Keep Your Eyes Off the Clock

by Stephen Mills on September 11, 2010

Clock

Remember when you were a kid and the days of summer seemed endless? You just hung out and played and did whatever you felt like doing.  You paid little or no attention to clocks and knew it was time to go home when the sun got low in the sky.  Robin Easton in her wonderful book Naked in Eden: My Adventure and Awakening in the Australian Rainforest, described how she had lost track of all clock and calendar time; she did not know what day of the week or even what month it was.  I wish I could escape into that timeless universe.  I suggest we all need to get back to our youth and engage in some timeless experiences.

Clocks are important in the modern world.  Without synchronized clock time it would be very difficult to hop on a plane and fly to Las Vegas or meet someone from across town for lunch.  But I think we have taken things too far.  We have lost the ability to think about things in terms of themselves, and have instead started measuring everything by clock time.  Instead of using clocks for the good they can bring, we have allowed them to control us and are taking orders from a ticking mechanical monster.

In his book In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honore spends several pages describing an incredible meal experience.  He writes:

“I look at my watch.  It is 1:25 A.M.!  I have spent four hours at the table without ever once feeling bored or restless.  Time has floated by imperceptibly, like water in a Venetian canal.  Perhaps because of that, the meal has turned out to be one of the most memorable of my life.  As I write these words more than a year later, I can still recall the bittersweet smell of the cipolline, the delicate sea notes of the cappon magro, the sound of leaves ruffling in the darkened piazza.

This is a beautifully written description of an event that determined its own beginning and end; not the clock.  If he had been constrained by a clock, perhaps to rush through it so he could make the 11:00 p.m. show, he would have never written those words.  It is unlikely the meal plus show would have registered the same impact.  Just because you planned something doesn’t mean you have to follow through on the plan.  Hold your plans loosely, if at all.

I’m not suggesting you can literally just start hanging out all the time and paying zero attention to the clock.  However, I think we can capture some of the joy of our youth by changing our relationship with our clocks.   I started noticing how often I check the time.  It was ridiculous and I think most people don’t realize how clock and deadline driven they are.  How often do you even go an hour without checking the time?

I’ve been trying to look at clock time less and less.  I don’t want to go to a neighbor’s barbecue between 7:00 p.m and 8:00 p.m.  I don’t want to be looking at a clock and saying “It’s time to go”.  I want to go when I feel like going, if I feel like going, and I want to leave when I’m done.  I’m living more and more of my days and parts of days like this.  I don’t set an alarm clock anymore.  I sleep until my body decides it’s done sleeping.  Why do we feel the need to constrain so much of life by something artificial like the tick of clock?  If you have something truly better to do than whatever you are doing, then change what you are doing.  If you enjoy where you are at and what you are doing, then keep doing it.

I frequently get together with friends for a “happy hour” with good food and drinks.  After about one very happy hour people start looking at their cell phones and taking note of the time.  Inevitably by the second hour they are saying they have to go.  Why do they need to look at the clock?  If they truly were losing interest in the event, if it were nearing its natural end there would be no need to obsessively monitor clock time.  No, what is happening is that we decide that we can only allocate about two hours to a get together with friends.  That’s all the time we have to waste on such foolish indulgences; we must now return to the real world of responsibilities.

I understand responsibilities and the requirements to allocate your time wisely and I have written on the subject.  However, I think it is time (ha ha) to find a little balance between scheduling and free flowing experiences.  I feel much more free when I am not marching to the orders of a clock.  I’m finding I can balance goals and responsibilities with a lot less scheduling and clock watching.

In her book Robin Easton also said something to the effect that she would like to take a trip around the world by just wandering from place to place.  I don’t know exactly how she described it because I can’t find it again, but it resonated with me.  It gave me an idea; I can’t travel the whole world right now but I can take a vacation.  This fall I’m going to take some time for a wandering, free flowing experience vacation.  I think I’ll put some water and some emergency snacks in my car and just go with no plans.  I’ll eat when I’m hungry and I’ll sleep when I’m tired.  I might find food at a roadside stand, at a convenience store, or at a nice restaurant  Wherever the moment takes me is where I’ll go.  It might be a remote beach, a forest, a casino, a movie theater, a museum, none of them or all of them.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep my eyes off the clock as much as possible.  Give it a try yourself.  You may find life just a little bit more peaceful and free as a result.  So much of what constrains us, is what we do to ourselves.  We can undo this one by simply ignoring the clock.

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.

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{ 2 trackbacks }

What is the True Essence of Life?
September 14, 2010 at 3:45 pm
21 ways to simply be « Always Well Within
September 27, 2010 at 9:04 am

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Joshua Noerr September 11, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I am totally with you on this point. I think people hold onto things beyond their usefullness, just because time isn’t up yet. The 8 hour work day is a perfect example. The world has seemingly agreed to shuffle papers between 9 and 5, even if all the productivity happens within the first hour or two.
Joshua Noerr´s last blog post ..The Lie Of Social Proof

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Stephen Mills September 12, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Hi Joshua, yes the 9 to 5 workday is an old holdover from factory work that nobody can let go. It was designed for something totally different and it’s a rut we can’t seem to escape from. Thanks for commenting.

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Kevin Christian September 11, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Great article. I hate how horribly addicted to time and clocks I am. Even if I haven’t looked at a clock for a couple hours I can usually guess what time it is within plus or minus five minutes. That is not healthy.

I particularly enjoyed your example of the happy hour clock watching. I’ve been in that situation many times. When you pay so much attention to time you forget to pay attention to the experience itself. Going to happy hour transforms from a fun thing to just another productive activity, because, after all, our society has learned that a certain amount of recreation make a person more relaxed and fun, and therefore a better person. After work a good citizen should spend half an hour on exercise activities, one hour on wholesome recreational activities and one hour on housework or personal improvement activities. Then off to bed at 10:30 PM on the dot so she gets exactly eight hours of sleep, the scientifically determined optimal amount.

I think part of our time obsession is cultural. I’ve heard that people in many countries don’t have anywhere near American standards of what constitutes punctuality. For example, in Arab countries I’ve been told that if you have a meeting scheduled for 1 PM and you show up at 1:20, that is considered on time. In America, you had better have a good excuse for that kind of behavior. I appreciate the idea of a culture that doesn’t have such a narrow definition of punctuality. I’m sick of showing up to work, meetings, job interviews, etc. half an hour early just to make sure any unforeseen circumstances I might encounter don’t make me even a minute late. It’s unnecessarily stressful and leads to constant worry.

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Stephen Mills September 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Hello Kevin and thank you for leaving such a thoughtful comment. It’s hard not to be driven by a clock in much of modern society because so much is built around it. And I agree that it varies by culture. Much of Latin America is less clock driven than the U.S. or much of Western Europe. I’m naturally a rebellious type and my latest rebellion is to stop watching the clock. I’m not going to create trouble for others by inconveniencing them, but where possible I’m going to ignore it. I’m tired of the clock telling me what to do.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills September 11, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Hi Stephen, I remember when I first left the rat race and moved to the woods. I owned a watch but kept it in the glove box of my jeep. Over a period of many months I relearned how to listen to my natural rhythm. I got up when I was rested, went to bed when I was sleepy, and ate when I was hungry. Granted, at that time there was no reason to follow any schedule other than my own, But I retained some kind of unique ownership over my time as a result of that experience. To this day I refuse to use an alarm clock or forfeit control of how I spend life’s currency (time).
Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog post ..What Do You Think You Deserve

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills September 12, 2010 at 11:12 am

Re: “trip around the world by just wandering from place to place.” Try page 92.
Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog post ..What Do You Think You Deserve

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Stephen Mills September 12, 2010 at 12:55 pm

You must have a different version than I do 🙁 It’s no big deal, I’ll ask Robin sometime.

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Stephen Mills September 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Hi Jonathan, you and Robin both and your youthful adventures into the wild make me wish I could go back to my twenties and give it a go! I know some retired people who say they often don’t know what day of the week it is. If you don’t watch TV, I guess that’s possible. I know we must balance our schedules or lack thereof with the interests of others as long as we are living amongst one another, but I wish we could be more event driven and let experiences play out to their natural end rather than the end dictated by the tick of a clock. Thanks for your comments!

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Sandra Lee September 11, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Stephen, I love how beautifully you explored this one profound idea from Robin’s book. I’m far less influenced by clocks than I ever was before, but I still have a “schedule” in my mind. I would love to follow the inspiration of this post and simpy allow myself to “be.”

This is my first visit to your blog. I really enjoyed your writing. All the best to you.

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Stephen Mills September 13, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Hello Sandra Lee and welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed it and thanks for leaving your thoughts.

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Armen Shirvanian September 12, 2010 at 11:52 am

Hi Stephen.

I’m in disagree-with-everyone mode so I am going to stare at the clock so I can watch the time fly by. Each second is passing and I am letting it slip as I stare at the clock.

I am quite clock-driven.

I would continue to stare at the clock but it is not appealing to do because it is like watching your opportunity count down.
Armen Shirvanian´s last blog post ..Don’t Let Yourself Get Strong Armed

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Stephen Mills September 13, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Hi Armen. Is it just your nature to be disagreeable? 🙂 It certainly is mine and that is probably a little of my own motivation to as Nea says, “screw the clock”. LOL

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Mike King September 12, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Hey Stephen, I love being off the clock. I don’t were a watch or have a cell phone with the time on it. its freeing. However, we live in such a time oriented world I still have to use time often. I can actually tell the time of day within about 15 minutes every time just by being outside. Its easy to learn and it happens naturally when you don’t have a device to tell you otherwise.

I to was a bit envious of Robin’s story with her comments about not knowing the day, week or month. Freeing that is for sure…
Mike King´s last blog post ..Resources – August 2010

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Stephen Mills September 13, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Hi Mike and I know what you mean about still having to pay attention to time even when you don’t want to. I’m doing my best to not let that slip into those moments when I have a choice. Thanks for commenting.

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Nea | Self Improvement Saga September 13, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Hi Stephen. I absolutely love love love this post. I’ve thought a lot about the concept of time when reading books by authors like Neale Donald Walsch and Eckhart Tolle. The clock really does have too much power over us. And it’s definitely not because the clock has some magic powers. It is all our doing. I’m such a worker bee that the only time I lose track of time is when I’m deep in my work. I’m making a commitment to my daughter to day that we’ll lose track of time this weekend. She’s a teenager but our plan for this coming up Saturday is to say “screw time.” We’re going to just play, have fun, and forget what’s on the clock. Ahhhhh….how liberating.
Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog post ..33 Life Lessons I Learned in 33 Years

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Stephen Mills September 13, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Hello Nea,

That was a lovely comment and I love, love, love people leaving them 🙂

Have fun this weekend!

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Preeti @ Heart and Mind September 13, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Stephen,

I liked this and could relate to this post as I believe in slow food, slow life, and slow blogging! Knowing time is important but not everything can be measured with time or money.

Sometimes I can spend hours doing something I love and it feels like minutes and sometimes I spend minutes doing something I dread and it feels like hours. It is all relative.
Preeti @ Heart and Mind´s last blog post ..What if you had Golden Touch

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Stephen Mills September 18, 2010 at 7:21 am

Hi Preeti, that’s fantastic. By nature I seem to be a hurried and rushed person but I’m learning to slow down and enjoy life. Thanks for your thoughts 🙂

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Donna Willingham September 14, 2010 at 2:10 am

Wow, this is so true and something I had never even thought was having a big impact on my life! From now on, I’ll try to look at the clock less. Can I also share with you an amazing course that got my life back on track. I’d been lacking in confidence and dealing with negativity around areas of my life, but the strategies that Sarah Merron of Fire Dragon Coaching teaches really helped me focus on getting the best out of myself and others around me. She runs courses in Cairo and the Maldives, so it’s a fantastic way to see the world at the same time. Here’s the link if you should ever head that way, I found it had a very powerful effect on my life: http://www.nlp.firedragoncoaching.com/destination-egypt.html

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Stephen Mills September 18, 2010 at 7:22 am

Hello Donna, thanks for sharing your experience.

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Jonathan Browne September 14, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Fantastic. I’ve never really been much of a slave to time. My sleeping schedule is whenever I feel like it, I work on projects however I see fit etc.

Sometime’s its good to pay attention to time though.

Punctuality is important.

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Stephen Mills September 18, 2010 at 7:17 am

Hi Jonathan, yes punctuality can be important. You don’t want to inconvenience others, but you can still be free from the clock most of the time as you say. Thanks for commenting.

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Karen September 16, 2010 at 12:24 am

This is very interesting. I have been retired for the last two years. I thought that not looking at the clock would be nice but, it is not. I like having to be someplace and I like having to be there at the right time. Life is funny, you think that you want something and when you get it, you do not want it.

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Stephen Mills September 18, 2010 at 7:10 am

Hello Karen, there is no one thing that works for everyone. I know I value freedom and being a slave to a clock is not my thing. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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Patty September 17, 2010 at 12:30 am

I like the way you write and the way you think. It has been a very long time since I thought about being a kid. The clock has been running my life for quite some time now. I am going to start taking control of my own life by doing a little more of what I want to do.

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Stephen Mills September 18, 2010 at 7:12 am

Hello Patty and thank you very much for those kind words. We can’t exactly go back to being a kid, but we surely can recapture some of the freedom and joy of those days before they were socialized out of us. Thanks for stopping by.

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farouk September 18, 2010 at 2:33 am

sounds good, i am always obsessed with time

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Stephen Mills September 18, 2010 at 7:14 am

Hi Farouk, try a little timeless freedom. You might find you like it!

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Vic October 27, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Hi Stephen,
I’ve been living with a world almost out of the clock. I am a freelancer and I enjoy a job not bound by space and time. We can really work without the clock if we choose to work for our passion. I think it is more productive than being trapped with your boss whom you only serve for salary. But of course I still use a clock to monitor my regular fitness activities.
Vic´s last blog post ..101 Self Improvement Tips to Optimize Your Life

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Stephen Mills October 28, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Hello Vic, that is wonderful. I also use clocks, but I try to use them for their benefit and not become a slave to the ticking task master. Same thing for other modern technology.

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Jonathan December 16, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Hello,
After reading your post and all the wonderful comments people have left I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m on the right track for me. A while back I was at work and just above the window looking out into the store is a little 10″ round black and white clock. I couldn’t look out the window without looking at that awlful clock. So in the heat of the moment one night I taped a piece of cardboard over it. I could look out the window and not know what the time was. I looked at that clock every 5-10 minutes I kid you not. As soon as I covered the clock this overwhelming joy and huge smile came over me. It literally gave me the chills. I couldn’t believe it, that by doing something so simple as covering that damn clock made me feel like a boy with a puppy. Since then learning about time and reading other peoples strories has became a hobby of mine. I’m 19, in college and working, so I still use the clock for those activities, but besides that I’m clock free.

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