Last week’s Wednesday I slept in a bit, and — after the mandatory morning rituals — I opened a real book instead of my MacBook. I wasn’t sick, I wasn’t on a holiday and I wasn’t even slacking off work; I was enjoying something called compound time. Here at AVP, the first Wednesday of every month is dedicated to exploring new ways of working, and to developing and educating oneself. The latter is referred to as compound time, and it can include any activities that help you become a better version of yourself.
The term compound time was apparently first used for this sort of activity by Michael Simmons, who explains that like with compound interest, a small investment in developing yourself yields surprisingly large returns over time.
Simmons explains the concept thoroughly in his article, but in a nutshell, the idea is this: By taking the time for activities that increase your knowledge, energy levels, creativity and wellbeing you can achieve a lot more in the long run than by only doing routine tasks and crossing things off your to-do list. You may feel like you’re doing less, but give it time, and you’ll get more things done than most.
This is why someone like Warren Buffet spends 80% of his day reading.
Warren Buffet spends 80% of his day reading.
Of course, not many of us are Warren Buffet and we need more than one day a week to get all our work done. But you don’t have to go all-in at once — even a small amount of time invested in yourself instead of your job will bring results in the long run. That’s why it’s called compound time, after all.
Learning about topics outside one’s own area of expertise isn’t a new concept though. It’s quite widely acknowledged that switching between different kinds of tasks can boost our overall creativity and productivity. Albert Einstein himself used to play the violin or piano when facing a difficult problem — instead of trying to actually solve the problem. This brings us to the concept of polymaths: people, who excel in multiple fields. According to research, Nobel prize-winning scientists are a lot more likely to “waste” their time with hobbies such as painting, singing or dancing than other scientists. It seems broadening your perspectives can actually help you become better in a specific field as well, as you pile on information and ideas that are seemingly unrelated, but over time lead to better performance — just like with compound time.
Nobel prize winners are more likely to “waste” their time with hobbies such as painting, singing or dancing.
At AVP, we started including compound time in our calendars last year, when we booked a couple of hours each Thursday. This year, we shifted to having one whole day a month, and the goal is to eventually have one workday a week dedicated to, well, not working.
There are endless ways to spend compound time, but they all boil down to some kind of self-development. I myself have been focusing on reading and exercising. Last week, I spent the morning reading Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman — an amazing book re-exploring Homo Sapiens to find proof that we’re not inherently evil, but good. After lunch, I went for a long walk while listening to 21 lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Noah Harari — a great analysis of what’s going on in the world today and what to think of matters such as fake news and the crisis of democracy. Later in the afternoon, I went to the local climbing gym with a friend, with whom we discussed the current state of the real estate market in the Helsinki region in between ticking bouldering problems.
Did I cross off any items on my growing to-do list? I didn’t. Did I learn a ton about humanity and feel refreshed and motivated the next day? Yes, I did. And I’m glad to be working in an organization that appreciates the latter just as much.
Reading books is a favorite way of spending compound time for many of my colleagues as well, but it doesn’t end there. MJ, our Head of Communications, has been reading a lot but also taking online courses on becoming a better leader — and she’s looking forward to doing some gardening once we’re rid of the snow. So probably June with how things look now. Meri, one of our brilliant educators, has been spending her compound hours towards getting a teaching certification at the faculty of educational sciences at the University of Helsinki, and she’s now graduating this spring. Lauri, AVP’s co-director, has been working on a Modern American Poetry course by the University of Pennsylvania on Coursera. Lauri says that he specifically chose the course for something with little direct link to his professional work, but that he already got one pretty big pedagogical takeaway from it that he’ll probably try out in some of his classes next fall. Sometimes the long-time goals of compound time aren’t so far off after all.