The Byrne Blog

John Byrne Communicating About Communications

Lately, I am amazed how much of our lives are spent tracking and celebrating — and dreading and regretting — the mere passage of time.  It controls our lives in a way that nothing else does.

In my work life, lawyers and consultants mostly peg their value to the measure of time:  “My rate is $500 per hour” or “My day rate is $5,000.”  Certainly, in the legal profession in the past few years, there has been a significant push to drag lawyers kicking and screaming away from the billable hour and move toward some other “alternative fee” model, whether it’s value-based billing, task billing or something similar.

The irony is that no matter how “alternatively” the legal services are billed, no matter how much emphasis is placed on the quality and value of the service provided — and NOT the time it takes to do it — the lawyers are almost always still keeping track of their tasks by the amount of time they’re spending on doing things.  And you can bet that they’re being evaluated and held accountable, in large part, for the length of time they took to do something or other.  Probably that’s one of the reasons that rumors of the billable hour’s demise have been widely exaggerated.

In my home life, the devotion to tracking time is even more pronounced, and pernicious.  Of course, we note the obvious:  holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.  We celebrate time passing as if it’s a judgment on our relative worth instead of a simple measurement.  Birthdays can make us feel old.  Anniversaries of any type, whether a first date, a wedding day, a last drink, a relative’s passing or whatever, can bring feelings of great joy or deep sadness, often tied to how much time has come and gone.

We also seem stuck on using years to measure anniversaries, which is a “well duh” statement to those who know their Latin roots.  I’ve recently seen a few people try to use their own version of a decimal system, celebrating 1,000 days or 5,000 days of a relationship instead of marking time by years.  And now there are studies showing that while time remains a scientific constant, people’s perception of how quickly or slowly it’s passing can be affected by several interesting factors, not the least of which is how powerful people perceive themselves to be in a given situation (often at work).

No matter how some of us might try to avoid its consequences, though, time always seems to get its revenge.  I recently submitted this blog to the ABA Journal for consideration in including it in its online directory of legal-related blogs, or “blawgs” as the Journal calls them (insert eye-roll here).  Mere hours after typing the information into an online form, I received an email from one of the editors.  It was brief, informing me that my blog had not been updated in more than a month and that I should contact them again for consideration when I was updating the blog more regularly.

Huh.  So, the relative worth of my blog is directly tied to how long ago I updated it?  My content could be just this side of Shakespearean in terms of quality, but what really matters is frequency?  Hmmm.  I guess we’re back to where the passage of time is more important than practically anything else.  Of course, it would be impolite to point out that about a third of the first couple of dozen blogs listed under the legal marketing tab of the ABA Journal’s directory hadn’t been updated in several months, some not even in several years.  Yes, impolite, but not wrong.

We are always focused on time, being on time, and maybe rightfully so.  A couple of months ago, a friend noticed that my watch was set about five minutes fast.  He informed me of that fact, perhaps thinking that I hadn’t realized it wasn’t showing the correct time.  I told him that I did that on purpose, in the hope that it would help me stay on time and not be constantly running late for events in my life.  “Does that work for you?” he asked, eyebrow fully raised.  Eminently fair question.  My response?  “No,” muttered with a rueful smile and slight head shake.

A month ago, after the 278th argument with my wife of 22 years over my habitual tardiness (but who’s counting?), I made a small but monumental change in my life:  I switched my watch to the correct time.  No more five minutes-ish fast.  I even check it a couple of times during the day, comparing it to the time display on my phone and my computer to make sure it’s still correct and not running fast or slow.  Has it changed my life?  Am I now an early arriver or more punctual?

Honestly, I don’t know because I haven’t really kept track.  But I have experienced one unexpected feeling since I changed my watch to show the correct time:  relief.  Before, when it was set ahead, I was always calculating in my head what the real time was, doing some kind of tortured algebra on how much time I had or needed to get somewhere or to do something.  I was controlled — and apparently stressed out at some level — by this artifice of my own making, letting time manage me instead of the other way around.

What I’m finally starting to realize is that time is simply a tool… a unit of measurement; an empty vessel.  We choose to impart importance and meaning to it.  It has no inherent value without us assigning it.  There is no judgment that should be passed, no conclusions drawn, merely from its passage.

Instead, the work itself is what has meaning and value, not how long it took to complete it.  The loving and cherishing that is important to a marriage, not any given anniversary.  The wisdom and experience that comes with growing older is what matters, not the specific birthday.  Those are things worth something, worthy of reward or celebration.  It’s about time we remember that.


2 thoughts on “As Time Goes By, What Do We Remember?

  1. Tom Byrne says:

    In living, rather than billing, time has future value that is variable by individual. Some is imposed by social convention; some is imposed by the world around us. Farmers are an example of the world imposing time, Destination vacations for those of you still working are an example for time value imposed by social convention and the world around us. Longevity, gestation these are, for personal reasons, about time, so life is often planned around them. Even immortality is measured against time…

    1. John Byrne says:

      Great thoughts, all. Thanks for the comment, Tom! I still think, though, that we are the ones that impose a value to time, mostly making it seem more important than it really is. Farmers are hemmed in by time, as you point out, but soil conditions and amount of rain (or lack thereof) are just as important, even moreso, than time… They also are hard or impossible to control. Why do we feel differently about time?

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