Time management ideas differ across borders

Time is money. Or at least many Americans think so. This is a popular philosophy of business people and those who teach and write about time management.

Most people wish they had more time to do more things. Everybody has 168 hours in a week, but one of the differences between those who are or are not successful is in how they manage that time.

Former Harvard Professor Alan Lakein was one of the early authors on the subject of time management. “Time = Life, Therefore, waste your time and waste your life, or master your time and master your life” is one of Lakein’s more well-known quotes.

Products or services that save people time can be very successful. Shopping online is probably the easiest example of how a service can save consumers time.

Time is not viewed this way everywhere. During my Fulbright Scholarship trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, this past summer, it became apparent early on that people there have a different perspective on time and time management. For five weeks I worked with the faculty and students at Kings College in Kathmandu in its entrepreneurship program.

Having worked in Europe and Southeast Asia, this is not the first time I had seen this difference in how time is viewed. Most Americans who have spent any amount of time outside the country have probably been asked as I have, “Why are you Americans always going in such a hurry?” But it was a different lack of urgency in Nepal.

This was also reflected in the communication styles of my colleagues during the summer. Several times while I was working by myself in my corner cubicle, one of my King’s College colleagues would come by desk to let me know he had scheduled an appointment for one of the companies to meet with us about working in the college’s business incubator. When I would ask when the appointment was scheduled for, the response usually was, “Right now, of course, let’s go.”

As an American who had a heart attack a few years ago for what may well have been stress-related issues, this attitude toward time was difficult for me to understand and deal with.

“People here just do not worry about time like we do in the U.S.,” said Tom Robertson, executive director of the Nepal Fulbright program, “they think everyone has all the time in the world.”

This was the way most people I encountered in Nepal thought about time. There is plenty of it. Just live in the present. One reason for this: the Hindu and Buddhist philosophies that influence the culture there. There are passages in the New Testament that say similar things about living in the present, but Americans seem to always want to think about and anticipate what will happen next — our culture encourages and rewards this type of forward thinking.

The other side of this time issue, of course, is that the sense of urgency has contributed to the relative efficiency of the U.S. economy. Getting more done in a shorter period of time is the American way, to some degree.

The interest in the American economy suggests to me those in other parts of the world understand that at least the way some things are done in the U.S. are worth trying to replicate. Otherwise, I do not think I would have been invited to Nepal this last summer. So maybe we are right when we think time is money.

Perry Haan is professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Tiffin University. He can be reached at (419) 618-2867.