The Spanish evening usually begins around 10pm, as people in some neighboring countries are preparing for bed. Primetime television is scheduled similarly to American late night, not wrapping up until after 1am. Surveys show nearly a quarter of Spain’s population remains awake watching television in that last hour after midnight.
Still lodged deeply in an economic depression, government officials have openly contemplated rolling the country’s clock back permanently. A leading recommendation would move things an hour, putting Spain on Coordinated University Time (the modern successor to Greenwich Mean Time). That would create a geographic time cohort with Portugal and Great Britain, replacing the current grouping with Germany, France, and Italy.
Jim Yardley at The Times with the call:
“We want to see a more efficient culture,” said Ignacio Buqueras, the most outspoken advocate of changing the Spanish schedule. “Spain has to break the bad habits it has accumulated over the past 40 or 50 years.”
For the moment, Spain’s government is treating the campaign seriously. In September, a parliamentary commission recommended that the government turn back the clocks an hour and introduce a regular eight-hour workday. As yet, the government has not taken any action.
A workday abbreviated by siestas is a Spanish cliché, yet it is not necessarily rooted in reality. Instead, many urban Spaniards complain of a never-ending workday that begins in the morning but is interrupted by a traditional late-morning break and then interrupted again by the midday lunch. If workers return to their desks at 4 p.m. (lunch starts at 2), many people say, they end up working well into the evening, especially if the boss takes a long break and then works late.
This isn’t too dissimilar from the shifted-clock challenges blamed for eroding productivity in software startups. In fact, it’s reminiscent of the Manager’s/Maker’s schedule concept popularized by Y-Combinator co-founder Paul Graham in 2009:
[The “Manager’s Schedule”] is embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.
Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.
When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.
For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.
The Spanish probably aren’t grinding away at existentialist hangovers produced by procrastinating on application development, but there is some commonality here. By virtue of their dominance over the continent’s monetary policy, Germany and France pick economic winners and losers (they have a tendency to pick themselves as winners), and they have even more leverage over Madrid. Spain sends 29% of its total exports to those two nations alone, and isn’t in a position to set business schedule any more than the frustrated designer stuck on a manager’s clock.
Later in his essay, Graham proposes ways that a non-traditional work schedule can be arranged in order to comply with both traditional business process demands and less orthodox personal preference accommodations. And that should be the policy structure in Spain, too. Portugal and the United Kingdom are far smaller trading partners, making it a real gamble to estimate the impact of changing the time, shifting macroeconomic venue at a time when conditions are already quite poor.
But in the same way that the Americans have chosen quantitative easing in the absence of adequate fiscal stimulus (blocked by social oddities, indeed), Spanish popular interest in changing the time zone may just be a part of a kitchen sink strategy toward recovery policy. With very limited influence over monetary policy, and no real negotiating leverage on sovereign debt, this is a country near the extent of its economic pain tolerance, trying to rescue its nationally popular social traditions from their internationally incongruous consequences. That’s not such a foreign idea. We see the social cost of increasing global connectedness in the Midwest all the time. We should be culturally empathetic about that.