We don’t need to work ‘on the hour’

One thing that came to light when I was listening to a podcast is the way we organise our tasks. Namely, organising ourselves ‘on the hour’. Why do we do it? Why don’t we just start a task now instead of waiting for the clock to hit half past or to hit the next hour?

We have such a strange habit embedded into our minds that meetings should start at 9:00am, we should have dinner at 7:30pm, we should be ready by 6:30am, we should run for exactly an hour, we should go on the treadmill for exactly thirty minutes. Somehow, things have to be a round number otherwise it throws us off.

At 5:53am, would you wait until 6:00am to get something started?

And why would you, when you could do something in those seven minutes?

Assume you were getting ready in the morning and did your usual morning run in 23 minutes instead of 30, so you had those seven minutes left. Could you go have a shower? Yeah, you could. But instead you stand there and browse your phone for seven minutes.

You could have done something else other than shower. Clean the kitchen. Make a smoothie. Read that long email from your mother. Get the newspaper from outside. Leave for work early.

Trains and buses run to a timetable, but even they arrive at various stations or stops at odd times. 5:57. 6:04. 6:10. 6:16. 6:21. 6:26. And so on.

If you’re holding an event and you have nine minutes to spare after giving a final speech, why drag it out? Why not let everyone go home, mingle, or grab food early?

Teachers. If you finish three minutes before the final bell, why not give students an early mark? Those who have to run for the bus may be grateful.

It isn’t just for us, but it’s for other people. We may be able to give people just a little more time if we let ourselves narrow the gaps of time where we know we’re just twiddling our thumbs.

Next time don’t wait until the clock hits a ‘round’ number. Just do what you need to do.

Comments on this post

I am so guilty of waiting until the hour or half past the hour to do certain tasks. Like at work, I’ll tell myself I will make a cup of tea at like 3pm, but if I’m thinking about wanting tea at that exact minute then I should do it rather than waiting. And, obviously, I’m less productive when I don’t have that cup of tea in my hand! :P

I find myself having to round up anyway! When tracking tasks at work we do everything in 15 minute increments, so even if something took me 10, I’d mark it as 15 and move on to the next task. Seems silly to wait. Plus by the end of the day I usually have some kind of padding which all evens out for things like bathroom breaks and checking Facebook. ;)

I had to do five minute increments when I was working at an agency. I definitely like that you just jump onto the next thing. Minutes are easy to count in fives and tens, but if you’re on a roll and feeling quite productive, jumping to the next thing is the best thing to do. :)

For me, waiting until the hour to do work is my way of procrastinating. Sometimes, I use it for giving myself a break before I push through hours of work. You do make great valid points, though!

I think people tend to do things by the hour because it’s easier for everyone else to remember. “Oh, is it starting at 6:53 or 6:57?” But YES, let people go early or hang around if the event finishes a bit early. All of these “extra minutes” basically adds up at the end. Instead of having 6 extra 5 minutes in the day, we can end stuff early and have an “extra” 30 minutes to do someting else :D.

I think it’s just easier to say “Let’s meet at 9am” instead of “Let’s meet now, right now! Doesn’t matter what time you get there whether 8:59am” because it has a “set” feel to it. It makes it more serious for appointments, deadlines, activities and shows commitment. Well this is my take on it but I agree for the simple things, you don’t have to wait for the hour. You can start immediately probably right after. I think it is just a system for organized people.

You make a good point in terms of organising events, and people certainly do remember times like 10:00 and 12:30 more easily. However, some of my friends catch the same train every day and it might be a time like 8:07. Even though it’s not a ‘round’ number, they remember it and are used to it, because it’s a habit. I have standup meetings at 9:10, which is just a tiny bit out of the ordinary. ;)

I understand what you’re saying, Georgie! I agree that letting people go a few minutes early, how can that hurt? etc.
For me, I love routine. I get to work around 8am (not always at that time obviously), take my lunchbreak about 12.30, and leave at 5pm. I like having a schedule. I need deadlines to help motivate me, too. Even at home, when I’m doing chores! I’ll say “you need this done by 4pm” haha. I think it’s just easier to remember a whole number rather than an odd one. When I fill in my timesheet at work I’ll always round up. You’ll never see “8.13am” as a start time! It’s either 8.05 or 8.10. It really is ingrained in human nature to stick to a time schedule, whether that’s 15 minutes, half an hour, an hour, and so on. Time is more easily measured. It’s actually easier to imagine time when someone says “I’ll be 5-10 minutes” rather than them saying, “I’ll be 7 minutes” lol. I can’t answer why this is! Interesting post though. Made me think :)

It completely makes sense for scheduling things! And I think it may just be our base 10 system (getting too technical here) being something that we are used to, and the fact that everything is easily multiplied or divided in terms of time. Though if you see my comment to Tiff, I did write that if you catch a bus or train at a certain time of day, at the same time every day, you would eventually get used to it. I catch a bus at 7:33am to go to work. Bit odd, but it’s just how it is, and I’m used to that. I’m sure if workplaces had started at 8:57 for the last century, people would have been well used to it by now too.

Though we are all lazy and don’t like to count, either! :P

Yes! Every time I wait to start something on the hour I end up waiting for like, ever because I inevitably put it off even more. Or just don’t do it at all. Neither of which is very helpful! I’m trying out a new thing recently, where if something takes me less than five minutes to do, I do it immediately rather than put it off. It helps a lot, and I don’t even look at the clock or anything when I do little things (make the bed, wash my tea cup, etc). Helps a lot!