Myth: “I Don’t Have Time”

Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time’, is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.’
– Lao Tzu

How could I not ‘have’ time?
Time exists and marches on regardless of what we do with it.
We choose what we spend our time on. Or do we?

Maybe we did when we were kids. Those halcyon days of our youth seemed to last forever. Not a care in the world – Hakuna Matata. At times it even felt like time stood still for us. As we get older, why does time feel like its passing faster? Adrian Bejan, a Duke University researcher attributes it to physics. He states that as nerves and neurons in our body mature, they grow in size and complexity, leading to longer paths for electrical signals to traverse. As those paths then begin to age, they also degrade, giving more resistance to the flow of electrical signals. Signals that affect the rate at which new mental images are acquired and processed in our brains. As a result, older people view fewer new images than younger people in the same duration of time. This leads older people to think that time is passing faster because little has changed in that same period of time.

Aside from physics, I can’t help but wonder if psychology too contributes to time passing faster as we get older. Could the mounting baggage of our acquired cognitive biases slow down even further the number of new mental images we see in that same duration of time?

Fast forward to our adult years encumbered with desire, obligation and responsibility. Personally, and professionally. The greater the desires, the greater the obligations and responsibilities. The greater the responsibilities, the less choice you have over how to spend your time. Our professional and personal lives start to clash – Kuna Matata!
Have you noticed how events in your calendar seem to multiply like rabbits? Taking over what little white space you had left in the week. Your lunch hour is your only refuge from the onslaught of demands on your time. Until someone books over that as well! The higher you go the worst it gets. You start feeling like a hamster on a wheel. A wheel that seems to be speeding up as we get older. Going nowhere faster and faster. Frivolously spending time like a drunken sailor spends money.

Agile ways of thinking and working take time seriously

Agile ways take time. Judicious use of time is key to the effectiveness of Agile ways. Stephen R. Covey said it best,

The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.

Agile ways invite investments of time from individuals to interact. The performance of and returns on those time investments are realized throughout Agile.

Starting with the mindset

A couple of time-related thoughts come to mind for me.

  • Value the journey, not the destination. Destinations have finality about them. Journeys do not. If you don’t have to be somewhere by a certain time, you’ll have time to smell and enjoy the roses.
  • Value experience over outcomes over outputs. Experience implies interaction. Every minute of interaction might return a new perspective on possible outcomes. Let me use an Einstein quote to illustrate,

When I would have one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes describing the problem and 5 minutes on the solution

The only thing I might change in this day and age of lean start-ups is replace “describing” with “experimenting” or even “experiencing”.

Embodied by the Agile Manifesto

There are three agile principles that relate to time for me.

  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.” This illustrates the focus on time boxing.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” Face-to-face conversations are more efficient than trying to read between the lines of a written communication.
  • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.” Have you ever spent time doing something only to realize it wasn’t needed? Think of what you could’ve done with that wasted time.

Extending through the practices

The practices associated with the various Agile frameworks and methodologies reinforce the focus on time. Here are some sample practices.

  • Scrum events as described in The Scrum Guide are time-boxed.
    • Sprint – 1 month or less
    • Sprint Planning – no more than 8 hours for a 1 month sprint
    • Daily Scrum – 15 minutes every day
    • Sprint Review – no more than 4 hours for a 1 month sprint
    • Sprint Retrospective – no more than 3 hours for a 1 month sprint
  • Kanban’s service-oriented metrics have a strong time component. Here are some examples:
    • Replenishment frequency
    • Lead Time
    • Throughput
    • Flow Efficiency
    • Release frequency
  • DevOps’ focus on accelerating the speed of production deployments.
    • From the unbelievable to the ridiculous. Amazon went from 1 production deployment every 11.6 seconds in 2013 to 1 every second in 2015 to who knows how fast now!
  • Mob Programming
    • Short 7-10 minutes intervals of programming accelerate learning, enables eagerness to question and mitigates debating over solutions.

Why does time get scarcer when introducing change?

Think of any change as introducing “new mental images” for us to process. As we get older and develop biases, physics and psychology explain why our ability to process those new images is impaired. Some of us may even get stuck on the first new image we see. Time flies by while we stand still as the world passes us by. If this could happen to us as individuals, how might it impact whole organizations?

Agile changes the way we think and the way we work. When introducing Agile into an organization, I’ve observed two reasons why time gets scarcer.

First, time moves at the speed of urgency. Time just seems to zip by when we’re on a burning platform and each of us is feeling the lick of its flames. Our willingness to allocate time to learning about Agile is directly proportional to the size and reach of the burning platform. The ‘why’ for change. If the ‘why’ is not clear or worst yet – a set of motherhood statements, no one will offer their time to support the move to Agile.

Second, all our time is used up doing things the old way. Even when we want to allocate time for the new way, we’re not willing to drop or let go of the productivity generated by the old way. “Agile was supposed to make us go faster and be more productive not slow down”. Organizations that recognize the need to slow down before going faster will grant their employees and staff the time needed to learn the new Agile ways. The same can’t be said for management in these organizations.

Why is the scarcity especially wicked for management when moving to Agile ways?

Management are still trying to understand the role they play in an Agile environment. The image of self-organizing and self-managing teams creates a mental block for most managers. The majority of managers in the 21st century was raised on 20th century management practices.

  • They lead so others can follow
  • They think so others can do
  • They spend all their time digesting and making sense of all the information
  • They strategize to feed operational tactics
  • They ensure rather than enable
  • They control rather than collaborate
  • They are the tip of the accountability pyramid – the buck stops with them

With all of those responsibilities on their existing plate, no wonder management has no time for anything else. Especially the move to Agile. One manager remarked to me, “Agile teams are self-managed, so that means I don’t need to get involved – right?” This remark illustrates the prevailing perception amongst management I’ve observed. Agile is something the teams do. Management doesn’t need to get involved. So, they continue spending their time managing the business. They now have even more time to do so because they don’t need to manage the teams anymore.

That perception can’t be further from the truth. The 13th Annual State of Agile Report identified “Inadequate management support and sponsorship” as one of the top 3 challenges experienced adopting and scaling agile. It’s been one of the top 3 challenges for the last 4 years.
What can be done to change this perception? Training such as the Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) offered through the Scrum Alliance have definitely helped. But only if management is willing to take the first step and spend the time away from the office to attend.

What else could be done?

How might we look at time differently?

So far, we’ve looked at time as a limited and finite resource. A resource to be managed Once it’s gone it’s gone. I see a couple of alternatives to this narrative.

Alternative 1

What if we could slow the passage of time? So that we could process more change and get more done in the same duration of time. According to Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity represented by the equation E=MC², it’s possible. However, we would have to be travelling at speeds approaching the speed of light! So that’s a non-starter in our current organizations.

Alternative 2

What if time wasn’t a non-renewable resource and zero-sum game? What if we could grow and create more time? Benjamin Franklin is credited with the expression “Time is money”. If time is money and we can grow money through the magic of compound interest, then why couldn’t we grow time? What if time grew from the network effect by crowdsourcing time?

How could we begin growing time?

Some simple tools…

These tools can help management and other stakeholders grow and create the time needed to support a different future.

Tool #1: Wait a Minute
Stop the hamster wheel! Start with WAIDT (pronounced as ‘wait’) – “Why Am I Doing This?” I find this question as relevant today as it was over 25 years ago when someone shared it with me. This simple reflection is a great way to stop spending time on things that are no longer worthwhile or valued.

Tool #2: Calendar Hacking
At one of my clients, people came up with a number of creative ways to emancipate time in their calendars. One leader referred to it as Calendar Hacking. Here are a couple of examples to inspire your own calendar hacking ideas.

  • 15/30,45/60 – This was an idea to save 15 minutes from every meeting booked. People tend to err on the side of caution when booking meetings. You book 30 minutes even though you only need 15 minutes. Similarly, you book 60 minutes when you only need 45 minutes. The “15/30, 45/60” idea was to get people to consider booking only 15 minutes rather than 30 and 45 minutes rather than 60.
  • Chit-chats – These were 15-minute focused leadership meetings. The focus was created by identifying one topic that needed to be discussed. Leaders were amazed at how effective these chit-chats became. The magic of time-boxing.

These first two tools help people free up time. The next two tools will help people grow time.

Tool #3: Covey’s Time Management Matrix
One of my all-time favorite personal change books is Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. It’s chock-full of great ideas and tools that have stood the test of time. One of my favorite tools is the Time Management Matrix.

Covey’s Time Management Matrix

I’ve used this tool to help people manage and prioritize their own time. Here’s a sample approach I’ve used.

Level 1

  • Ask them to track and map all their activities planned and unplanned for a week against the 4 quadrants in the matrix.
  • Suggest they AVOID or LIMIT Quadrant III and IV activities in future – this simple suggestion alone could free up enough time each week to enable leaders to attend one Agile team event or ceremony like a Daily Scrum.
  • Suggest they MANAGE Quadrant I activities.
  • Suggest they FOCUS most of their time on Quadrant II activities. Quadrant II is the key to sustaining indefinitely one’s personal and professional contributions.

Level 1 is where I used to stop. Since then I’ve realized the same tool could be used to benefit others in the person’s circle of influence. For leaders, that means their staff and teams.

“What are the greatest gifts a leader can give their people?”

In my opinion, they are Time and Opportunity. The gift of Time can be enabled through a Level 1 use of the tool by freeing up enough time to reinvest in building relationships with staff and teams. The gift of Opportunity is possible using the following sample approach with the tool.

Level 2

  • Start with an understanding of the desires of each of their employees and their teams.
  • Review all of their activities across all four quadrants and note those that could fit the desires of specific employees or teams.
  • Suggest they let go of those activities by entrusting them to specific employees and teams as development opportunities.

The result will be not only investing time on the important Quadrant I and II activities but by engaging the eager help of employees and teams, the amount of time available for all activities has just grown.

Tool #4: Pasricha’s Scribbles
A colleague of mine in the Agile space upon hearing of Covey’s time management tool, introduced me to a book by Neil Pasricha. And I’m so glad she did. The book is entitled “The Happiness Equation”. The equation is simply:

“Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything”

The book discusses 9 secrets, 3 for each part of the equation, that detail out practical advice on what one can do to realize happiness in life. What I found fascinating was Pasricha’s Scribbles. “Scribbles” are, well, exactly what comes to mind when you hear the word. They’re hand-written words or hand-drawn visuals to help convey a point. There are two Scribbles that could be used as tools to help grow time.

  1. The Space Scribble is a 2×2 matrix which helps one balance between Thinking activities and Doing activities.
  2. The Just Do It Scribble is a 2×2 matrix which helps one prioritize activities and decide how to carry out those activities based on the dimensions of Importance and Time. How important an activity is and how much time is required for the activity.

Both these scribbles would be a great complement to Covey’s Time Management Matrix.

The Space Scribble

Space Scribble

The Just Do It Scribble

Just Do It Scribble

Learning and using these tools may be just what’s needed to debunk the myth of not having time.

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