It was the sound of a ticking clock that first got producer Lauren Clark thinking about silencing clocks. After trying it for herself for a while, she noticed she had more time to focus on work and conversations, and found her mind wandering less often. “In our office we didn’t have any clocks (because it’s an open space), so I just bought one and put it in my cubicle,” Clark said. “I set it to be silent and started using it because I found I was wasting time looking at the clock constantly wondering what time is left in the day or how many hours I had in my day.”
Now she runs a company called Quiet and offers clients silent, ticking clocks. Clients include pet food company Mars Petare, American Express, Starbucks Coffee, and GAP. The idea of having the clocks silenced at work has caught on in other offices around the country, and it’s now started to spread in the private sector. The trend is no longer limited to startups in San Francisco or Silicon Valley. Quiet Time is an organization that facilitates quiet-time initiatives across companies from big banks like Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase to smaller firms like Aon Hewitt (a global professional services firm) and PepsiCo.
How do I make my ticking clock quieter?
While not all companies have the luxury of downsizing to a quiet office, there are things you can do on your own. Danni Cho, a sustainability manager at GAP, said her company has been really influenced by Quiet and clocks silenced to save energy. “It took some convincing on everyone’s part at first because we were used to having the bells and whistles of the company watch in our offices, but it was made very clear that they wanted to get back into saving as much energy as possible.” Cho says GAP now has no clocks in their offices in New York and San Francisco, and only one digital clock visible from each workstation with a power bar which periodically flashes red lights to indicate air conditioning usage. If someone really needs to know what time it is, they can always ask.
Cho says GAP started with clocks silenced, and eventually moved to turn off lights and other electronics when employees were out of the office. “We’re moving to a system where there will be no access to air conditioning unless it’s needed,” said Cho. “So if someone is in the office, the air conditioner will kick on for them. At night when everyone has left for the day, we’ll turn off the air conditioning completely and open up all of our windows and let the building heat naturally throughout the night so that we can send everyone home with as little heat as possible during the day.”
Can you keep a tick-free office all year round?
Even if you’re not ready to silence all your clocks, you can still have a pretty quiet working environment from time to time. According to Quiet, companies around the world are instituting weekly quiet time on their productivity-enhancing work days. Quiet Time is taking off in offices across America — last year 84 percent of workplace professionals said they would welcome a day without interruptions or distractions at work. It’s estimated that over 25 million hours are wasted every week in meetings alone.
Are there silent clocks?
There are several online sources for silent ticking clocks and the like. If you don’t want an actual clock in your office, you can get one of those digital clocks with a power bar that will flash red lights to indicate air conditioning usage. (Here’s one made by Quiet.) Or, if you really do want an actual ticking clock in your office, you may be able to snag one from eBay.
The silent or ticking clock trend is not exactly a conspiracy theory — the concept actually has its roots in science with growing research showing the benefits quiet time has on our productivity. You can learn more about the science in this video on Reddit:
Are silent clocks money-saving enterprises?
Clocks are silent because they’re not very efficient. According to research, each time someone looks at a clock, their brain shifts resources and energy away from what they were doing and directs it toward the clock. “Paying attention to a ticking clock costs you brain power; it diverts your attention away from your work,” Clark said. “It’s crazy how much we waste looking at a clock when we don’t even have to.” She said she has noticed that since having a silent clock in the office, she spends less time agonizing over how much time is left on the day.
An article by Time Magazine says that silent clocks have also been shown to help you lose weight, lowering your metabolic rate as you work off the calories. The article cites findings from one study that found participants on a silent clock lost an average of 12 pounds after six months [the experiment went on for almost two years]. Another study found that employees who had a silent clock in their office showed increased cognitive function compared with those who did not. (That study was conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.
Non ticking wall clock target?
An online search for a “non ticking wall clock”, “silent wall clock”, or “quiet wall clock” doesn’t come back with a lot of options. But you can find some non-ticking clocks on Amazon. Here’s one that is also a calendar.
One Reddit user commented an office manager at his company decided to take things into his own hands: “I work for a university and our office manager has decided that all offices will be silent. No more visual interruptions… if you want to know what time it is, ask someone else. Also no more sitting around and talking about the time… pause and ask someone what time it is instead of watching the clock.”
It’s interesting to note that many online articles cite the same source for inspiration: an executive coach named Brad Stulberg. His new book Peak Performance talks about the reasons for eliminating clocks from the workplace. It’s all about saving time and focusing on getting meaningful work done, instead of wasting energy focusing on when lunch will be or when it’s time to go home.
Is quiet time a good idea? Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that all quiet-time initiatives are bunk. (I’m sure there are plenty of companies that do great work and have lots of good ideas on how to improve office life.) But I think it’s a great idea for some offices—especially those that want to become more focused and productive.
For me, silent time just makes sense. And this article may not be from a source you’d readily trust, but I have to share the story below because it’s so funny. It comes from a Harvard Business Review article about “Silent Time”: The Best Way to Improve Productivity? Silence Your Company’s Clocks. A company is on a roll: overachieved, happy employees, lots of business, etc.
I’m all for turning things around in the office. I think it’s a good idea to have clocks silenced, and I personally wouldn’t mind being more focused on work if it meant that I wasn’t constantly wondering when lunch was and when were going to lock up.
I’ve always thought that the silent clock trend is a good one—and even wrote about it in my blog post about digital clocks that flash red lights—but I don’t know if I would ever go so far as to say things should be “silent time” at work. There are too many ways you can still manage an office. Silent time means no access to radios or other phones, no music, etc. Take a look at this article for more information about the silent time trend. I think it has some interesting points, and I think it’s a great idea to have some quiet time at work—but not all work. Not every room should be completely silent!
The reason I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say things should be “silent time” is because there are enough that we can learn from watching others talk as they do their jobs. And happy employees who feel comfortable while working in an office is always a good thing! I think teams do better when they can work together and not feel like they’re being watched, and I think we can all learn a lot more from each other when we’re allowed to talk while we do our jobs.
But then there are situations where it’s great to be quiet—the main one being the meeting room. Have you ever been in a meeting that is a real meeting—not just small talk or people idling? It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in the course of one if everyone gets on task! And it’s also amazing how much better that room smells after people have left it, knowing that they’ve accomplished something real and important instead of just wasting time.
Most meetings I’ve had in my career (as a teacher, principal, and CEO) have been pretty good—but I’ve also had some real back-room meetings that were a real waste of time. The speaker should always know this: you never get anything accomplished in the course of small talk. I wish someone would have told me that when I was still in school!
So yes, having silent time at work can be very productive—but not all work consumes all of our waking hours. And we shouldn’t always expect everyone to be silent so that we can focus on work exclusively.