Sommarøy is attempting to abolish time.
No, that’s not the name of the newest Marvel supervillain. Nor is it the newest trend in anti-aging skin care regimens. Sommarøy is an island off the northern edge of Norway, in the Norwegian Sea, and earlier this month, the town council of the tiny island’s lone village petitioned the country’s government to allow them to be time-free, claiming that, with 69 days of continuous sunshine each year, the island’s 300-some residents got used to going about their lives however they saw fit, and they felt that the structure of time simply got in their way.
Or so it was reported.
In reality, time-free Sommarøy was a tidbit of genuine fake news, cooked up by Innovation Norway, an organization owned by Norway that serves to promote business development for the country. Makes sense when you think about it, doesn’t it? Because while the idea of living without time was a brilliant bit of marketing, it’s a lot less tenable as a way of life.
Time can feel like it’s a weight, a pressure, a bother. But when we get into the weeds of just what life would be like without it — a thought experiment many indulged in when “news” of Sommarøy broke — it turns out to be a lot messier. Time is how we track things. Everything. And, it turns out, tracking things is one of the key elements to success.
A recent Inc. article with the deceptively mundane title “How to Lose Twice As Much Weight, Backed By Science” spun off of a collection of research about logging food. One study, author Jeff Haden claimed, showed that people who tracked what they ate three or more times per day, consistently, were most successful in losing weight. Another, Haden said, measured that success concretely as a loss of almost twice as much for those who kept a food diary over those who did not. And it didn’t matter what they logged or where or how precisely. It only mattered that they did it.
This is due, Haden argued, to the Hawthorne effect. Based on a 1924-32 study at the Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works factory complex in Cicero, Illinois, the Hawthorne effect is the impact that the simple fact of being observed can have on a subject. While the original study was carried out to determine whether different lighting or different rest periods could have an effect on worker productivity, what it found was that worker productivity increased, it seemed, simply because they knew they were part of a study.
Physicists know this as the observer effect, and it was being discussed right around the same time as the study at Hawthorne Works, as quantum theory was in its nascent stages. On the smallest scale, just being observed can change the behavior even of the smallest subdivisions of matter.
When we are observed, our behavior changes — even, as the weight loss studies show, when we ourselves are doing the observing. And accurate observation requires consistency and time.
“Those are some fun anecdotes you’ve strung together,” you may be thinking. “But what’s it got to do with me? I’m not moving to Norway or trying to lose weight.”
Well, tracking and consistency are fundamentally important to success, no matter what endeavor you’re pursuing.
In that Inc. article, Haden told a story he recalled about Jerry Seinfeld. The comedian shared, in an old Lifehacker article, that when he was first starting out, he determined that the way to improve was to write a new joke each day. So he got a large wall calendar (we can help you with those!) and put a red X over each day after he’d written his joke.
“Success,” Haden wrote, “is based on staying the course and doing the right things, the right way, over and over.”
This advice is applicable to business as well as personal endeavors. What goals do you have for your business at the moment? Are you pursuing something countable, like outreach to customers? Determine a target number for each day, then log it and track it. Trying to establish a new tradition, like employee recognition? Log and track each time you accomplish the short-term goal. (And if you’re looking for a prospective client gift or recognition award: Yeah, we’ve got that!)
Haden’s conclusion: “Don’t assume knowing automatically leads to doing. Logging leads to doing. And leads to a much greater chance of success — which naturally leads to kick-starting your own ripple effect of improvement.”
Observe yourself. Observe your business. You’ll be amazed by what changes.