Ordinary time

I’ve recently been reading ‘The Culture Map’ by Erin Meyer. Where some cultures work with linear time, others work to flexible time, scheduling their day by “event time”: before lunch, after sunrise, or in the case of locals in Burundi “when the cows come home”.

As someone from a linear time culture, I am used to thinking of time as something to abide by and conform to, as if time is somehow more fixed than I am. I’ve realised that I can end up treating time as a restricting pressure. If time is finite, every wasted second has a cost.

This is the time equivalent of calorie-counting. Our culture is obsessed with utility, and our preoccupation with productivity is a by-product of this. We are subservient to time, and our fixation with it leaves us bound to both the past and future, and never the present. Productivity is a time trap.

One consequence of this is a performative busyness, a need to justify our use of time, and thereby fill all the white space on the calendar with places to be and things to do. I’m so used to this attitude now that a free evening is more unnerving than it is welcome: what else could, should, I be doing?

Time, of course, is an enabling tool, a gift. “White space time” is not wasteful, it’s necessary buffer-time, time to be able to concentrate on living and being. “We are human beings, not human doings”, as someone I know used to say.

When you schedule your day down to the last minute, you introduce an anxiety from managing your real-time progress to an imagined vision. Each glance at the clock fires off a thought about whether your day is going like it’s supposed to, or if you’re falling behind.

You cannot truly “fall behind” time. You don’t need to berate yourself when things take longer, or you fail to get up and achieve three things on your to-do list before work.

Writing is one of the things in my life that helps me to “just be”. I don’t do enough of it because I struggle to prioritise it, and I feel resistance to the idea of sitting down to write, even though I know I’ll enjoy it once I’ve got there. This Lent I am going to focus on allowing “white space” back into my life, and part of this is a commitment to write something each day. (This is day 1 , wish me luck!)

I really like the ending scene of the film ‘About Time’ where the main character Tim says that he used to use his time-travelling to live each day a second time, just without the worries and stresses of the first time; but now he just lives each day as if it was a day he was reliving. It’s how I want to live and relate to the time I have too.


  1. That’s really interesting and lots resonates with me. I also think that other people look at the white space time on my calendar and think they can have a piece of it. So I put appointments in anyway and keep the time for doing the things that are my priorities, not theirs!


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