Stop the Clock

Photo of Curtis Lusmore Curtis Lusmore,

My watch has this neat feature where it automatically keeps the time and date synchronised via a radio signal. For the most part it works flawlessly, and I haven’t had to worry about setting the time in all the years I’ve had it, even when I accidentally starve it of sunlight to charge and its battery dies. A short walk outside and it’s back up and running in no time, back to the correct time again.

But one morning recently I noticed it had started to run about two minutes fast, and in trying to manually set the time I learnt a valuable lesson that I think is informative far beyond just my watch.

I pulled out the instructions manual and found the section on manually setting the time. Pull out the dial on the side to change mode, and then press a little button to advance forward by one minute—there is no button to rewind a minute. It’s a twelve-hour watch, I need to advance by … seven-hundred and eighteen minutes. Mercifully, you can just hold down the button to continue advancing.

After several minutes of the hands whizzing around it went past noon, and I notice the little day-of-month indicator panel. Oh yeah, it is a twenty-four hour watch. Okay that’s … one-thousand four-hundred and thirty-eight minutes. The hands continue whizzing by. No wait, once I go forward a day then the day-of-month indicator will be wrong. I need to go forward an entire month? There’s no month indicator. But that’s … a lot of minutes.

The hands continue whizzing by as I think, but I haven’t even advanced a single day yet. Wait wait wait, I can’t advance a month because not every month has the same number of days. There’s no 31st of November. So, a whole year then? Still the hands continue to whiz by but the finish line is getting further and further away.

By this point it’s clear to me that this isn’t the correct way to adjust the watch backwards two minutes. I have probably been going for ten minutes already and goal has blown out from twelve hours to a whole year, but now I can’t stop my brain from going down the rabbit hole thinking about whether this will ever even work. I can’t do a year because there are leap years every four years. Except they aren’t every four years because they don’t happen every hundred years but they do happen every four-hundred years. How many minutes are there in four-hundred years?

Enough! Stop wasting time, there has to be another way.

I check the manual again but this time to follow the instructions to synchronise with the radio signal, and after a few more minutes of the hands whizzing around I’m back where I started, two minutes fast and about fifteen minutes of my life gone.

I pull the dial out again and then pause to think. There is another button, but it doesn’t do anything in this mode. I can’t see anything else on the watch besides the dial and the forwards button. I start to wonder if maybe the dial has another setting for a backwards mode, when I notice that the hands are paused. It’s been paused the whole time. I’ve been thinking for a minute, and now my watch is only one minute fast. If I just wait one more minute, it’ll be right.

So in the end, after fifteen minutes spent madly rushing forwards with no plan, with the finish line only getting further and further away the more I chase it, I achieved absolutely nothing and had to reset and start over again. What was really needed was to pause, understand the situation properly, wait for the right moment, and then the solution was trivial.