What’s your relationship with time?

Returning to in-person work cannot be simply about vaccinations, air hygiene, and testing protocols. This is less about revisiting hiring strategies or cultural competency training and far more about intentionally reorienting our relationship to and expectations of time. ~Alaina Kleinbeck

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Now and then I stumble upon an article that not only encapsulates something I’ve been contemplating but also hits me right between the eyes with an added challenge. That happened today. As I slowly return to in-person meetings with clients I’ve been thinking about “time.” Will my view of time be different in the coming months? Do I value time differently than I did 14 months ago? How will others value time? My list of questions about time is constantly evolving.

Alaina Kleinbeck described time over the past year as “feeling like a pile of pudding on a hot sidewalk – ill-defined, shape-shifting mush. The difference between one day and another has blurred, marked most clearly by how many hours we sat in front of Zoom.” Oh, so true.

Our Relationship with Time and White Supremacy

Then, what she said next sort of stopped me in my tracks. She said, “Specifically, I need to consider the way my relationship with time is a function of the values of white supremacy.” Okay, now she had my attention.

In a typical predominantly white U.S. culture we tend to put a high value on precise schedules . We treat time as if it’s a limited commodity. We reward employees who stay focused and complete tasks in a linear sequence. However, Kleinbeck says there are other cultures that blend tasks, relationships, and responsibilities into one moment. For example, the start and end time of a meeting is less important than the relationship with the people in the meeting. Timely completion is not innately valued. What’s valued far more is the relationship with the task and the collaborators.

Our Cultural Norms about Time

As I think about my own relationship with time, what better opportunity to also think about my own white cultural norms that I may be forcing onto others. Here are just a few reminders for me from Kleinbeck’s list that I’ve modified to fit my work.

  • Prioritize collaborative decision-making about timelines that takes into account individuals’ professional and personal demands.
  • Reframe interruptions and distractions (professional and personal) as everyone doing their best to respond to the multiple callings in their life.
  • Facilitate meetings that are more like conversations and less like running-through talking points.

We’re at a rare moment in history when we have the opportunity to rethink our relationship with time. So lead with bold grace and consider how your relationship with time is communicating your need for others to accommodate your cultural norms.

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