Should we be slowing down to speed up?

This is a guest post from Gerrit Cloete of Productivity Pitstop

One of the major sporting events in Cape Town, South Africa (where I have the joy of living!) is the annual Cape Argus/Pick n Pay cycle tour that snakes for 109km around the Cape Peninsula. 35 000 cyclists descend on Cape Town for this famous spectacle. One of the most often heard questions after the race is:”What was your time?”

Pages and pages of names and finish times are published a few days after the event, and people make promises to finish in a shorter time next year.This is a rather linear way of looking at what this great event can bring.

How about asking questions like:

“Who did you meet along the way?”

“Did you also get the baboons at the turn off to Cape Point?”

“Did you pull off for that great massage at Tokai?”

It begs a response that is very different from the linear “so many hours and minutes” reply. It begs a response about the experience of the experience… The ancient Greeks, as I understand it, had three concepts/words for time:

* Chronos: linear, measured, “clock” time. 1 hour + 1 hour = 2 hours.

* Kairos: experiential time

* Eon (aeon): An immeasurable or infinite space of time; eternity; a long space of time; an age (from

From Wikipedia:

“While [chronos] refers to chronological or sequential time, [kairos] signifies a time in between, a moment of undetermined period of time in which something special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative nature.”

I like this example: A golfer hits a hole-in-one. Or you bungy from the highest bridge in Africa.

* Chronos: How long did it take? Less than a minute.

* Kairos: How did you experience it? How does it feel? Great! Fantastic! Unbelievable! Heehaaaa!

* Eon: How long will you remember this for? For the rest of my life.

An important question arises: Do we (should we) not do things and live life for long term impact rather than instant gratification and short term gain (often at the expense of generations to come)? If so, then let’s think where the long term impact (e.g. “I will remember it forever”) comes from – from how long it took, or from what you did and experienced?

The answer is obvious: eon comes from kairos, not chronos. It comes from what you do and experience and not how long it takes.

Yet we tend to focus so much on speeding things up rather than slowing things down.

The “fast productivity” question is: “How long will the meeting take?”.

The “slow productivity” question is” “Should we even have this meeting?”

So many people complain about attending unproductive meetings, yet they do not question the meeting. Rather than keep on rushing from one meeting to the next, just stop the meeting madness for a moment and ask the Slow Productivity questions: “Why are we meeting?”, “What is the desired outcome?”, “What do you want me to come and to at your meeting?”. If there are no clear and meaningful answers to these questions – don’t go!

In Africa we have the concept of “African time”.

From Wikipedia: “Africa time” or African time is a colloquial term used to describe a perceived cultural tendency, in some parts of Africa, toward a more relaxed attitude to time. This is sometimes used in a negative sense, about tardiness in appointments, meetings and events. The term is also sometimes used to describe the more leisurely, relaxed and less rigorously scheduled lifestyle found in these countries, especially as opposed to the more hectic, clock-bound pace of daily life in Western countries. In October 2007, an Ivorian campaign against African time, [had] the slogan… “‘African time’ is killing Africa – let’s fight it.”

But is it? Or is the clock from the West killing the real spirit of Africa?

Maybe Slow Productivity can embrace practical ways of exploring African time and Slow Time for paradoxically improving productivity?

“Ex Africa semper aliquid novi” – Out of Africa there is always something new.

Maybe the time for African Time is here if we want to have more sanity and improved quality of life and less rush; enjoy more of kairos and be less enslaved to chronos?

Only time will tell. 🙂
Gerrit Cloete

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Comments (2)

Interesting perspective, its so true that we run around most of the time like headless chickens, maybe slowing down will help get more done

I think we could all take the advice about making meetings more productive,sometimes I feel that half my life is spent in unproductive meetings

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