Who decided that day was, well, day, and night was night? Let me phrase it another way: who decided that day was when things got done and night was when we slept? I’m a night owl. More accurately, I function better during the twilight hours. However, for business reasons, I push myself to conform to the standard hours that most of my clients observe.
Frankly, if you’ll pardon the pun, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done. Recent stories about delays in the airline industry pointed to three big issues: (1) antiquated air traffic control systems; (2) bad weather; and (3) increased passenger traffic. There’s one other factor that gets mentioned regularly—airlines are trying to takeoff and land at the choicest times, creating a logjam on the runways. Ideal times only exist because we’re forcing our days—and our lives—into a box.
Back in 1987, The Economist published a piece saying the world should metrify its timekeeping. Instead of 24 hours, we’d have 10, 100 minutes a piece, with 100 seconds per minute. They argued:
Long-distance travel will become simpler with decimalisation…Decimalisation will ease the problems of jet lag by cutting the number of time zones. Dividing the 360º globe into 24 means having bands that are are just 15º wide. This gives the continental United States (without Alaska) four time zones; the Soviet Union an absurd 11. A ten-hour system calls for 36º bands, yielding just two zones for America and five for Russia.
The introduction of a new unit for the working day should make it easier for people in successful industrial countries to reap the leisure benefits of higher productivity. It will suit several rich countries to encourage shorter working days in future. The longer decimal hour will helpfully disguise this change from unwilling workaholics. Four o’clock (new style) sounds an aggressively early time to start work; seven o’clock sounds a satisfyingly late time to go home, and a mere three-quarter hour lunch-break seems spartan. Actually, such a four-to-seven working day will be 23% shorter than the old nine-to-five with one hour off for lunch. (link)
Beyond switching to metric time (which makes for interesting conversation), I wonder why we’re so resistant to utilizing the entire clock. There’s 24 hours. Subtracting your minimum 8 hours of sleep, that leaves 16 hours that could be placed anywhere on the clock.
Potential for Overlap
We assume that certain functions need to be performed on a 24-hour basis (hospitals, police, firefighters, etc.). Why doesn’t the rest of society function that way too? Consider the market exchange systems throughout the world. The Asian markets are functioning while American markets are tucked away for the night and vice versa. How would it change the industry if the markets overlapped even by a few hours?
Ultimately, I wonder why we don’t create time tables that suit our lives. Jumping out of bed at 4 or 5 in the morning, ready to start day, doesn’t automatically mean you’re a better person. But the way we’ve set up time, there’s a perception that we’re slacking if we aren’t up bright and early, ready to work our full “day.”
Since I’ve gone from a traditional 8-5 schedule to a more flexible schedule, I know I consistently work more hours and later into the evening. However, my work is better, and I’m doing amazing things with my time. Given that time is finite, I hope we can become smarter about how we use it and understand that the way we’ve managed it to date may not be possible in the future.