is a system of decimal time that contains elements of decimal time but
also keeps some elements of traditional time. A transition to flowtime would
therefore be much easier than the transition the French tried to impose in the
late 1700s. In another sense, flow time today is defined as “the period
required for completing a specific job or a defined amount of work.” This is a
different use of the term “flow time” that is only tangentially related to
the use of the term “flowtime” in this chapter.
It is surprising that after 3,300 years, we are still operating on a system of
time that was invented long before technology and 2,600 years before the
invention of mechanical clocks (around 1300). Today we have many reasons to
divide time into smaller and smaller units. Flowtime recognizes this, and it
offers a system of time that harmonizes much better with our numbering systems
in other areas of life. Most of these are based on the idea of ten. Decimal
systems are intuitive because people find counting to ten on their fingers to be
The proposal for flowtime is to
switch the counting of minutes and seconds from 60 divisions to 100 divisions.
This proposal does not include any change in the number of hours per day. It
only proposes to increase the number of minutes in one hour from 60 to 100.
Likewise, it increases the number of seconds in a minute from 60 to 100.
passages are excerpted from Chapter Five of The Tao of Measurement by Dr. Jesse
Yoder and Dick Morley. See www.taoofflow.com
for more information.
To easily convert from
traditional time to flowtime, take the minutes or seconds in traditional time
and multiply by 5/3 or 1.67. The result is the minutes or seconds in flowtime.
The hour remains the same.
Another easy way to make the
conversion is as follows: Take the minutes or seconds in traditional time and
multiply that figure by 2/3. Then add that value to the traditional time value,
and you have the flowtime value. For example, if it’s 1:15, take 2/3 of 15,
which is 10. Add 10 to 15, and you have the flowtime of 1:25.
What are the implications of
this? It means that, under flowtime, instead of the time being 1:30 pm, it will
be 1:50 pm. Instead of 3:45 pm, the time will be 3:75 pm.
Why Change to Flowtime?
There are several good reasons
for changing to flowtime:
Flowtime divides time up into smaller quantities. Instead
of 60 minutes per hour, there are now 100 minutes. Instead of 1440 minutes per
day, there are now 2400 minutes per day. Instead of 3600 seconds in one hour,
there are now 10,000 seconds per hour. Having smaller units of time to deal with
makes it possible to break tasks down into more discrete periods.
The advent of digital time makes the base 60 method of
measuring time obsolete. When the only types of clocks were analog clocks,
base-60 type clocks made more sense. With the advent of digital clocks, counting
down from one minute 20 seconds to 59 seconds introduces a gap as the time
reaches the one-minute mark. It would be more intuitive to go from 101 to 100 to
99 seconds than to go from 1 minute 1 second to 1 minute 0 seconds to 59
Flowtime provides a more fine-grained analysis of time for
sporting events. A basketball or football game played on flowtime would have
that many more time units built into it. While it will not actually make the
game last longer, the possibility for additional plays is increased because the
unit of time is smaller. In fact, at National Basketball Association (NBA)
games, as the clock winds down, the seconds get divided into ten equal segments.
As a result, if a foul occurs with 0.3 seconds left on the clock, it is possible
to stop play at that point. If the second were not subdivided into ten equal
parts, no one would know exactly how much time was left. With this form of
decimal time in place, players know they may still have time for a “catch and
shoot” play after they get the ball. The same idea applies in daily life.
The advent of computers and other time-oriented equipment makes
it necessary to measure time in ever smaller chunks. Computer time is now
measured in nanoseconds. While we don’t need to measure our ordinary time in
nanoseconds, flowtime gives the option of having a more fine-grained analysis of
Many time accounting systems are based on decimal time. As
has already been noted, timesheets are often made out in a form of decimal time.
Here’s an analogy that will help explain the value of
flowtime. Some coffeepots have markings for 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 cups. For
someone who wishes to make 5 cups, it would be helpful also to have markings for
3, 5, 7, and 9 cups, so it isn’t necessary to estimate what is halfway between
4 and 6. Flowtime is like a coffeepot with extra markings ‒ it enables you
to measure time to a higher degree of precision.
Also imagine measuring with
a ruler that only has the 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch markings on it. If you want
to measure something that is 4 3/8 inches, you will have to estimate the halfway
point between 4 1/4 and 4 1/2. If you then switch to a ruler that has the 1/8
and 1/16 points marked off, you can make a more precise measurement. Flowtime is
like a ruler of time that gives you more precision than our current time system.
Where’s the payoff in this
switch to flowtime? Why does it matter what time system we use as long as
everyone has the same one? The payoff in switching to flowtime is that when
you switch to flowtime, you will have the tools for becoming more productive.
The reason is quite simple. Because you are working with smaller time units, you
have the potential to achieve greater precision in the measurement of time.
Someone who gives himself one
hour to complete a series of tasks, such as writing five letters, is less likely
to get them done than someone who gives himself 12 minutes to complete each
letter, and monitors how long each letter takes. The first person is likely to
find himself rushing at the end to complete the five letters, unless he paces
himself along the way. Under flowtime, the same person can allocate 20 minutes
to each letter. Of course, the duration of 12 minutes of traditional time is the
same as the duration of 20 minutes of flowtime, so flowtime may not be that much
of an advantage in this case.
On the other hand, consider the
example of someone that has 25 things to do in an hour, such as getting 25
letters ready to mail. To accomplish this, each letter has to take about the
same amount of time, including signing the letter, writing a note, putting in
the inserts and sealing the envelope. Under traditional time, our letter writer
has 2.4 minutes for each letter. However, under flowtime, he has 4 minutes per
letter. If he has access to a flowtime clock, he can easily track his progress
by the flowtime clock. With a traditional clock, he would have to approximate
the time each letter takes. In this case, flowtime provides an advantage by
dividing time into smaller units, even though the duration of time remains the
The advantage of flowtime was
driven home to me again one evening while watching a National Basketball
Association (NBA) game. There were 3.5 seconds left.
The commentator said “The coach wants to know exactly how much time is
left so he knows what plays he can run.” When the game is on the line, the
coach has a choice of plays he can run to try to score a goal in a very limited
period of time. One might take 3.1 seconds, while another might take 3.9
seconds. Because he knows that there are exactly 3.5 seconds left, he knows to
call a play that can be completed in 3.5 seconds or less. Without the decimal
time clock, he would only know that there are somewhere between 3 and 4 seconds
left in the game, but he wouldn’t know exactly how much time is left.
By dividing time into smaller
units, flowtime enables us to determine more exactly how much time is available,
when this is desirable. And the change can be made without abandoning the 24
hour day, unlike French Revolutionary Time, which called for a 10 hour day.
Figure 5-4 shows the faceplate
of an analog clock that depicts both conventional time and flowtime.
In this clock, the short hour hand would point to the hours on the inside
circle, while the long minute hand would point to the minutes on the outside of
the circle. So at 2:30 in
conventional time, the short hand is exactly halfway between 2 and 3, while the
long (minute) hand points straight down to 50. In conventional time it is 2:30,
while in flowtime it is 2:50.
ON DECIMAL TIME