I admit I obsess with time efficiency. I habitually stress about wasting it.
The things that bother me the most are unnecessary meetings; the phone calls I shouldn't have taken; long e-mails I could've communicated on the phone in half the time; conflicts that escalate needlessly, forcing meetings to clear the air; a forgotten cell phone at home that must be retrieved. I refuse to talk to anyone in the office before booting up my laptop and leave early for lunch to beat the crowds. I even conduct computer backups while people try to talk to me.
Most people aren't so worried about time. But still, why do so many people in organizations waste so much of it? The reasons are often out of their control, like out-of-date processes, policies, and hierarchies; or unexpected conversations and issues with coworkers and vendors.
Some time-saving tactics include office design, process automation, six-sigma-style error reduction, streamlined meeting structures, lean operations, efficient e-mail practices, and in-office socializing rules.
The worst kind of squandered time is not in the office, but in the big picture of people's lives and careers. Bad job decisions, lack of initiative and character flaws are like locusts consuming a person's most productive years. Time in a person's life is truly an unsustainable resource, and its waste byproduct is regret.
A single locust is a harmless bug, but when hordes of them reproduce in the sandy soil of the African Sahara, the resulting swarm can grow to 750 square miles and number 60 billion. Even a small swarm can eat more than the daily intake of 2,500 people.
The book of Joel was written in the context of a recent locust plague in Israel that desolated crops and sparked a famine. God promises to restore the land. But Joel delivers a bigger-picture message that goes beyond material restoration: the Lord will restore them as a people after the futuristic battle of Armageddon, in which an invading army will blanket the land like a swarm of locusts.
In today's organizations, locust swarms run rampant, consuming valuable time. They descend on us in unending waves of competition, recession, environmental concerns, natural disaster, culture shifts, and war. In their more personal form, however, career locusts feed on our futures, one leaf at a time.
The key, I've learned, is not to lament lost time. It is to restore lost time, whether days, months, or years.
If I continue stressing about my folly and failures, I feed the locusts. God said he would repay his people for their lost years. They clung to that hope.
I see value in many unwise decisions in my early working years – not that they were wise at the time, but they work to my benefit now. I'm sure the Israelites recalled their years of famine as a birthplace of character, like the generation of Americans that lived through the Great Depression and World War II.
In the book of Joel, God says lost time isn't something we can regain. Rather, it is to be redeemed, or reaped. We can water our crops but we can't control the growth.
We must wait for them to blossom.