Time has always been a mysterious concept, ponderous to physics and cosmology and puzzling to philosophers. Only the greatest of scientists veer to experiment and theorise in this field. Yet time has held a unique place in the revolutions of civilisations which include historical developments in politics, religion, science and technology. Some ancients conceptualised it as the seed of the universe. Relativity physics and parapsychology see it as the fourth dimension within the matrix of matter, energy and space that precipitate time, while some thinkers brilliantly suggest that it does not really exist at all because a second can be stretched long like a slow motion camera that can stretch a soccer goal score into 60 seconds or more, or even fast-compress the whole match into a few minutes. Of course, in reality there is sidereal or star time, dream time, personal time, clock time, seasonal time, like days, nights, years, astronomical conjunctions, planting and reaping seasons, etc.
Science fiction writers blow our imagination with time-space warps and time travel episodes where one may travel at the speed of light in spaceship in a few years to a star only to come back to earth to find that thousands of years have elapsed and one is in another strange earthly civilisation. Our local pepper-soup literary icons and screen actors have not reached this stage of literary imagination that propelled western scientists to greater heights.
In spite of all this, no one has been able to define time and modern physics tries to define a second by specific atomic oscillations and vibrations. Clock time, despite being conceptualised by many thinkers as an artificial illusion, however helps us to engender punctually productivity, commitment, goal-setting, goal projections, work standardisation, etc – qualities that are totally defeated by African time, a philosophically-powerful but lackadaisical, under-developing habit that uses events to create time, meaning that whenever any event starts or happens that is the time, thus events exist but not in time or space. Yet life involves aspects of time and timelessness.
Scenarios of African time include idle governors spending two years in office and not knowing that much time has elapsed and much left undone while they use the remaining two years to plan their re-election to idleness; students inviting their professor to deliver a speech at their seminar at 1pm only for the old academic to arrive promptly to meet an empty hall as the leaders of tomorrow are nowhere to be seen yet, until the event finally kicks off at 3.30pm and he quickly delivers the paper to rush back for a group research conference scheduled for 2.30, which, thanks to African time just kicked off at 4.40.
It evokes the scenario of a lousy standardised nationwide examination supervisor who shoddily begins the examination one hour late, and by then the answers are already on facebook and two unscrupulous kids exploit it to make top results, and their father, a permanent secretary of a corrupt civil service structure, wangles their university admissions – one to read medicine and the other engineering. Years later one comes out as a half-baked doctor and happens to surgically operate on the sick grandchild of the lousy examination supervisor and the other designs a rickety, dangerous bridge over which, across the gulf of time, the now retired supervisor, amongst others, must drive to get to their residence. You now get a delayed action recycled synchronised cause-effect mesh precipitated in time nexus which philosophers call nemesis and which is as exacting as mathematics.
There is in this latter case, too, a specific realisation that a good educational institution is not just structures and concrete edifices but only defined by good teaching methodologies and most importantly proper evaluation via well-supervised and timely examinations. It is now palpable that time management skills are fundamental to nation building success just as every serious executive needs business and project management skills from the construction industry to even church pastors.
The nation jokes with time, a formidable factor that either leverages or stagnates economic productivity. Excessive bureaucratic redtapism and secrecy leave the average Nigerian administrator or manager with little time to think and most times he has no real think-tank support group. The private sector cannot afford this, although the public sector can as a wasteful sector.
Vice chancellors have no time to visit their dilapidated hostels; permanent secretaries are more at air-conditioning meetings than at job sites where any meaningful practical meetings should hold; chief drivers have no time to test the vehicles daily before they are commissioned out; even most political parties have no economic manifestoes but are more concerned with endless conventions and nonsensical verbiage and most cannot even define economics or inflation! Even immigrant westerners here are trained to adapt to our time-consuming or time-killing or timeless habits like desert stillness where nothing really happens and so time stands still.
We need to learn fundamental time skills such as delegating commensurate responsibilities, explaining targets, setting up think-tanks, developing an activity hierarchy with top emphasis on experiences, emergencies, research, due projects, peoples, customers and management demands, creativity, staff needs, health issues and problem solving followed by planning, networking, designing strategy, change development. And we must discard distractions, pointless routines, procrastinations, trivialities, games chats, gossips, cronyism, and excessive tea breaks.
Other useful strategies include use of clear communications, explanations, team briefing, big tasks analysis into simpler steps, use of project management tools, creating the time rather than letting the environment condition you, work adaptability, discipline, divergent thinking that questions routine, fitting short-term goals into long-term projections, use of logging diaries, planning your work, working your plan, performance-based promotion, brainstorming options with subordinates to get best options, consulting vertically and horizontally, postering time management quotes on office walls, factoring them into mission statements, use of video conferencing, phone conferencing, 24-hour work shifts, target re-appraisals, industrial music, and making work a pleasure rather than drudgery because work is life. And to really transform a third world nation needs work and time skills. Release of individual creative energies in democratic dispensations that enable competitive and exponential economic growth is not possible if time is not well managed.
Nwachukwu writes from Lagos.
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