Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How to deal with an absence of time management among your local colleagues?

You have been preparing your class or workshop thoroughly and even yesterday your colleagues said they were looking forward to come. But at the agreed time and place, no one turns up. The director and his secretary are in another meeting, one of your colleagues went to his wife and kids who live in his home village, two others stayed at home without further notice and the only colleague you can find is very surprised to hear that you actually planned a session: “Oh, I thought you would give it tomorrow…”

This situation, largely drawn from my own experience of working as a Young Professional in Indonesia, will likely be similar to many Young Professionals’ experiences. Probably, differences in time management will be one of the most apparent and irritating parts of working in a different cultural context. And it seems almost impossible to overcome, as the difference of time management and time awareness emerges from a equally different worldview, that may be understood by the Young Professional, but can not be changed. In other words, getting mad or frustrated about it, will bring you nowhere.

Cultural differences about time
The biggest difference between time awareness in the Netherlands and Indonesia, is the ‘worth’ of time. Dutch often see time as something precious, because we often have many activities (job, hobbies, family and friends) that have to be fit into a limited time frame, so that it is essential to plan our daily lives as much as possible. Basic time management, whether learned at school and work or by having a busy social life, is a necessary precondition to be able to function in the Netherlands and people who can ‘make the most out of their time’ are envied and respected.
This basic sense of time management is completely absent in Indonesia. Time is viewed as something fluid, something abundantly at one’s disposal. Wasting time is not a crime. There is often no clear distinction between office time and private time, resulting in all kinds of flexible working arrangements. So, colleagues don’t show up for work, leave at any given moment without prior notice, meetings are filled with informal chit-chat and much time in the office is spent by just resting, smoking and drinking coffee. Is adjustment to this time frame the only possible solution not to become insane? How to deal with a different time management perspective?
Adjustment to the fact that your colleagues will pursue a very flexible time management, will be necessary. However, by trying to be very communicative yourself about where you are and what you are doing (for instance by text message or email), you might be able to convince some of your colleagues to do the same. But make sure you don’t expect too much from your colleagues, especially when you don’t know them well enough what to expect from them. To avoid frustration by the absence or lack of productivity by your colleagues, you can make sure that at least your own (work) plans are clear and adjusted to sudden changes and flexibility by others.
  • As an example, you can stick to certain office hours yourself, thereby structuring your own activities.
  • You could bring a book to an appointment, so that you can at least entertain yourself just in case you’ll have to wait longer than expected.
  • Bring your laptop to a meeting, so you can try to work a bit while the meeting drags on for hours without making sense to you.
  • Try to think of small tasks you could perform every time you’ll have to wait for someone else.
  • Try to invest in yourself and your personal skills, even while others around you lazy around.
  • Make sure you can at least feel good about yourself and your own achievements, it will help you to feel useful and accept someone else’s flaws.

The best thing to do is to accept and adapt. Be aware that your local colleagues will have another view towards time and therefore don’t expect them to behave as you would expect from a Dutch colleague. Also, don’t blame yourself or feel guilty for not being able to reach your own goals as a result of local conditions. When you are in the right state of mind and aware of your own tasks and your local possibilities to perform them realistically, you can avoid frustration, maybe even enjoy the flexibility of more relaxed working arrangements and make the most of ‘your time’ in the field.

Anton Quist

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