Founder Diary

June 14, 2022

The clock is not your friend

The clock is not your friend

Clocks: one benefit and all kinds of headaches.

A digital clock on a table. The digits are covered with band-aids it's impossible to tell the time. A notebook and a pencil are next to the clock
A digital clock on a table. The digits are covered with band-aids it's impossible to tell the time. A notebook and a pencil are next to the clock
A digital clock on a table. The digits are covered with band-aids it's impossible to tell the time. A notebook and a pencil are next to the clock
Nikita Kazhin's headshot

Nikita Kazhin

Co-founder at Brick

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Most everything tells us the time these days. Just look around.

Phones. Car dashboards. Ebook readers. Stoves. Microwaves. Thermometers. And, ridiculously, air humidifiers and AC remotes. Even my towel rack tells the time for some twisted reason (not that I ever bothered to set it correctly!)

We know we check our phones way more than we should (nearly 100 times daily by most counts), but clocks seem to be even more ubiquitous. Finding somewhere without them is about as likely as discovering a place with no air.

Deconstructing time awareness

Since there’s no escape, you have no choice but to always be acutely aware of the time.

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Yes, I know the purpose of a clock. We get to not miss the things that are timed —  appointments, meds, meetings, etc. We get to synchronize our lives with those we care about, whether for work or for leisure.

That’s all legit.

But why the almost OCD-level urge to check the time all the time? Is our precise current position relative to the sun really that important?

We actually check our progress

Essentially, it’s about constant juggling of responsibilities, the fear of dropping the ball.

It’s a way of asking, “Does what I’m doing still fit into the bigger picture? Am I still likely to hit everything else planned for the day? How far into the workday am I? Am I making a dent in that endless to-do list of mine?”

“Am I on track?” is such a burning question that we keep putting it out like our mouths on fire after a drop of Meet Your Maker Death Sauce.

Even more importantly, the more we check, the more we distract ourselves from the work itself. And don’t fool yourself — when you momentarily look at the watch, you don’t lose the two seconds it takes. You create an interruption.

These interruptions are extremely costly, on average taking you over 20 minutes to fully refocus. Even if we don’t consider this a “major” interruption event, your concentration suffers for a long time after that. With this in mind, checking the time even just twice an hour isn’t looking that harmless any more. If you add the usual array of pings and flashes coming from your phone and other tools, are you ever focusing at all?

What about rest? Time flies when you’re having fun, right?

Forget it. Checking the time distracts you from enjoying anything. It forces you to be constantly on guard. That definitely doesn’t help either your recovery, or your attitude. If anything, this habit leaves you even more fatigued.

The conclusion? Checking progress hurts progress.

The autopsy found that the patient died from the autopsy.

We want more control

Deep inside we’re all control freaks. You gotta be on top of things, right?

Time can serve as a reliable goalpost, a truly independent feature of the world. It may seem that if we’re in control of it, we are in control of everything happening in our lives. That’s why losing track of anything, including time, isn’t a desirable state of affairs, right?

Not really. Staring at your watch for control is about as useful as staring at your car’s steering wheel while driving.

Besides, last time I checked “I lost track of time” was used to describe good things, too.

Look at children or animals. They don’t give a damn about the exact time. “It’s mid-evening”, or “It’s about lunchtime” gets the job done just fine. Atomic-clock precision is just not needed for most tasks. And it’s definitely not for everything you do.

Sure, little ones don’t have “Responsibilities.” But don’t we all secretly crave the “simplicity” of childhood? A big part of that was, indeed, lax awareness of time. That’s what allowed us to experience unbound creativity, play like there’s no tomorrow and just be ourselves.

Losing track of time is starting to look tempting, isn’t it?

Mentality of scarcity

Nothing is ever enough. Time above all.

We whine about it all the time. Time’s limited. Life is short, blah-blah-blah.

All it actually does to our lives is create artificial haste. There’s so much to do and not nearly enough time. Gotta hurry, mindfulness be damned!

On the contrary, when we switch to an abundance mindset, we get to relax, “just do it” and appreciate things instead of worrying about what surrounds this activity and how “according to plan” it’s all going, creativity gets a chance to flourish outside the artificial confines of scheduling and learned deficit of time.

Time awareness and motivation

Research shows there’s a distinct link between the two.

The more we check the time, the slower it flows. I think we’ve all been in a situation where we need to kill time (which unsurprisingly involves looking at the clock a lot) and get the middle finger instead, and time begins to feel as if it can only creep forward.

Similarly, heightened time perception hurts satisfaction from whatever you’re doing. Your work just can’t be pleasurable when the clock is always involved and time lazily crawls by as a result.

At the same time, the study demonstrated that being motivated by the enjoyment of a task (read: when you like what you’re doing) rather than by outside incentives separate from the work itself (read: when you’re only doing it for the money or some other external reward), usually leads to lower time awareness and a more pleasant experience.

When we combine these findings, we realize that the less concerned we are with time, the quicker it flows. And the quicker it flows, the likelier you are to enter the state of flow and enjoy whatever you’re doing!

Simply put, less time checking = more satisfying work!

And how to achieve that?

Remove cues about time and it magically goes faster and work becomes more pleasurable!

How cool is that?

So what?

We can dramatically improve our work environment simply by getting rid of clocks!

They’re designed for us to move in sync when necessary and help us keep track of timed activities. But in fact most of what we do is NOT timed.

Sure, there are deadlines and other commitments we have to keep track of. But why should the clock be the default way of keeping up with those commitments? Reminders, alarms or timers can do the job just as well and with much less interruption.

Constant time-checking brings an unnecessary agenda to even the simplest tasks and it creates artificial urgency.

Our motivation, progress, and, ultimately, well-being all benefit from us not knowing the exact time at all. It’s just not useful. When we accept that, we get a chance to stop making a mountain out of a molehill and allow ourselves to lose track of time. Less pressure, less urgency, more clarity. Finally, some breathing room!

What’s stopping you?

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