Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Time management, J-style planning and finding meaning in life

At an end of term away day we were treated to a session on time management by Carolyn Blunt from Real Results. Although I have deep constitutional resistance to such sessions, she conducted it well and it was only as patronising as it probably had to be.

The session started with mention of one of the four oppositions in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator: judging versus perceiving with the interpretation that J-type strategies involve planned and step-wise progress whereas P-type strategies were more intuitive, deadline driven and perhaps spontaneously creative. Carolyn stressed that she had herself attempted to resist a typical managerial dominance of the J-type and instead think that one cannot adopt strategies in conflict with underlying personality types. One could not adopt the other approach whole heartedly. Hence one should avoid a kind of J-envy and instead aim to maximise the strengths of either aspect.

That said, the session as a whole seemed to keep pushing what seems a broadly J approach. Now there’s some difficulty here insofar as J vs P is merely one of four distinctions on the Myers Briggs picture. The others are extraversion vs introversion, sensing vs intuition, thinking vs feeling as well as judgement vs perception. And thus the broad hunch we (my colleagues in the mental health division and I) had might not be have been taken by Myers and Briggs to be faithful to their theory of personality. But I think we can let that ride given the worries there are about the reliability and validity of their picture. Let’s just go with a bit of face validity here.

One instance of this was a slide that represented life as a week with 0-10 years as Monday, 11-20 as Tuesday etc. With Christmas spirit, Carolyn suggested that whilst there might be the odd bank holiday Monday available to some, most of us ought not to count on it for getting anything done. Thus I, for example, am well into Friday afternoon already with not much time left.

But, as Gloria pointed out, this is surely just an instance of a J conception, broadly and loosely interpreted. To conceive of one’s life in advance in this way is just to plan in the way Js are supposed to value but not the way Ps do. A P-person might instead say that it is better to have a loose conception of what is worth doing without anticipating how it is mapped into the rest of the week. (Gloria wondered whether she’d spent too much of Tuesday and Wednesday like that and was planning on a bit more of a P-approach to Thursday.) So the very way of setting up the issue is not theory neutral but already an instance of J-envy.

Another instance was Carolyn’s response to my colleague Geoff’s worry that this planning failed to accommodate the necessity of a family life alongside work. (He was perhaps unnerved to find himself already on Saturday and beginning to think how to spend Sunday: more beer would hopefully be involved.) Not at all, she replied, it is necessary to have to some ‘hippo time’: some permitted time wallowing in the mud. This again seems to me to be a typical J misunderstanding (already I believe in the typology enough to blame the J-s!). Once it is thought of as allowed hippo time – once it is so conceptualised – that seems to kill the real attraction of such time which should feel unplanned and unstructured.

More generally, she suggested, it is better to make explicit what one values in order to work out better how to approach and realise it. Now I wouldn’t want to disagree with planning. I live by the to do list and social calendar. (I suspect I’ve imposed a J-like structure on suspect P-tendencies.) Still, it seems it is also worth noting the limits of making one’s values explicit in this way. If one evaluates one’s projects by placing them in a broader – J-preferred – structure then this threatens to initiate a regress about the value of the bigger picture. The worry is that as one approaches the end of Sunday one realises that the J-picture one has structured one’s life by is arbitrary and ungrounded by anything bigger than it. Precisely because they always approach it locally rather than relative to a broader structure which must ultimately fail (since the largest structure to which one does appeal will not itself be grounded in a broader structure and thus must appear arbitrary; any appeal to yet one more bigger structure merely postpones the problem for a moment), the P-s may be on safer ground when it comes to the meaning of life.

(I said to colleagues that I would write this thought down a week ago. But then I thought: that is what the J-s would want me to do!)