“Much of human behavior is based on ‘clock time,’ says Frank Partnoy, “which divides our day into quantifiable units–hours and minutes. Those units dictate when tasks begin and end and, at work, allow us to “punch the clock.”
The importance of clock time in the modern workplace can be traced back to Frederick Winslow Taylor. In 1909, Mr. Taylor, a former lathe operator, engineer and management consultant, published “The Principles of Scientific Management” in which he argued that companies should replace rules of thumb for accomplishing tasks with precise instructions based on scientific analysis of the timing of tasks. He told factory managers to time their workers on the various parts of their jobs and determine how long each part should take. Once managers found the :one best way,” Mr. Taylor said, they should require everyone to follow that approach.
Frank Partnoy, an attorney and professor of law and finance at the University of San Diego, argues that working for billable hours and hourly rates is making us more stressed out, less engaged with life outside work, and ultimately less productive, since “innovation doesn’t occur in a year or a quarter–and certainly not in an hour. So why measure work in too-brief increments?”
One approach he offers as an alternative is “event time,” in which we continue doing something until we finish or some event occurs, no matter how many minutes or hours it takes. Our fees would be based on the service provided: a fixed amount to file a legal brief or complete an audit or fix a leak. This is particularly true at large law firms, where the combination of economic pressure and low morale among associates is leading partners to search for new ways to bill.
Do you see “event time” as a better solution for you than managing tasks by the clock?