12 months.

What’s different about this process than the conversations I have been hearing this week is that you start from a point of view where you are thinking about what is possible rather than beginning from a conversation about scarcity or lack. I hope I’ve been able to illustrate the difference and that this helps you to be satisfied with your choices to prioritize certain tasks over others. Most of all, I hope this creates fun and peace for you in your work and can reduce some stress.

Now, all that said, I do have one health warning. You may struggle with this if you work for an organization that lacks direction or fails to articulate its vision and aims. My advice is to do what you think is right and be clear what your strategic aims are for communications – be an advocate for your profession, support your colleagues, and empower those in charge to do better.

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