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Rubber time

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Many less developed countries have a different perspective on time. Generally there is a strong awareness of, and it might be jokingly referred to as "Fiji time," or the equivalent. The Indonesian term is jam karet, literally "rubber time". This is an important part of the local quality of life, but it also has an enormous impact on your project.

When engaged in a project of any kind in this context - international development, environmental, business, or personal - it is vital to take this into account.

It becomes essential for you to take responsibility for managing time:

  • Ensure that sub-projects or requests that you are waiting on are actually making progress.
  • Use a time management or project management tool to ensure that you know the expected status of needed items, and know what you need to check up on.
  • Don't allow the same time for a request to be dealt with as you would in your own context. Don't even allow twice as long. Start as soon as possible, and be prepared for delays - having to call back next week, calling at the agreed time to find that no progress has been made, or finding that no one has even thought about the request that you had expected to be already completed. Start early and be persistent - this will reduce your stress, and can give results.

While it is culturally sensitive to allow for "rubber time," it is generally acceptable to:

  • Come to an agreement with co-workers or staff about standards of timeliness. Trust and rapport are important in making this work.
  • Spend a short while socializing, then suggest getting down to work, or excuse yourself to get to work, according to the situation.

Keep in mind:

  • If you're a consultant, or engaged through a foreign agency, you're probably being paid many times the locals' salaries. Whether this is justified or not, it is not reasonable to react harshly if they don't work the same way you do.
  • At the same time, the best thing you can do is transfer skills and knowledge. Time management is part of this.
  • All the points on this page are generalizations, and to a degree are worst case scenarios - but don't relax, because they may still come true, and you should prepare for the worst.
  • You will also find local people with impression time management skills, who consider their timeliness and efficiency to be a matter of personal integrity. Be thankful, and recognize that working with such people is an opportunity to learn, and an opportunity to get real work done.



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