How Lean Organizations Control the Speed of Time

By Jon Miller Updated on July 18th, 2016

white_office_clock_47023They say time flies when you are having fun. Those of us that are middle aged or beyond often feel that time passes more quickly now than when we were younger. The two seem to contradict each other. Or does this mean that time flies because we oldsters are having more fun? I certainly try my best, but a more scientific explanation is needed.

James M. Broadway, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and recent graduate Brittiney Sandoval answer the question why does time seem to speed up with age? In summary,

a) Humans judge the length of an event differently when it is happening and when reflecting on it afterwards.

b) Human experience of time varies with whatever we are doing and how we feel about it. When an activity is novel or fun, time seems to go by more quickly.

However, when these first two factor are combined,

c) Humans remember fun or novel activities in the past to have lasted longer than the boring or routine ones.

The researchers explain that this happens because our brains encode into memory new experiences but not routine ones. Afterwards we judge time passing based on the number of new memories we created during that time. The more new memories we build, the longer it will seem to have taken. Time flies when we are having fun, and fun times seem to have laster longer than they actually did. The converse is that boring time drags, but our dull and routine lives seem to be passing by quickly. But here is the good news,

“this means we can also slow time down later in life. We can alter our perceptions by keeping our brain active, continually learning skills and ideas, and exploring new places.”

If you want to get the full appreciation of your time on this earth, and not watch it zoom by, embrace learning, new experiences and change. Many employers and leaders want their people to be more engaged with their work. The answer lies in making the work more engaging by adding the creation of many memories through learning, new experiences and exploration of ideas and new methods. Since we are doing it, we might as well learn useful things and explore safer, better and easier methods.

A common practice among lean organizations is cross-training to build multi-skilled teams of people who can each do the jobs of other people. One benefit is to insure knowledge and skill are transferred and not lost when people leave. Another is to have a back up person to step in during busy times or absences. Yet another is the general elevation of people’s knowledge of the job. But making routine work non-routine by introducing learning and cross training also can help time to fly by during the day and the overall pace of life to seem to slow slow down in hindsight. Add to this some type of creative idea suggestion system to encourage people to experiment with new methods to remove annoyances and small problems identified during cross training, and we are close to a good formula for an organization of engaged people.

Lean organizations talk about the twin pillars of respect for people and continuous improvement. Giving people the opportunity to learn and explore new things, and thereby experience the day going by quickly, but life passing without hurry, would seem to embody these twin pillars.

  1. Bob Rush

    July 18, 2016 - 12:10 pm

    Very good observations and a logical conclusion. Another reason for lean — it keeps us active in our our old age.

  2. Jamie Flinchbaugh

    July 24, 2016 - 12:43 pm

    We spent so much thought on how we allocate time, we don’t think enough about how we design it. Is it a 15 minute meeting or a 60 minute meeting? We always make that decision. Should it be in a conference room, a coffee shop, a walk in the park? We don’t think about how we should consume the time nearly enough.

    One area that this is often poorly considered is curriculum design. Too many are worried about imposing on people for even an hour. The reason is that they believe in, in advance of designing it, that they will make people’s lives miserable. But if you make it engaging, that won’t be a big deal. I routinely got leaders at all levels to give up an entire week, and for many, it was one of the most engaging weeks of their career.

    Let’s all be more thoughtful about how we design the consumption of time.

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