DR: Why do you feel that "time is money" is the most insidious belief in western society?
SR: Because this concept severely devalues human interactions. It wasn't long ago that everyone charged by the job; now we charge by the hour. There are lawyers who charge by the minute. I called up my lawyer not long ago, and he greeted me by asking, "How's it going?" He charges $5 a minute. I found myself not wanting to "waste time" telling him how I was feeling (which I would of course do in any other situation), because I don't want to be paying that kind of money to share my feelings with him. When I call him, I make a list of the points to cover, and I try to cover them as quickly as possible. What happens is that what should, hopefully, be a caring human connection, becomes little more than an information transfer. And that is a very high price to pay.
DR: Does this adversely affect the lawyer himself?
SR: Someone who bills by the minute, or the hour, starts to think, "I make $100 an hour. Our baby sitter makes $10 an hour. If I work six more minutes, that pays for the sitter staying another hour. If I work for another hour, I can pay for a sitter, a cleaning lady, and a cook." This line of thought keeps on going. "If I work another week, that will pay for a chauffeur and a limousine. That will get me to work faster, and I can work while I'm being driven to the office, so I'll be even more efficient and make even more money."
The problem is, we lose sight of our original goals. The goal is not to make money. The goal is to have the time and enjoyment that money can, in theory, provide. But if we just stay at work, earning more and more money, and seldom taking the time to enjoy it, to read that story to the child, to take that vacation on a secluded island, then what is the point of it all? It's a question that needs to be asked. In my workshops on the use of time, these are some of the questions we explore.
DR: So the rich don't necessarily get to enjoy all their money?
SR: Some do. Most don't. There are complex factors that come into play for people who makes lots of money. I think it is a fair generalization to say that instead of having more time, most wealthy people have less. It is very time-consuming to manage and watch your money and investments. Also, being rich can become your identity. Vacations start to look like a loss of money-producing time. Money generates its own set of demands. These are not non-negotiable demands, but it takes real strength to resist them.
DR: You've spent a good deal of time in other countries, especially "poor" countries in Asia and the Caribbean. What's different there, aside from there being fewer material goods?
SR: Everyday life seems richer and fuller. People take the time to watch the sunlight reflecting on the sea. They are entrained to different rhythms. I think we have a great deal to learn from people in these nations. The concept of the siesta, for example, is almost unthinkable in an American city. But finding the proper balance between work and rest, and between work and play, is crucial to a healthy and happy life.
DR: Corporate America seems to recognize, however grudgingly, the value of changing one's pace, of taking a break. You mention in Timeshifting that the "cigarette break" and the "coffee break" are examples of a timeshifting rituals.
SR: Yes. Clearly we now know enough about the health effects of cigarettes that the cigarette break is no longer permitted in most office environments. But aside from the harmfulness of the cigarettes themselves, it's worth noting that such breaks offered what otherwise was a positive way to slow down. The worker would go out into the lounge or hallway, breathe deeply, and relax. This changed his rhythm. Sadly, though, the cigarettes eventually robbed him of the capacity to breathe. I think a good substitute is to take a "non-cigarette break," where you breathe deeply, but skip the cigarette. If it feels foolish to do this with other people around, try it in the bathroom or go outside.