I work in a supermarket deli.
I was bagging the daily bread delivery. It was early in the morning on a Sunday, few people were in the store. The scale beeped away and spit out tags at me. I slapped them on the bread bags while I chatted amiably with my morning coworkers, one of my favorite crews to work with. I glanced up at the clock, 9:00 am. I’ve really only been here an hour?
I work on a farm.
I was kneeling in the fields. My un-sunscreened shoulders protested in the glare. Three of us labored away, fighting a small war with the weeds that threatened to overtake the lettuce. We had been weeding since after we finished transplanting the tomato plants, whenever that was. One of us asked if anyone had a watch, complaining of hunger. We looked around and each shook our heads. The we joked, looking at the sun and determining it was oh, probably 11:15? Just as we put our heads back down to the task at hand the others drove up in the truck. “Hey!” they yelled from the vehicle, “You guys gonna work through lunch?” Jeesh, 12pm came fast.
There is one major difference between my two jobs. It isn’t the location, or the kind of work, or the people I work with. It is the presence of a clock.
Time is everywhere. It is on our wrists, in our cars, in our phones, on our microwaves and walls. We watch time with anxiety. No matter where we are or what we are doing we almost always want it to go faster. We impatiently watch the seconds pass as we work, as we hang out with friends, as we do errands, as we work out, as we go to events and do hobbies. We constantly live in the future. It doesn’t matter what we are doing or how much we enjoy it, we are always anxious to get on to the next thing. A day’s success is based on how much stuff we get done in the hours we are given. The quality of the activity done in those hours rarely matters more than the quantity; and it definitely doesn’t matter whether or not we enjoyed what we did. Its only output, output, output.
I love both my jobs. There is rarely a day when I leave complaining that I wish I hadn’t come in. Yet, at the supermarket, just like most places, there is a clock in my face the whole day. Do I look at it? Of course I do. How could I not? Regardless of how well a shift is going, how content I am to be there, the presence of the clock always makes me feel like I should be somewhere else, like I should be anxious for the shift to end so I can get on to the next thing. In contrast, the farm fields are one of the few places I have found that provide refuge from time. I get to work at 8. I leave my phone in the car. My boss finds me when it’s lunch time. It is a comfort realizing that when I am done I will be done, how much time has passed and how much time remain are irrelevant. Instead of watching the clock I watch the landscape. I feel sunlight move, I watch the sky change, I feel the moisture in the soil change with the heat of the day.
Be where you are when you’re there – you’ll enjoy it more, no matter what it is. Get rid of daily expectations. When we let go of time, when we let go of productivity, we can relax, be present and allow ourselves to indulge in the moment.