Time Compression

October 1, 2014 3 Comments

We can “contribute to the degradation of human capacity or we can take a stand”. That was the bold call of Meg Wheatley this month when she presented on being a “Warrior for the Human Spirit” on her webinar for our friends at System Thinking in Action (STIA).

Meg presented four things that interfere with our deep connection and our ability to be warriors for humanity:

  1. Burgeoning bureaucracy
  2. Austerity measures and mentality
  3. Distraction
  4. Time compression

Time compression: The ways in which we squeeze ever more—more tasks, goals, emails, news sources—into the same amount of time that has always been available to us.


Photo Credit: Greenzowie

I’ve found the notion of “time compression” particularly compelling over the last two weeks. Time compression includes things like: acting like we can do more and more within the same amount of time, delivering content in shorter and shorter periods, and cutting out time for building trust, connection or creative ideas in organizations and networks. We do this, despite science telling us that multi-tasking does not lead to better products and results. We do this despite the knowledge and experience that building trust, as several of my colleagues have written about, is in fact a critical piece of effective social change work.

As I sat to write about this theme, I was not able to connect with myself or my creativity.

Then last Thursday I had the gift of space and time. I turned off electronics for thirty eight hours and ideas emerged. I turned off because it was my tradition on the Jewish New Years to do so. And I did it even during a week when the to dos felt extra long—my regular work joined by the need to attend with more focus to an organization in an important change moment.

So at this least convenient moment, I turned off, choosing to be less distracted and to do less. Some of the tightness I felt when trying to squeeze in more eased. And this is from someone who is a squeezer extraordinaire, always working to maintain extra space to stay in good relationship, even when squeezing. And yet, there is a limit.

Work paused and not only was everything fine, I was better for the pause.

What do I do in the pause?

I attend to myself and see what attention and healing is needed to be effective externally.

I connect with myself, and my life purpose.

I connect with others.

I relish the moments with colleagues reaching out to offer support or help.

I see more clearly and remember that feeling harried or angry or judgmental do not serve my life or my work.

I can hear what I am being called to be and do.

Meg’s words and my Rosh Hashana practice allowed me to challenge my personal and the US proclivity for time compression and distractedness.  I remember that pauses serve me and my work well and that I have daily opportunities for pauses: riding my bike to work; enjoying rather than feeling frustrated by the red light; breathing, stretching or walking during the work day; chatting with a colleague when I let in the warmth and love rather than rushing to my next moment.

For the moment, I remember that my task list is not my purpose. For the moment, I commit to pausing more and asking for help. For the moment, I commit to saying no to myself and others more often so that the goals are bold but realistic and that we can collectively focus on what is most important at work, at home and in the world.

How do you pause and do you need to do so more? What might we find as individuals or groups if we paused and heard more clearly what was calling us?


  • GibranX says:

    Thank you for this reflection Miriam, I think it points to a most important point of intervention for those of us who want to see true social transformation. We are aligned in our thinking, I just posted this on my personal blog – http://gibranx.tumblr.com/post/98637621001/whose-time

  • eileen says:

    Beautifully written. I especially like this sentence: ‘For the moment, I commit to saying no to myself and others more often so that the goals are bold but realistic and that we can collectively focus on what is most important at work, at home and in the world.’. Too often we say yes even when we know in our hearts what is being asked is not realistic. We cannot truly be in service of others until we start saying no.

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