Taking (& Being Taken By) Time

by Sarah Norek

Last fall, I attended Time Isn’t Neutral, a workshop put on by the folks from Whiteness @ Work. I honestly don’t remember my expectations/curiosities going into it. I coordinate workshops at the ASC, and we facilitate a lot of content that connects to time and how to manage it, plan, schedule, etc. Heading into their workshop I was excited to see other people deliver content on time and looked forward to new perspectives we might be able to bring into our ASC content too.

I learned a lot. My concept of time kind of melted. And now I’m in this gooey space of trying to make sense of my approach to and experience of time, and how that aligns (or doesn’t) to my values.

One concept that Desiree Adaway and Jessica Fish (of Whiteness @ Work) introduced in the workshop was “time famine”: not having enough time to do the things we want to do, because we’re doing the things we need to do. We hear about this experience from students (and colleagues, friends, peers, etc. a lot). In my experience, often my wants are activities that replenish, fill, and ground me, which kind of makes them feel like needs, whether or not I prioritize them as such. How to reconcile that?

Something else Adaway and Fish brought into the conversation was a comparison between monochronic (more linear) and polychronic (more fluid, more attentive to relationships) time. If you haven’t explored these and what makes them distinct from each other, I totally recommend it! As a workshop participant, as drawn as I felt to polychronic time, the fact that I very much operate within a more monochronic, linear system was quite clear. Adaway and Fish also present clock time (monochronic time) as a construct of colonialism and white supremacy, providing a rich set of thought-provoking details and research that I’m still deeply processing and reflecting on.

In my experience, time feels linear, and its linearity feels absolute. This is how I perceive time, and how my work and, well, time, gets allotted. I work within a grid of days and hours and seconds, with tasks and deadlines and commitments that need to fit within the 24-hour day for seven days a week and 365 days a year. I’m not unique in this, I know. My work – my days – tend to begin and end at appointed times, and much of what takes place within those times is informed by the 24/7/365 of it all. But that’s not necessarily how my thinking, my processing, my energy (etc.) works.

As a timely (haha!) example, I’ve been starting and stopping on the draft of this blog post for the last two weeks/three months: work time gets blocked on my calendar but, when I start to draft, I inevitably have to physically move, or put distance between the writing and thinking. These are steps (haha again!) to my process when working through challenging things. And, the approach doesn’t fit neatly within the rectangle the work has been allotted in my day. More planning! I might say. Better awareness of my time and myself! And yes, those both will support the work, sure. But also, the work is inherently impacted by the time structure I operate within, and I would argue that it’s not as simple as those moves. Which is a helpful reminder for myself as I think about my own planning and also as we talk about time with folks in workshops: we encourage tapping into self-awareness, trying different tools for scheduling, and I still think these entry-points work. I also think this recent experience of work and energy and thinking not necessarily puzzling neatly into a linear structure helps too. It’s a process. It might be messy. And there’s nothing wrong with it being messy, or not fitting exactly. Challenging, yes. But not wrong.

I once reflected to a friend that I was a messy thinker, and they generously offered back that it wasn’t messy, it was just non-linear. Kindest game changer ever. And I wonder about this non-linear thinking piece and the more-linear time piece and how they intersect – for me and for others, too. I also wonder about how we support students to thrive and succeed in a more linear system, while also honoring their lived experiences, wisdom, culture and approaches to time. The two don’t necessarily align – system and life – but they’re still unfolding simultaneously. So what?

Since the Time Isn’t Neutral workshop, I’ve made what feel like small shifts in the way I think and talk and write about time; while not monumental, they feel like movement. I find myself leaning away from the “management” wording and more towards planning, scheduling, thinking about what the work is that’s being done, what values are being … valued … in my choices. In workshops and conversations, we try to offer several different options for tools to choose from, and to invite choice. I think, too, I want to be more intentional about asking questions to learn more about how someone conceptualizes time, how they approach planning their days, how they think about their wants and needs and responsibilities and commitments. What do they prioritize? What’s their time narrative? What do they need to do and what do they want to do and how is their whole self being represented in their planning?

This all feels sort of parallel to Marie Kondo saying she’s not as focused on decluttering space anymore – that she’s “sparking joy” in other ways, more interested now in putting her time towards her family, her young children in particular, which also means living in a little more clutter, perhaps a little less linearity – tapping into the polychronic piece of things is my new connection to it. And I love that she’s made her shift in thinking transparent, that she’s sharing about how she thinks about the time she has and the activities she chooses now to fill it with. We’re allowed to change. Time is simultaneously pervasive and unique, which allows for a lot of habits and a lot of opportunities for adjustment and transformation.

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