Every year on 6th September, National Read A Book Day celebrates the unique joy that comes from immersing ourselves in literature - an escape, an exploration, and an education all at once.
As we celebrate this day, I want to share with you one of my favourite books - 'The Future of Time' by award-winning author, Helen Beedham. This work of brilliance is a journey into the intricacies of time and for me offers a welcome new perspective on the persistent problem of time management. The book is packed full of practical tools that can be applied across roles and industries. Helen positions time management as a strategic business issue and artfully argues for a more effective approach to work that promotes well-being and job satisfaction. Thoroughly researched, logically organized and readily accessible, it's an outstanding 'must-read'.
The key message of the book is to be successful we must manage time more thoughtfully across teams and the whole organisation.
The Future of Time is divided into three parts:
Part 1 explores the problem with the way we treat time and the implications for business.
Part 2 describes what good time management looks like, with examples from organisations doing it well.
Part 3 shares how to diagnose your organisation's own time defects and make things better with practical tools for effecting change. The major obstacle here is change fatigue. Much of this section of the book is dedicated to how to successfully implement change through reworking time. Helen helpfully suggests that directly linking a project like this to a strategic business priority can help to get buy-in. For example, if the strategic priority is to grow the business by 10%, you can demonstrate how reworking time would help to achieve that.
For me, The Future of Time's most interesting concepts are:
There’s a double bind with time.
Working hours are going up, but productivity is going down. The UK seems to be the worst offender.
Time doesn’t hold equal value to us.
Today’s time is more valuable than tomorrow’s, which is why we’re quick to say yes to future things and our diaries become overcommitted.
We don’t value time as much as money.
Less than half of us (48%) would choose time over money.
We don't value other's time, as we do our own.
While some of us are a little better than others at guarding our own time, we rarely think about the implications our actions have on the time of others.
Time management is the responsibility of the organisation, not just the individual.
Obviously, Helen doesn’t deny that we are each responsible for managing our own time but if organisational culture doesn’t respect and value time too, it’s virtually impossible for the individual to do so. Organisations often act as though we have endless time. We hear much about organisational strategy. But strategy means making tough choices about where we invest our time and then being ruthless about it. There’s a quote in the book, it’s not Helen's but she cites it: "You don’t have a strategy until you know what you are not doing.”
And I’d add “and continue to say no to it.”
We're more or less 'time blind.'
Time ticks by unnoticed. Interestingly Helen says,
"Organisations choose to appoint people into senior roles for other intangible assets like culture, diversity, risk, efficiency, even happiness but no one appoints someone for overseeing the organisation's collective time - and they should".
Her argument is that businesses invest millions in building the tech and transferable skills they need for today and tomorrow, so why wouldn’t they invest in building long-term capability to manage working time too? This she says "is an untapped strength and source of great competitive advantage for organisations that get it right".
Our physical location changes how we value time.
Whether working from home, in the office or a hybrid of both, changing demographics and more people living alone means some of us really value time in the office for social interaction and connections – particularly young people looking to learn.
We need to shift from valuing inputs to valuing outcomes.
It's all too easy to get lost in the urgent not the important. We must stop rewarding time invested and busyness and start rewarding results that advance strategic priorities. Similarly, says Helen, we must reward ‘how’ people deliver, not just the ‘what’. Here Helen means rewarding those who invest their time in kindness, mentoring, cooperation, collaboration – all those intangible assets that require time to make work enjoyable, productive and worthwhile. Helen suggests managers should stop asking ‘what have you achieved’ and instead ask ‘how can we help you better manage your time to achieve the important priorities?’
This was a new one for me but interesting. It’s how long people stay with an organisation, identifying which employees fail to thrive. A stay gap is the difference in length of service between groups of employees with different demographics in terms of ethnicity, gender, disability etc. I love how she’s managed to link time to the diversity agenda.
And finally - the most useful appendix I have ever seen in a book!
This is where you'll find all the tools and resources you need to rework time. I most loved the ‘Team Time Contract’, which sets out how a team will work together. I have to admit my initial reaction to this concept was ‘Who would make time to establish a contract like this?’ but her sample contract is actually very thought-provoking.
It’s easy to see how a Time Team Contract could be transformative and it’s reminiscent of why I also spend time 'contracting' in coaching, by which I mean spend time upfront with coachees to agree what's going to happen and how we will work together. It’s a false economy not to do this if ultimately you want the best outcomes.
I also recognised some other links to coaching in that coaches excel at holding the space and ‘time’ for their clients.
Coaching can also dispel the myth that you need lots of time to achieve something worthwhile – a single 30 minute coaching session can change the course of your day, your week, and sometimes even your life.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone. I was therefore delighted to hear that The Future of Time: how ‘re-working’ time can help you boost productivity, diversity and wellbeing had been announced as the winner of the People, Culture & Management Book 2023 by The Business Book Awards earlier this year.
The Business of Being Brilliant podcast
Late last year, I had the privilege of being a guest on Helen's podcast where she talks to business leaders, academics, authors and workplace experts about how to change organisations for the better so that everyone can flourish.