With more advanced technology becoming available on the market, a growing obsession with routine and time efficiency is affecting the way we live. Apps and wearable fitness trackers claim to help us review our daily activity and increase our productivity. We are told exactly how much sleep we should get and how many steps we should take in a day, and we strive to follow these strict routines, rather than listen to the needs of our own bodies.

Times Square, 2006, from the series 'Pure Lines' by Wolfram Ruoff.

Times Square, 2006, from the series 'Pure Lines' by Wolfram Ruoff.

Good time management skills are listed as a requirement on job applications in a range of sectors, suggesting a blurring of the line between personal traits and professional skills. Diana DeLonzor, who wrote Never Be Late Again, notes that people who continually push responsibilities to the last moment fit into two categories: those who are “subconsciously drawn to the adrenaline rush of the sprint to the finish line,” and those who “[get] an ego boost from getting as much done in as little time as possible.” In an article for Psychology Today, Adoree Durayappah posits the theory that people are late simply because they dislike being early, and try to avoid any sense of awkwardness or wasted time at the destination.

In The New York Times, Phyllis Korkki writes that forschedule-driven jobs, lateness can have a direct effect on a company’s bottom line. Calls go unanswered, deliveries are late or an assembly line can’t operate. In other jobs, the effect is more diffuse but can also be damaging, to both productivity and morale.”

Tokyo Compression, 2010 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression, 2010 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression, 2010 by Michael Wolf.

Tokyo Compression, 2010 by Michael Wolf.

Such strict schedules and an emphasis on productivity have had a negative impact in learning environments, however. Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber, English professors at Queen's University and Brock University respectively, have complained that “universities squeeze as much intellectual capital out of professors as possible,” according to an article by CBC Radio. Seeber explained that academics are “encouraged to stay away from the really big questions because they're going to take too long to think through.” This is a perfect example of what is initially a good thing pushed to the limit, eventually having the consequences it was conceived to avoid: efficiency trumps quality, but is this sustainable in the long run?

While technology has enabled more employees to work from home, the resulting, ostensibly more flexible lifestyle is “pernicious to health and is directly linkable to cardiovascular disease,” according to media researcher David Plans. Those connected to their email accounts throughout the day can find it difficult to “switch off,” and show higher levels of stress and insomnia. Plans’ findings demonstrate that “[m]ore than half of city workers are more stressed at home than at work”, as a result of the lack of distinct boundaries between home and the office, and working hours and leisure time.

Tokyo Crossing, 2008, from the series 'Pure Lines' by Wolfram Ruoff

Tokyo Crossing, 2008, from the series 'Pure Lines' by Wolfram Ruoff

While we are all striving to achieve more in the same amount of time – and particularly to do more exercise – news articles such as Aaron E. Carroll’s in The New York Times suggest that “wearable fitness devices don’t seem to make you fitter” anyway. If ever-accessible email accounts make us more stressed than those working in the office, and fitness devices have an insignificant impact on one´s fitness state, perhaps the secret to a healthier lifestyle lies in dropping this pursuit of total efficiency. Discussing Melissa Gregg’s Counterproductive: A Brief History of Time Management, Oliver Burkeman revealingly notes that “[t]ime management gurus rarely stop to ask whether the task of merely staying afloat in the modern economy [...] really ought to require rendering ourselves inhumanly efficient in the first place.”

Words: Alice Tuffery

Copy edited by Elena Stanciu