Are You on ‘Clock Time’ or ‘Event Time?’
What happens to your creative work when you redefine your relationship to the clock
Before moving to Colombia, I spent my first winter here. Once I arrived, I quickly found just how different the pace of life is compared to Chicago. People talk slower, walk slower. The U.S. custom of standing on the right side of the escalator so people can pass you on the left? Yeah, that’s not really a thing. People stand wherever they like. It’s rare to see someone in such a hurry that they’d want to climb an escalator that’s already moving, anyway.
In my first few weeks here, I chafed against the unfamiliar lack of urgency. But as I adjusted to my new surroundings, I noticed something happening to me. My writing was becoming more focused. I was coming up with new ideas left and right. And I was suddenly calmer. Months’ worth of pent-up tension melted away from the muscles in my neck and back.
I talked to other American expats about this phenomenon, and they all reported something similar. When you first come to Colombia, a few of them told me, it takes a while to get into the rhythm of life, but once you’re in that rhythm, you’re more relaxed, more laid back, happier. I believe this has a lot to do with cultural differences in the way we perceive time.
In his global research on attitudes about time, the social psychologist Robert Levine identified two distinct social constructs of time: “clock time“ and “event time.” People in cultures that operate on clock time schedule their lives according to, well, the time on the clock. Lunch is at 12, this meeting will end at 2, and the next meeting will begin at 2:30.
Those who work on event time, on the other hand, run their days by responding to what’s happening: When I’m hungry, I’ll eat lunch. This meeting will end once we’ve met the objective, and if that doesn’t take all afternoon, we’ll have this other meeting. Here in Colombia, I’ve observed, people tend to live more on event time.
In a 2014 paper, researchers Tamar Avnet and Anne-Laure Sellier studied the two different scheduling styles and found that both clock time and event time have their strengths. If your priority is to be efficient, clock-time is the way to go. Say you’re…