Every morning, I take the Underground (aka the tube) from a beautiful London locale called Holland Park to the Edelman UK (@edelside) offices at Victoria in central London. En route, I have to change from the Central line to the Victoria line on what is perhaps one of the best (and best known) public transport systems in the world.
While I have lived in the UK and traveled on the tube before, I didn’t really pay much attention to how people make the most of their time while packed in a sardine-like fashion into the 07:45 train. If we thought it crazy to see commuters sit on top of trains in India, I can honestly say that I think it would be just the same here, were it not underground.
As always, there is barely space to read my emails but as the train heads onwards from Oxford Circus station, the woman opposite me – let’s call her Jane – looks at her watch. Five minutes to arrival at Victoria and time to spring into action. She pops open her Mulberry handbag and what emerges looks like another, even smaller version of the same bag. But then some eye-liner appears and with every passing minute, I see her whip out a new make-up accessory. Rouge, lipstick, gloss and more. By the time the train stops at Victoria, she is no longer Plain Jane. Within minutes, she is transformed and ready to take on the world. Well, once she’s picked up a skinny latte from Starbucks (another Edelman client) of course.
But over here, Jane is by no means the exception. This, I realise, is London life. A place where time is precious and every second counts. If Superman re-located to London, he wouldn’t get changed in a phone box, he’d strip to his lycra while he waited for his Oyster card (season ticket for the tube) to update.
Even my friends are at it. Take my colleague and buddy Balraj Singh (follow this man on Twitter @BazSingh). He has a bit of a journey home, so in between texts to a multitude of female fans, Baz chooses to make train time into dinner time. Most days, he boards the over ground train (he does not sit on the roof) back to Enfield Lock munching on a chicken wrap leaving him free to get on with the important things he has to do when he gets home.
Anyway, leaving Jane and her mascara behind, I arrive @edelside in time for my 9am meeting. Work hours officially kick off at 9am but the majority of the (close to) 400 people that work here are at their desks between 8:30 and 8:45. Some even earlier. And just like touching up your make-up on the train or doing your hair while a barista froths your cappuccino, early arrival is the rule, not the exception. In London, the pace of life demands you be on time or be left out. I am not making a comparison with India, because that wouldn’t be accurate. Time is important there too. But perhaps not as high up the priority ladder as it is here.
Time management is key to our business. Being accurate with time is crucial for budgeting, profitability and productivity. There’s even our hallowed financial system of time sheets to make sure we are using our time efficiently. Heads up India! GFS is coming your way soon.
But this approach to time is not even just cold, hard logic. It’s a mindset thing too. A constant emphasis upon being ‘on it’. There are no silver spoons in London (well not outside Buckingham Palace anyway), nor enough patience to spoon feed. You do things well but you do them quickly too. Sure, people are happy to help and train you but it’s up to you to make the effort to get the job done in the time you have.
If that sounds harsh, I don’t mean it to. In the four months that I’ve been in London, I’ve worked with some of the nicest, most collaborative people. But like Jane and her steady hand, they are also some of the most time efficient. When this focus on time is a way of life for the creative dynamos and strategic thinkers here at Edelman UK, it is no doubt that this office produces some of the most innovative thinking and creative programming the world has seen.
Life here moves quickly enough to pass you by if you don’t make the most of every minute. Speaking of which, there goes my train! It doesn’t run on Indian Standard Time.
‘With the exception of Baz Singh, the characters in this blog are fictitious. Resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.’
Ashutosh Munshi is an Edelman Global Fellow in London, from Mumbai.