Sara starts dinner at 6, finishes at 6:30, and washes the dishes at 8. She walks the dog at 8:30 and arranges to run some errands the next morning at 9, while organizing her schedule that evening. She answers emails immediately in the morning and responds to phone calls at a set point in the day, when each of her pre-scheduled tasks has been completed in an orderly fashion.
Sara runs on a monochronic time system.
Shannon washes the dishes while cooking, walks the dog while running errands, loosely arranges her schedule while answering emails, takes phone calls while finishing up her daily tasks. She doesn’t have a set schedule defined by time. She simply has a to-do list, and things will get done as they do.
Shannon runs on a polychronic time system.
The multi-task culture of a polychromic time system involves undertaking multiple tasks or activities simultaneously.
Instead of working on one individual task at a time, those who prefer a polychronic time system often have several things going at once, and they work towards accomplishing each task fluidly and in their own time.
Polychronicity is preferred in cultures that are not overly concerned about deadlines and precision. Latin American, Arab, African, and South Asian cultures tend toward polychronicity. These cultures also tend to value relationships, traditions, seasonal cycles, and community over the completion of tasks in an orderly fashion.
As you may have guessed, monochronic cultures are quite the opposite of polychronic cultures.
In monochronic cultures – like those of the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, and Turkey, to name a few – time is divided strictly into specific tasks.
Business schedules are essential, as “time is money.” A manager’s agenda is pre-arranged and precise.
Many other idioms involving time have been coined in such cultures, such as the phrase “killing time,” which means you have time to waste. Or “take your time,” which means there is no deadline. “To work against the clock” suggests you have deadlines to meet and are competing with time to meet them.
These are just a few examples in which the monochronic valuation of time has eked into language.
There are also characteristic differences between the two cultural types.
Shared in the conference paper, “Everything is about time: does it have the same meaning all over the world?” a number of qualities and values between the people of polychromic and monochromic cultures differ. Here are a few:
|Do multiple things at once||Complete one task at a time|
|Are subject to interruptions and distractions||Concentrate on the task at hand|
|Time commitments are flexible||Deadlines and schedules are strict|
|Are relationship-focused||Are job-focused|
|Often alter plans||Are plan-oriented|
|Consider the relationship when prioritizing time||Time priority is emphasized|
|Build life-long relationships||Build short-term relationships|
We’ll talk more about why these differences in time perception sprang up between polychronic and monochronic cultures next week.