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Time to stand and stare

Jan 06,2015 - Last updated at Jan 06,2015

These days everyone seems to be in a hurry.

Having a “busy schedule” has almost become a badge of honour of modern life.

Employees rush from one meeting to the next; parents try to cram in lots of activities for their children; we hardly have time to stop and appreciate the world around us.

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

New gadgets and gizmos were supposed to save time and create more leisure, so much so that academics used to fret about people having too much free time. 

New cleaning machines like vacuum cleaners, washing machines and dishwashers were designed to cut down on housework. The jet engine was expected to make intercontinental travel commonplace for both business and pleasure. And modern methods of communications were promoted as making access to information easier.

But these expectations have not been met.

Information overload is a good example.

In my first job, one could only copy a letter to six people because that was the number of copies a typist could hammer through the carbon paper.

So one had to select very carefully the people who really needed to read what one had to say. 

Typewriters were replaced by word processors, computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. All became essential technology to make sending and receiving messages quicker and simpler.

But the risk now is that we no longer select carefully the people who need to read what we have to say. We can send our message to a few thousand people with the click of a mouse.

So a clogged inbox has become the scourge of the modern office worker.

Sifting through the messages and sorting the essential from the junk takes time.

Deciding what not to read has become a vital bureaucratic skill; the “Delete” button has become a crucial tool to avoid being overwhelmed by the deluge of e-mails.

Social media can both help and hinder.

Expressing a thought in 140 characters is a healthy discipline. If you want to convey a short, sharp message to a wide audience, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram must be part of your arsenal.

But too much brevity can be risky.

One important risk is that we do not have enough time to think.

If you wander away from your terminal for a well-earned cup of coffee, a new flood of messages will arrive, all demanding instant responses.

In these circumstances, advice and analysis can become short term, tactical and rushed, rather than well considered, fully thought through and strategic. 

Time is precious. We need to use is wisely.

That should mean devoting enough time to doing things well, rather than simply trying to clear them out of the way as fast as possible.

Whatever our endeavour, we should savour the experience and consider how we can gain and learn from it.

Creativity and innovation — crucial factors to much that we do — can only deliver real benefits if the researchers and innovators have time to develop their ideas fully.

Even in our leisure, we can use our time smartly.

Consider the tourist who rushes round Europe trying to have his or her photo taken in front of every major landmark.

And consider the visitors to Petra who stroll through the Siq to the Treasury and are told that they have “done” Petra. Imagine how much they are missing.

Welsh poet William Davies wrote a poem called “Leisure” with the classic line: “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.”

He was talking about appreciating the beauty of nature and savouring the world around us.

When we look at how we use our leisure time, or how we manage our daily routines, it is worth taking time to stop, stand and stare.


The writer is British ambassador to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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