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Are you a clock watcher?

Clock watchers start their day checking the nearest clock the moment they get up – even on non-alarm days. They have a habitual time for most activities throughout their day that they rarely stray from. Clock watchers always know what time it is, to the nearest five minutes, because that’s frequently the longest they’ll go before another look.

Image is in public domain.

Image is in public domain.

In Lee Child’s highly popular Jack Reacher series of novels, Reacher has this uncanny ability to know the time down to the minute – just in his head and without checking any chronographs. I love his character, but his incredible knack for marking the passage of time so accurately sometimes leads me to roll my eyes when I forget to switch my brain off while reading. I’m no Jack Reacher but I am pretty good at judging the passage of time, and I think it’s because I’ve unconsciously had so much practice in between so many looks at my watch. If there was an Olympic event in Rio this year for clock watching, I’d at least be in with a chance.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that some readers can relate just a little.

It’s hard not to be a clock watcher at least to some small degree in western culture. In our industrialised world the clock dictates our movements and activities to a great degree. In most workplaces, time measured in minutes and seconds is crucial. As a teacher, it’s almost essential that I watch the clock throughout each class: timing lesson segments, ensuring I’m on track, wrapping up in a ‘timely’ fashion, sometimes keeping students on track with their work using a little impromptu time pressure during specific activities.

In his more than decade-old but still highly relevant book ‘In Praise of Slowness‘, Carl Honore explains how the rise of the mechanical age and the industrial revolution led to society slicing time down into smaller and smaller increments (Watch his TED talk for a more bite-size summary of the book). Once upon a time, there were only three times in the day that you could be sure of noting with any accuracy – dawn, noon and dusk. Now we count milliseconds and we grow up learning that every minute counts. Honore claims that as a society we have become subscribed to a ‘cult of speed’.

I relate to that a lot. I’m predisposed, because part of my personality is to like to be organised and to plan ahead. In the morning I typically get up, check the clock and then often by the time I have reached the kitchen (for coffee) I have already hypothetically mapped out my day. Even on weekends and days off I have regular times in my head for everything. I tend to naturally create a schedule. This is very helpful in getting things done and achieving tasks efficiently but it can also be limiting and sometimes lead to unnecessary stress.

If I plan to take my boys out for a play at the skate park on a Saturday morning, I’ll decide even before arriving there how long I think we’ll stay for. Then, while we’re there, I often check my watch to see how we’re tracking against the timeline I have created. It’s not because I don’t enjoy time out with my kids, it’s just that I have this schedule… It’s limiting in the sense that I can be a little inflexible about changes – we might leave the skate park either before or long after the boys have actually had enough, simply because I have set a time and automatically follow it if I’m not careful.

Another limitation I sometimes find is that it’s hard to be mindfully present in the moment if I’m constantly checking (mentally or otherwise) that I’m “on track” time wise. I sometimes think I’m a bit like the “Jesus Christ” basalisk lizards that run on water, in those times when I’m more focussed on getting things done and following the timeline than enjoying the moment. I’m really only skimming the surface of each moment in time rather than slowing down and really sinking into it in all its rich depth.

I am capable of adapting of course or consciously choosing to slow down and have a schedule-less day, but for me it historically doesn’t often occur naturally.

That’s about to change.

© Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

This year, inspired by Honore and fueled by my quest for a more mindful experience of daily life, I’m intending to have Slow Saturdays. I reckon by the end of each week most of us are ready for a Slow Saturday and many of you are probably naturally very good at them. For me, I’ve decided to be a little more intentional about it.

My first Slow Saturday was just this weekend.

The principle of my Slow Saturdays is simple. It’s not about being lazy and doing nothing on those days; I expect sometimes my Saturdays will be really productive with jobs about the house, for example. It’s more about my mental outlook on the day.

Here are some basic guidelines:

  1. As much as possible, avoid time-keeping. On Saturday I left my watch off and deliberately ignored the clock on the microwave as much as I could. I didn’t make it all day long without a look, but I did pretty well.
  2. Do everything slower, and do it mindfully. I kind of had some hits and misses in the mindfulness area on Saturday, but on balance I did take my day at a much more sedate pace.
  3. Try to avoid appointments. This might be challenging at some point, I’m sure, but I’m going to try to avoid needing to be somewhere at any particular time on Saturdays. I’m realistic that on some days that won’t be possible, but I’ll try.
  4. Feel my way through the day. Eat when I feel hungry, for example, rather than automatically at 12pm for lunch (my habitual weekend lunchtime).
  5. Treat #1-4 above as ‘guidelines’ rather than rules. A bit like Captain Barbossa from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean‘, I won’t be too rigid about following the above guidelines to the letter all the time.

I want to be OK with not doing things perfectly and be kind to myself if I fall into old habits. After all, this is one day out of seven (and during the other six, especially at work, my scheduling mind is being seriously reinforced).

Being slow every day, or all the time, is pretty much impossible and maybe not even desirable in our culture and society. However I think having one day when it’s OK – even expected – to take life at a slower pace, is a good thing.

So if you’re meeting me on a Saturday this year and I’m late, be kind. I’m just a little bit slow.

Could you do with one slow day a week?

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