Time Management – an Oxymoron

Time management is an oxymoron. We cannot manage time; we can only manage how we use time. Additionally, when we try to manage by measuring results in a time period, we can unintentionally harm our organizations and ourselves. Let me explain.

Ancient Greeks had 2 words for time: Kronos and Kairos.

Kronos is the root word for chronometer – measuring time by the clock. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some of those divisions are natural: the length of a day, the length of a year. Others are completely man-made, and therefore artificial: months, hours, minutes, seconds.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using Kronos time, as long as we remember that it is completely artificial. Natural processes cannot be forced into a Kronos mold – trying to do so creates frustration on the part of the human, and potentially poor results on the part of the natural process. When we planted tomato plants last year, the package said that we would have tomatoes in 72 days. However, our garden only gets partial sun. So it was 80+ days before the first tomato was ripe enough to eat. And that is the basis of the second Greek word for time: Kairos.

Kairos understands natural processes. An ad for wine several years ago said, “We will sell no wine before its time.” How long a person takes to adjust to a new situation – that’s Kairos. That adjustment period differs from person to person, because we are each unique. Kairos takes the long view.

A company headed by a Kronos-driven CEO fired a VP of sales because the sales for the first quarter did not meet expectations. The VP had told the CEO that 3 major bookings were coming in, but the VP could not guarantee that they would be in by March 31. Sure enough, they arrived on April 1 and April 2. Unfortunately for the CEO, the 3 customers decided to follow the VP of sales, rather than continue to buy from a company that was so short-sighted.

Years ago I worked for a company that was committed to having 15% increase in profits compared to the same quarter in the prior year, every quarter! We could have called the company “Kronos Incorporated.” We had gotten to the point in which we would sacrifice dollars in the following month to save a dime at the end of a quarter. Our suppliers and our customers knew this and took advantage of it. We somehow maintained the artificial earnings predictability for 7 years. Then we finally ran out of ways to make the expected numbers, so we incorporated some of the bad news that we had deferred for so long. When the dust finally settled, we could start making decisions that were in the company’s best long-term interest.

An excellent leader understands Kronos and Kairos, and uses them wisely.

What experiences have you had with Kronos and Kairos? I’d enjoy hearing from you.

Gary Langenwalter

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