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Convenience-Mindset Syndrome

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“You have twenty-four minutes to complete this test,” I announced in my small Additional Mathematics class, handing out a sixteen-mark assessment paper to my students. “You may begin.”

“But Nafey Bhai!” they chorused. “Please give a proper figure of time! Twenty-five minutes, please?”

“I guess twenty minutes would be proper enough, eh?” I responded.

“What kind of a joke is it, Nafey Bhai?” one of them said.

“Well, at CIE, you have a minute-and-a-half, at maximum, to invest on one mark, and this is a sixteen-mark test,” I replied. “You have wasted a minute in this failed negotiation. You have twenty-three minutes now,” I answered conclusively, bringing any further argument to a halt.

As the students started working on their papers, I moved to one side, took out my Biology textbook and started reviewing plant physiology. Suddenly I stopped. “I won because I was in control and because the group was small,” I thought. “Had I been in their place, my reaction would’ve probably been the same.”

It was during one of these days while I was reminiscing this incident that I was compelled to question myself: why fives and zeroes? There must be something special about them, be it good or bad. For a very colloquial example, had five and zero been like any other figure in the number system, the well-known smartphone game “Fruit Ninja” would not have offered players bonus points in case their final score was a multiple of five. Analogue clocks would not be having five-minute divisions, and the list continues. It was due to this significance of the number five and its multiples in our daily life that I initially decided to name this article “Multiples-of-Five Syndrome”. Later, when I discussed the concept with some of my friends, it dawned upon me that talking of the societal significance of fives and zeros (which sadly, is more adverse than beneficial—at least when it comes to time—as we will discuss later), the issue lies not in the figures themselves, but rather in the convenience-mindsets associated with them. And convenience-mindsets along with their detrimental effects, are confined not just to multiples of five, but extend much beyond that—in possibly all factions of life.

Now let’s come back to the story I started off with. Assuming that I actually had succumbed to my students’ desire of having a multiple-of-five figure of time to complete their test, what was the possibility that they would actually complete the test in those twenty-five minutes? Recalling and using those times when my classmates had persuaded our teachers to extend the time limit for a particular test up to a multiple-of-five as a standard, and taking the moments when they did or did not consent to our desire as precedents, I had my answer: except for providing a convenient measure for the passage of time, the effect the extension had on the rates of test completion were never very encouraging.

So shall we blame the multiples-of-five for that? The answer is no. The thing is that while memorising the times-tables in the pre-primary and primary classes, most of us would have found the five times-tables the easiest to memorise, probably second only to the ten times-tables. By the time we grew up, we had probably embedded this convenience so firmly in our minds that we—subconsciously—began to think of fives and zeros as models for convenience and begin to replicate the same in all walks of life. And this is where the problem begins.

Convenience-mindset Syndrome (or CMS, as we will be referring to throughout the article) is the name I ascribe to the mental script in which certain conventions of convenience, which mostly are not wrong in themselves, trigger one to deviate from his or her principles. Analysing now the proposition presented above from the perspective of CMS, the reason why increasing the allowed amount of time would not have increased the number of students completing the test to any substantial degree, starts to become evident. Increasing the allowed amount of time up to a multiple of five—or in fact, just increasing the time limit for that matter—provides for the students a convenience. Where this convenience should have provided students with a much-needed morale boost and confidence, more often than not, increasing time limits makes them more relaxed than needed. So naturally, as even this increased time limit draws to its end, you are likely to find students hastily completing their papers, and begging the teachers to grant them yet a minute a two more. This is how CMS operates.

Note that CMS operates at a subconscious level, so often conscious thought as well remains unable to subdue its effects and unknowingly, we become a victim of the CMS.

Especially for a five-and-zero oriented society like ours, the Japanese train-schedule is one of the most interesting timetables to look at. Trains arrive and leave at all sorts of what-we-would-perceive awkward times, like one arriving at 08:03 and the second coming in at 08:06, the first one then leaving at 08:07. This is reflective not just of the precision of their calculations in terms of time, but is also an ingenious attempt—at a subliminal level—to avoid the customers from creating any conventions of convenience for themselves. The mechanism of CMS is such that conventions of convenience trigger us to conveniently break those conventions as well. For an example, how many of us actually adhere to the five-minute divisions on our clocks religiously? A microscopic minority, if any.

Elaborating now on the reasons why I did not choose “Multiples-of-Five Syndrome” as the title for this essay, the truth is that were there any other convention in vogue instead of fives and zeros (for example multiples of seven, maybe), the problem would have still existed and in very much the same way. But the issue is much graver than just that: CMS is a “syndrome”, and like any medical syndrome, manifests its unfortunate effects in all factions of life. I will take his opportunity to present a few examples of CMS in order to elucidate the concept, and show the extent of its relevance to our day-to-day lives.

Sunday is by far the most celebrated day of the week since it is an off-day from work (and school, in case of students) and we can conveniently spend the day at home with our families. Being a student myself and having close interactions with my own batch-mates and juniors, it is common for students to make grandiose plans pertaining to completing all the pending homework and reviewing concepts over the weekend. But the unprecedented unproductivity of Sundays requires no explanation—the reason being the very convenience that it is an off-day.

Similar is the case with the 24/7 availability of Internet, a convenience. Many a times this convenience subconsciously gives us a false sense of security that our Internet-related work can always be done later, and therefore often when we switch on our computers to access the Internet—the initial purpose being achievement of a productive objective—we divert to checking out our social media and with that, wasting hours without achieving anything substantial.

In one of my earlier articles regarding personal organisation, I mentioned that “one of the most important reasons behind disorganisation is organisation itself. What exactly happens is that when you are at a very high level of organisation, you begin to compromise on stuff. You might, for example, start feeling okay with a file out of its place. A teenager might be okay with a T-shirt lying on the bed. After all, it’s just one shirt”. CMS is evident here. An organised lifestyle becomes the convention of convenience which urges us to compromise on our organisation levels, and with that, triggers us to become disorganised.

All this leaves us now with one question: how to deal with CMS. For many, the solution seems to lie in getting rid of all conventions of convenience, as we saw in the example of Japanese train-schedules. But is that always possible? In the hi-tech era of today, can we afford to get rid of Internet? Assuming for a second that we do, is it possible to remove Sundays from our week, which is yet another convention of convenience? Of course not! There is a limit to how far we can go in our attempts to cutting down on the conventions of convenience.

The solution, therefore, lies firstly in identifying the different manifestations of CMS in our daily lives, and then secondly, in practising a substantial amount of self-control over one’s own self, and having a very clear sense of priorities. In some situations (like the last of the three examples presented above), fighting CMS is actually a test of your constancy in a good deed: a reason why the Holy Prophet (peace & blessings be upon him) said, “The most beloved deed in the eyes of Allah is one which is done persistently, even if the deed is little” (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 6464).

And yes, that will require a lot of rigorous practice. But take my word on this: it will be worth the effort!


Areeb Nafey Uddin Siddiqui is a Timelenders family member and is currently an A level student at Generation’s School, Karachi. He has attended the Strategic Visions, Strategic Time Management and Visions Retreat (Malaysia) workshops. He is simultaneously a poet, satirical writer, and also addresses serious issues like organizational and personal skills. He writes in both, English and Urdu. He has also conducted the Strategic Time Management training in his school for the domestic staff. Currently, he is doing an extensive internship with Timelenders.




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