An Accountant in Adland: Becoming time unstrapped [S2 E3]
by Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) Wait, didn’t we just have 2010? The year when South Africa was the world’s fave and the year when the 2022 Olympics draws was were a big “I’ll-see-about-that-later” yawn. How is it the turn of the next decade already?? Time — a concept so elusive but made so tangible through all the things that happen in our lives that help us dock which year was which. Which years to try and forget. Which years we should always remember.
But what about the moments where time is an absolute blur, where time is wasted outright, whether we’re aware of it or not? I think about those moments of our everyday: that banter around the coffee-making machine at the agency… or those 90m of scrolling on your social media you do on average per day (yes, the length of an American football field)… and how, in all honesty, we don’t even have a line item on Chase to allocate that to. The point is that it’s so easy to lose track of time. Off the back of that, it’s so easy to not be in a position to account for that time lost.
We think we have plenty of time
In an interesting recent piece by author Ryan Holiday, he writes: “Stoic philosopher Seneca once marvelled at how stupid even the smartest people are when it comes to protecting their time: ‘No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.’”
He also raises a cognitive bias that lets us perpetuate time-wastage through thinking that we have time in abundance. I found this quite interesting but, in thinking about my own experience, I also can pinpoint remedies for it.
I think about the minutes I’ve been alive for, 18 097 920 minutes and counting at the time of writing, and a large figure like that builds up the expectation of more time to come, because we have a bias of having the luxury of time. An excessive and unending life expectancy, which is obviously not true. This is why procrastinators thrive so much, and is one of the key ways how-time wastage actually becomes a thing.
Time has become democratised
Who hasn’t heard the sometimes-sarcastic, sometimes-motivational line, “Beyoncé has the same 24 hours in a day as you.”? It’s the infamous saying that aims to standardise time in an effort to get you to achieve more with it, the insinuation being that we aren’t doing half as much as the megastar is.
But there are leyyyy-vels to this time game.
“When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,” says Guy Winch, PhD, author of “Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries.” This speaks to the one thing that I have in common with Beyoncé — that we’re both human.
What we don’t have in common is infinite access and a 50-strong personal staff contingent who facilitate a better use of the same 24 hours. But each to their own lanes.
Ownership of time starts with no
Whenever you say no to something, you will always enviably say yes to yourself. And in an industry like advertising in which mental health issues run rampant, it’s important to exercise that deeply buried ‘no-muscle’.
Holiday goes on to write, “I know where I want to spend my time — and I don’t want it taken without my consent. I know what it’s worth.”
It’s important to be conscious of what you do with your time, because you then have a sense of what it’s worth.
Thinking that actually leads to an outcome
Auditors have to account for time. Ad agencies have to account for time. Because, as service providers, time is what we sell [currently — ed-at-large]. Time wastage becomes a very big issue when you have to account for it to a third party. In my line of work, thinking is the nature of the strategy beast.
I found myself daydreaming the other day, which raises an interesting question: does daydreaming constitute time wastage? Look at the intention of the daydreaming. Is it to stretch an idea; is it to see yourself in a more-aspirational light to focus your current reality… or is it to live in the past…or, worse, to draw nonsensical mental doodles in the sky?
I’m not saying that we should all be on the clock every moment. What I am saying is that we need to be much more conscious about what we to do in our time, with whom and how we protect it. Being cognisant about that allows us to be much more present in our own lives. So, when the next turn of the decade rolls around, we will know exactly how it did so.
Siwelile Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) is a qualified South African chartered-accountant-turned-creative-strategist who joined M&C Saatchi Abel from FCB Joburg in mid-2018. She is also a working photographer and writer. Since mid-2015, she’s been in strategic planning, working on some of South Africa’s big brands in different categories and industries in the ATL and digital spaces. She contributes the monthly column “An Accountant in Adland” — exploring where, when and how the two ‘disciplines’ overlap… and why they should! — to MarkLives.com.