I have had plenty of jobs where I clock-watched. Counting down the hours, minutes and seconds until I could clock off, finish my day’s work and do something interesting with my time.
This whole concept has always terrified me. When you lay out the principles in play, it doesn’t seem to make sense at best, at worst it’s a stark reminder that life on this earth is too short. We all know that our time is our precious asset and yet we squander it too often in the pursuit of something we’re really not going to care about on our deathbed. To be counting down those precious seconds is truly shocking when seen like this.
I decided in 2007 that I was done with clock-watching. That I would no longer have a job that I counted down the hours until the end. It hasn’t always worked out 100% true (certainly some jobs I’ve had since then have tested my resolve and new resolution), but I would prefer to have that as a prerequisite for taking a job than what my bonus a year of my life was going to be, or what type of car I would be driving as a perk.
The pinnacle of my clock watching came whilst working in a large factory near my family home. Just after leaving university I needed some cash so took a job working for a cleaning contractor. It was often long hours with very few breaks and we were advised to wear earplugs at all times due to the noise of the factory. I was paid £4.50 an hour and worked alongside a number of men who had been in the job for a while and almost certainly earned more due to their time invested.
Our job was pretty simple. Keep the factory clean using rudimentary (and really old school) cleaning tools.
One day my boss took me to one side and told me I’d be doing something different today. I thought, fantastic, I’d spent weeks doing the same thing so this would break the monotony.
On the factory floor a bright red industrial-sized conveyor belt carried the skeletal frames of the various diggers through the building. As they moved along at a snail’s pace, engineers would fit their unique part or component to these frames, eventually ending with a complete digger at the end. It was often messy work, with oil and grease falling onto the shiny red conveyor belt.
On this day, the mechanical device that automatically cleaned the conveyor belt had broken.
“Your job is to clean the conveyor belt Tom” my boss told me.
So I stood at the end of the conveyor belt with my mop and bucket and cleaned every inch as it came through. I had eleven hours ahead of me and I’d be relieved of my duties for fifteen minutes in the morning, for lunch, and fifteen minutes in the afternoon. Due to the noise in the factory it was difficult to listen to music, so there I was with my thoughts doing probably the most mindless job I’ve ever encountered. It was going to be a week at least before the cleaning system was fixed.
After three days I asked my boss if I could be changed to another job. Thankfully he took pity and asked one of my colleagues to takeover.
“I’ll gladly do it”, my colleague Peter proclaimed. “You can just switch off completely, you don’t have to think about it”.
He was right, you didn’t have to think about mopping the conveyor belt, but that’s what made it so scary for me. Clock watching took on a whole different meaning over those three days and at the end of that week I decided enough was definitely not enough. I didn’t want to spend my valuable time on this earth counting down my time left. So I decided to only find jobs from there on in that didn’t.