Time, Money, and Experts

There was this woman having coffee in a cafe in France, when she noticed a world-famous artist. Without hesitation, she quickly approached him.

“Please sketch a picture of me!” she asked. He was happy to oblige. Two minutes later, he had created a cool sketch of the woman.

She offered to buy it from him, but scoffed at the price when he told her what it would cost.

“Why should I pay $5,000 for this, when it only took you two minutes?”

The artist replied, “It did NOT take me two minutes. It took me a lifetime.”

Flash forward to our modern times in America. An agency gave me a spreadsheet job to do for a company. They estimated that the job would take 7-10 days.

Being a young worker and wanting to impress them, I got the job done in 7 hours. I thought that maybe I’d see a bonus payment, or they might even want to hire me.


It was basically, “Thanks for the fast turn-around. Here’s pay for 7 hours.”

They paid for my time, but NOT for my skill and knowledge. I would have been better off taking my time, getting it done in a few days, and then twiddling my thumbs for the rest of the week as I lie to them about how it’s coming along.

There is something seriously wrong with a system that approaches everything in this way. I understand that you don’t want to be on a low-budget project and then spend months on end working on it.

Time is money, so they say. Time, much like money, is a human construct.

But if someone is able to get something done faster, then why should they be punished for doing so?

When I was a teenager, I worked as summer maintenance help at an apartment complex that was owned by a huge management company.

The company was very interested in saving money, so they decided to hire some Time Efficiency Experts out of California, at a price of $2 million, to find where they could cut corners and save time.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that these people had NO idea what they were talking about, and I was only 17 years old.

My first clue came when they asked me their first question. One of my duties was to walk around the complex in the morning to pick up trash, as well as put tape on light sensors to check outside lighting and replace bulbs that are not working.

“We noticed that on Monday you spent approximately one hour on this task. On Tuesday, you got it done in 54 minutes. Today, it took you almost two hours. Why the time difference? Why can’t you do this consistently with the same amount of time?”

I had to explain it to them.

Monday, as it turns out, was a regular day. Average, so far as I was concerned. That’s one hour. The second day, at 54 minutes, was because there wasn’t so much trash to pick up. As for the third day, at TWO HOURS, was because a few light bulbs were burned out, so I had to walk to the garage, get bulbs and the ladder, and go around changing those bulbs.

Fine. I figured they are learning. But it got worse.

“We are evaluating your air conditioning call tickets. In all three calls, the complaint was that the air conditioning was not working. This first call took you 15 minutes, the second call took 2 hours, and the third call took 8 hours. Why the large differences in times?”

I can explain that.

The FIRST call was just a case of the renter NOT knowing how to operate their thermostat. So I showed them how to do it. Minimum billing time is 15 minutes, and it took about that long.

The SECOND call ended up being a bad thermostat, so I had to drive to the warehouse, get a new one, drive back, and install it.

The THIRD call was a situation where the central air unit need to have a Freon recharge. This is a process that takes 8 hours, and there is nothing that can be done to speed this up.

I thought that maybe they were starting to get a handle on things. But I was wrong.

One day, I walked out of the bathroom. There was one of the Time Efficiency Experts, standing there with a stopwatch and a clipboard. Of course, he had questions.

“Earlier today, when you went to the restroom, it took approximately one minute. But just now, it took you a bit over five minutes. Can you explain why you don’t spend the exact amount of time in the bathroom for each visit?”

Wow, really? I have to explain THAT to a grown adult?

I’d had enough of their nonsense, so I took my yet-to-be-diagnosed Autistic self straight to the headquarters. My mother was the Assistant to the Vice President, so I felt a bit of power in the organization. In looking back, I probably could have gotten my mother easily fired.

I walked into the building and went straight to the President’s office. He knew who I was, as he had met me five years earlier, when I was 12 years old.

I told him what they were asking, and how their questions were getting weird. I let him know how their questions indicated to me that they knew ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about maintenance work, at all.

He said, “We’re paying them two million dollars for this evaluation.”

I replied, “Two million dollars? Certainly you could find someone who knows something about maintenance to do this project for half the price.”

Then I told him about their bathroom usage question, followed with, “Would you like to guess just how much of my time they waste in one single day with their questions?”

That was enough. He called the Time Efficiency Experts and terminated the project immediately. He had to pay a fee to cancel, but he ended up saving a bit over one million dollars as a result.

I went back to the maintenance shed, told these “experts” to expect a call to let them know that their services will no longer be needed. Then, I went to the refrigerator, cracked open a 5:00pm beer a bit early, and put my feet up on the boss’ desk to have a sip.

The sip was followed with, “Ahhhh, the taste of success.”

When I look back on this story, it kind of scares me how easily it was for me to walk straight into the president’s office, take a seat, and just start talking. I didn’t ask if he was available, and I also did not talk to his assistant.

It’s probably not something I would do today, given the experience that I have with being in a situation where I DO NOT have a connection to power. And I do think that it was a valid use of power that would not be deemed abusive. These experts really were wasting my time, and the time of everyone else.

Then I see how the world is now, where workers at Amazon warehouses get TIMED for their bathroom breaks, and get FIRED if they go over. Their drivers are also peeing in bottles and crapping in plastic bags, so they can meet their unreasonable goals, which I suspect were written for robots, and not humans.

That’s the depressing side of our world, which is in a state of End-Stage Crony Capitalism in America. Our K-shaped economy is killing people, and I could very easily end up a casualty in all of this.

What my time is worth is one question, and it seems to be the ONLY question that matters to our Corporate Owners. There are also skills, abilities, and education to consider.

Tom Hanks, in “Big,” reminds me of myself during my early years working in an office. I’ll bust out that spreadsheet for you!

All of it gets me thinking about that spreadsheet that I got done in 7 hours, when they thought that it would take 7-10 days.

Did I really get it done in 7 hours? I started typing in 1971, when I was in first grade. During that year, I also learned about proofreading, and would get paid $0.25 per page to proofread legal documents while my mother typed in her home office. I spent years teaching myself how to use computers, how to create spreadsheets with Lotus 1-2-3, before moving to Excel.

When I told them that it only took me 7 hours, I wasn’t really being honest with them, or myself.

It took me a lifetime.

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Published by DrumWild

Writing about drums, music, and philosophy.

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