Victus Spiritus


Breaking the Slave Clock

19 Apr 2009

Your eyes open groggily, the comfortable last figments of a dream are shattered by a wave of perceived pressure that forces you out of bed.  Turning off your alarm clock five minutes before it goes off at 4:30am you begin your day.

Running full speed through a crowd with a briefcase or bag in tow, praying that you will catch the next subway/train/flight.

Your boss gives you an updated deadline that you don't think you can meet.  After explaining what vital sections of the project you can get done in time, it's as if they missed the message and tell you to get it done.

How many of us live with an imagined stopwatch chasing us every moment? Do you?

If you've ever wondered where the system of time pressure originated, you're not alone.  It's core is analogous to the concept of time management in digital design.  A slave clock is controlled by the master clock's signal.  It's a design concept for synchronous systems.  Subsystems are all passed a system clock.  Our society has evolved a similar efficient system for getting work done.  The key to understanding this integral social control is to recognize it as only one possible solution.

The perceived pressure of tight deadlines dictated by project leaders can cause workers to cease up.  Instead of motivating a team to work additional hours with unrelenting focus, shortened deadlines can inspire the opposite effect.  They may utterly ruin any work flow accomplished, and undermine the long term effectiveness of a work group.  In spite of this, some of the most effective employees work well under pressure.  These exceptional few don't have the same stress response as most individuals.  Unreasonably tight deadlines are simply a byproduct of how the customer/business relationship is managed.  Program managers are constantly at odds with providing customer value, and helping staff understand what needs to be accomplished.  Although most of us respond negatively to unforeseen time constraints, there's still a need for a shared clock.

Why do we need Deadlines and shared clocks?

The master and slave clock system is fundamental to large corporations.  Larger businesses have their resources tied up in maintaining huge distribution networks and global solutions.  But our society and economy is evolving once again.  Small focused teams are asynchronously developing innovative solutions at an astounding rate both offline and online.  The new entrepreneurs aren't concerned with the complicated web of schedules fueled by corporate deadlines.  They are only worried about getting one idea working or one product line completed before they need to pursue more funding (another deadline) or scrap the project.  Their customers are just now finding out about what they have to offer, and telling their good friends about great discoveries.

Although necessity requires us to manage our time, we can all decide on how to do so.  Whether it's working for an employer on a mutually acceptable set of terms, freelancing to multiple customers, or choosing our own business, we are fully capable of managing our own clock.  I challenge you to break the slave clock, and redefine your own schedule.