24 Hours Are Not Created Equal: How Your Background and Privilege Affect Your Time

person trapped in a hourglass

I’ve been thinking about affirmative action lately but not in the way you’d expect. In the theoretical sense, the point of affirmative action was to create equity in opportunity as it relates to school and access to the economy. Affirmative action was an attempt to combat the “bootstraps” narrative by acknowledging the system needed to provide boots. It allowed a group of people to pursue their aspirations in a system designed to perpetuate historical injustices. It was a corrective mechanism, not a systemic solution.

I think about systems all day, specifically, the systems that make us productive as human beings. Building a productivity company, I consistently run into people saying “everyone has the same 24 hours,” but that statement, as many have pointed out, points out a deep ignorance. Here’s why:

“Although we all have the same 24 hours physically, we are not all given the same life and haven’t been given the privilege.” - Haydn Howlett

Whether we realize it or not, that privileged mindset is a core belief deeply woven into most of the productivity software we see and use today, and it can have harmful effects on self-esteem, purpose, and ironically, productivity. Because the tools are designed on this inequitable framework, failing to succeed using those platforms can feel like the “user” is the problem.

The idea that “we all have the same 24 hours” is reminiscent of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” It reeks of privilege. It does not acknowledge that time is experienced differently by socio-economic class, education level, life stage, or family structure. It does not account for neurodiversity, different abilities, living with trauma, etc.

Productivity platforms designed with this mindset do not acknowledge how people experience time across a spectrum, and worse, they continue to perpetuate an unjust system that would tell people that different is wrong.

Let’s talk “time-boxing,” a core productivity theory driving many platforms which creates blocks on your calendar where you commit to completing a task or project. At the core, time blocking assumes you have the privilege of controlling your calendar — what’s on it, when things happen, or where you have to be. Time-boxing worked well when I was single and working in tech, as I had a large amount of control of those blocks and could flex them throughout my day, but this is the minority experience. Most work situations create constraints on schedule, location, and type of work (ie. service industry, education, and healthcare jobs). Caregiver calendars are even more constrained — juggling family schedules, sick kids, and impromptu errands...even more so in a multigenerational household.

Fast forward a few years, and I tried time blocking as a parent working from home in tech. I wanted it to work for me, but by day three, I was left with a stale to-do list, an inactive tab where the app was, and my current tasks listed on a Post-it note. I basically spent every day stressed that I hadn’t updated the tool that was supposed to make my life less stressful, because I didn't have time to do it. I even tried waking up before my family to start my day early — only to have my time-blocking plans thwarted by a poopy diaper.

Finally, it is pretty difficult to solve a problem you don’t understand, but we get it. That is why we built Bosa (more on that here). People deserve a way to go after their aspirations in a way that works for their situation. That requires acknowledging the differences our access and resources — or lack thereof — and the feelings we have around them. As entrepreneurs, investors and product teams, we cannot address this injustice without having a deep understanding and empathy for it, possibly via a lived experience. Why am I building Bosa? Because of how much I personally need it in order to get free from these systemic constraints and pressures and how much I want that freedom for all of us.

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