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Time in excess

Life is speeding up, people say. There's not enough time, is the big excuse. And it's a fact, in some cultures, people suffer from a time deficit while in other cultures people seem to enjoy a time surplus. I wouldn't say Spain actually enjoys a tremendous surplus, but there is a lot more time here than - say - northern Europe or the United States. Those poor regions of the world seem to be constantly running out of time. Their citizens have to borrow, manufacture and create time - and they spend a lot of time learning to manage their time. The other day I was talking to a Spanish executive who had taken a time management course. Great course, she said, but the problem was it took too much time to manage time. Hmmmm... Now that's something for a time starved, time management aficcionado like myself to contemplate. Spain is known for long work hours in comparison with northern European countries. If you get to work at 9:00 a.m. and take a long break for "breakfast" at 10:30, that cuts into your ability to be efficient. But not as much as taking a long lunch from 2:00 to 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. By 5:00 many people have worked just four hours - and still have four to go! So, how could I assert there is a time surplus here? Many Spaniards would tell you they don't have time for anything outside work! In fact, the kind of surplus I'm talking about comes from living in the moment. You can read about it in a new bestseller called "The Power of Now". Perhaps Spaniards don't live that book to the letter, but this culture is much more present focused than the future focussed cultures many English speakers come from. Spaniards will tell you they feel pressed for time, but in fact, this culture encourages everyone to sink into the moment - to live now. That is what taking a long breakfast break shortly after arriving at work is all about. It's about answering the call of this moment right now, having a bite to eat, a coffee and especially a good chat with the "family" of co-workers you plan to spend the rest of your working life with. A time management expert would have a hey day with a Spaniard's schedule. Most of the things these people enjoy or consider essential would be lost on the chopping block. Coffee breaks - and maybe even lunch - would be taken at their desks, socialising cut down to the bare essentials - i.e. meetings ruled by tight agendas - and extended family would be seen at pre-programmed intervals that didn't interfere with the almighty personal and professional goals we must all have for our lives these days. What did people do before goal setting came along? Lived, just like people are doing right here in Spain. It's true that time management strategies can make you much more efficient, but what for? If you don't have that very clear, then you might as well just sit back and enjoy the ride. I've been watching people in Spain do that for about 15 years now, and I'm starting to think about joining them!
Blog published on 1 June 2009