Quality time

Over the past decade or so, we've heard so much blather about "quality time" at home that the phrase has become a parody of itself. No one can say it without irony, or at least air quotes. Personally, I think that the concept of quality time was invented by people who felt guilty about how little time they were spending with their children, so they decided, "It's not the quantity of time I spend at home; it's the quality." Right.

The funny thing about kids, though, is that you have to have quantity time in order to get the quality time. You see, they determine when quality time arrives, but you have to be there for it to happen. You can't just sit Junior down and say, "Son, we're going to have some quality time now, and make memories that will last a lifetime. Want to know the meaning of life?" I've seen some friends try -- God help them -- and the next sentence is usually something like, "Son, please don't wipe your boogers on my pants. I just got them back from the cleaners."

What I want to know is, why doesn't anyone ever talk about quality time at work?

At work, we trade quality time for "face time," proving our commitment to our company's success by daily wasting hours of our time there. We say, "I could be doing something better with my time, but because I love this place I'm going to sit here and surf the Net until my boss goes home. That's what makes me a valued employee." And then we go home just in time to kiss our kids good night, spend a little quality time with the TV, and go to bed.

Have you bought into this? Ask yourself these questions, and then try to answer them honestly:
  • At the end of the day, what are you most proud of: the things you accomplished that day or the time you put in?

  • When you go to a performance review, what measure do you use to prove your value to your company?

  • Does "hard worker" feature prominently in your self-description?

That's what I thought.

What if we switched the measurements? What if we sought quality time at work and face time at home? What would that look like?

For one thing, we'd probably accomplish a lot more in both places. At work, we'd look at our day and ask, "What can I accomplish today? How can I make a meaningful contribution to my company's bottom line and my coworkers' lives?" We would think twice before scheduling that meeting, because that's a lot of quality time in one place so it will have to generate a heck of a return. We would start proving ourselves by what we delivered rather than how much effort we expended.

We might even stop bragging -- sure, it sounds like complaining, but we all know you're bragging -- about how busy we were, and how everyone wanted a piece of us. Instead, we'd brag about how we got everything done in time to see all seven exruciating innings of our kid's baseball game, including the inning where every batter hit a home run because the entire infield was chasing a field mouse.

We might stop taking up space and start making the most of the only totally irreplaceable resource on this earth: time.

By the way, this doesn't just apply to people with families. I'm not advocating free time for moms and dads, with the singles picking up all the slack. Though if any of you want to babysit, please let me know. Even if you don't have a family, there has got to be something better you could do with your time than spend it at work. Do you have any dreams? Then pursue them now, before the sleep deprivation of early parenthood makes your brain so soft you forget what those dreams were. No dreams? Then borrow someone else's for a while until you come up with your own: volunteer somewhere where people are trying to get a second chance at life. That way, you get two lives for the price of one.

This isn't the social equivalent of string theory: it's a simple decision to put your effort where you say your priorities are. You don't have to wait for your boss to give you permission, either. If you deliver everything he asks you to do, and you do it well, he can't really complain if your car leaves the parking lot before his. And if he does really give you a hard time, then I bet that a lot of companies will be impressed by someone who has the courage to be "an efficient, delivery-oriented employee," and who refuses to simply take up space. I know I do.
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