When God made time did he make enough of it?
Or rather — Time is money?
I was pondering these two paradigms last week as, critically pressed for time, we were filing the remaining layouts for the next issue of Marie Claire magazine. It was already after 11 pm, a sizable order of pizza and Coca Cola had long been devoured, but no one in the office seemed to complain. Spirits ran surprisingly high: the adrenaline rush from working under a tight deadline made us all, in fact, more focused, alert and a good deal more creative than normal.
I am sure this sort of situation takes place pretty much in every office occasionally or, like in ours, on a regular basis, when in the final week of every month we are to close the deadline. There's a special word in Russian to describe this work style - "avral," meaning "making all-out effort in the last minute," "rushing frantically to get the job done." I actually believe "avral" is quite an applicable notion to how we, Russians, tend to treat work and time in general.
Back in 1983, Edward T. Hall, a prominent American anthropologist, published a much talked about study titled "The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time."
He divided the world into the two major cultural poles regarding attitudes towards time: monochronic and polychronic. In monochronic cultures (the U.S., Japan, Northern and Central European countries), time perception is linear, the work patterns are task-oriented, with priorities clearly set, goals and missions established, much planning done in advance and then strictly followed. In these societies time is indeed an invaluable resource not to be wasted.
Polychronic cultures (the Mediterranean countries, Arab world and Latin America), according to Hall, "are oriented toward people, human relationships and the family, which is the core of their existence." The price of time therefore is relative as it's believed that there's more than enough of it. Time might be an asset, but not the key one. Multiple other factors — circumstances, connections, etc. - are at play. Also, time is perceived in a so-called "spiral" way: the present is deeply connected with the past, and the future isn't always to be envisioned and planned.
Hall placed Russia in the polychronic camp. I tend to agree even though much has changed in the country since 1983. Today there's definitely much more motivation here to make a more efficient use of time, but the Soviet heritage with its laissez-faire attitudes is still apparent. That's especially the case in the regions where the Soviet models often prevail, and economic instability makes the present too transient and the future unpredictable. When it comes to big cities where opportunities are plenty, I find that thanks to poor organization, we often don't really manage time, but time manages us.
"In Moscow and a few other big Russian cities people tend to work 24/7, and your job tends to eat up your personal time," said Konstantine Smirnov, a businessman with twenty years of top-management experience in Russian and international corporations."In Moscow, being half-hour late, even for business meetings, is accepted — bad traffic is an all-year-round excuse. Planning is chaotic or inexistent, and many appointments are made on short notice."
I asked Gleb Arkhangelsky, founder and director of Time Organizing, one of Russia's top time management consultancies which has been training major Russian and international corporations for more than eight years, what he thought about this. He observed that such thing as a "typical Russian" attitude towards time doesn't exist. Culturally this complex country is somewhere in the middle of two worlds, he said. It manages to incorporate both the poly- and monochronic elements, sometimes present within one company, even within the same department, or even within one person.
"While some people and some companies demonstrate phenomenal efficiency and punctuality, others here just have no regard for time. In Russia, you just never know what you're going to get," Arkhangelsky said. Still, he insisted that gradually, both individuals and businesses are clinging toward the Anglo-Saxon "time is money" model. "It's the model that works, and the entire world is getting there — just look at South-East Asia, which used to relate to time differently before the economic boom."
But we, Russians, should also treasure and make use of our unique abilities which, in fact, include the capacity to work effectively under pressure. According to Arkhangelsky, the "avral work style" is, in fact, deeply rooted in our mentality, which is linked to the country's challenging climate. "Summers are very short in Russia, so throughout the centuries all the agricultural work needed to be done very fast, with ten idle months to follow."
That's exactly what Ilya Muromets, the fabled Russian folklore character, did. This tall but poorly motivated fellow spent 33 years lying down, incapable of doing anything, until some magic powers inspired him to carry out some exploits. That's how we often work, procrastinating until last minute pressure (or inspiration?) fuels us to complete the project and sometimes even produce impressive results.
But I suspect better time management wouldn't hurt us either.
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.