Approach to time in different cultures

Linear time vs. fexible time

People from different cultures have different attitude to time. Some treat it more strictly, others take a flexible approach. What’s the difference between linear and flexible approach to time? Here are the most common points.

Linear time

  • Importantpunctuality and schedules
  • “Time is money
  • Arranged meetings are not interrupted
  • One task at a time
  • Focus on deadline and sticking to the schedule
  • Industrialized

Flexible time

  • Important: project steps in a fluid manner
  • Relationship oriented
  • Multitasking 
  • Changing tasks / priorities
  • Flexibility is valued
  • “Depending on the seasons”

ASAP – now or can wait?

​When people with different approach to time use the phrase “ASAP”, what do they mean? It turns out that they can think about totally different things. 

ASAP in linear time

…can mean:​

  • need it now
  • Don’t waitjust finish quickly your task and do this one
  • Just drop everything and do this task

ASAP in flexible time

…can mean:​

  • At the end of your day
  • Whenever you will have some time
  • When there’s nothing else to do

Of course it is not the only time related word that is perceived in different ways. Whole idea of time is different.

So how to manage projects or tasks in defined time frames?


How to cooperate with linear time cultures

Belief: There seems to be one most efficient way to achieve our objectives so we should…

  • Report delays without delay!
  • Be as detailed and specific on progress as possible 
  • Plan ahead (even if plans might change) 
  • Keep strictly to appointments 
  • Focus on one activity at a time


How to cooperate with flexible time cultures

Belief: There are various ways to achieve our objectives so we should…

  • Manage activities in parallel
  • Be open to new inputs at all times
  • Respond to changing priorities and use schedules as guidelines
  • Keep in close contact with colleagues / subordinates (ask for status reports) 
  • Build in extra time (“buffers”) 

Balance between great cooperation and delivering promised action

Hot to find it? How to manage projects working with people from different cultures and therefore with different approach to time?

Let’s look at some best practices to implement!

  1. Build relationships
  2. Set rules together with your team
  3. Use language you all understand
  4. Plan your working time consciously
  5. Say no and find a solution together!
  6. Use tools to let everyone know where they are
  7. Use „time buffers
  8. Call before emails <-> asynchronous communication before calls
  9. Know the team

If you want to learn more about this topic, check the full webinar: ASAP – now or can wait? Approach to time in different cultures


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​Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash