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The Graduate

Time is precious

Jacqueline Quillen

(Feb, 2011) My college roommate used to say, "If only there were 28 hours in a dayÖ I would actually get everything done." I thought to myself, if there were 28 hours in a day, I would probably just sleep more. That was definitely true then. Now I would probably use those extra four hours doing something more productive than sleeping.

This routine part of life is all about timing. By timing ourselves through a routine, we know how much time to allot for each task. I time my actions every day, from when I wake up in the morning until I return home from work Ė getting ready, toasting a bagel, driving to the train station, walking from my car to the train, walking from the train station to work, and so on. The only part of my day when I donít time myself is my train ride to and from work, which is ironically very liberating.

I have an allotted 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the evening, during which I am confined to one seat and can only access the limited belongings I have with me Ė phone, iPod, laptop, book and notepad. No matter what I do during my commute, I feel completely free and detached from reality, like when I doze off into a deep dream. I find it ironic that the most freeing part of my day is when Iím trapped on a train. Itís the only part of my day when time is on my side (thank you, Rolling Stones).

We are supposed to use lunch time to take a break from our work to refresh our minds for the second half of the day. To avoid the sluggish afternoon fever, we need this hour long break to treat our eyes to something other than the dreaded computer...anything but the computer! When I watch the clock during my hour-long lunch break, I am always amazed at how fast this time goes by - and Iím sad when itís over.

What I donít understand is why so many people work through lunch and end up working a nine hour day. Itís good in the sense that people are dedicated to their jobs, but we also need to take care of ourselves. Not to mention these people are breaking the law that requires employees to work only 40 hours a week!

Almost all of my co-workers eat lunch at their desks or keep to themselves. Thereís not much of a sense of community between us during lunchtime, unless someone new joins the office and we order pizza. Iíve found that other work environments are different. For example, my mom is a nurse and found my lunch scene odd because she always eats lunch with other nurses. I go along with everyone else in my office by packing my lunch or buying it and bringing it back to my desk, though I try to spend time doing things not related to work during my lunch break. Itís only healthy.

I was also unaware of the typical lunchroom rule that any nameless items in the refrigerator are thrown out every Friday at 5 p.m. When noon finally arrived on Monday, I wanted nothing more than to enjoy the couscous (a favorite college meal with my roommates) that I had left in the refrigerator the previous Friday because I had to unexpectedly work in a different office that day.. To my chagrin, I walked into the lunchroom to see my empty Tupperware sitting on the countertop next to the refrigerator.

On days like this, I feel like my life is a repeating episode of The Office or Friends, only not as funny because itís reality. In one episode of Friends, Ross is required to take mental leave from work because he freaks out on his boss for eating his leftover turkey sandwich. When I saw my empty container, I wanted to yell, "My couscous? MY COUSCOUS!!!" Instead of freaking out like Ross, I kept my cool and returned to my desk to order pizza. I find a way to laugh about it, or at least force myself to laugh about it, so that I can keep my sanity.

Itís all about timing.

I always refill my water bottle in the lunchroom before I leave, which is usually a few minutes before five oíclock. If I had stayed in the lunchroom for just a few minutes longer I could have saved my couscous. However, had I stayed, I wouldnít have gotten my seat on the train next to my train buddy.

If I leave work at exactly 4:53 p.m., I can surpass the holdup on the elevators and make it to the train station in enough time to get a good spot in line so my train buddy doesnít have to hold my seat for too long. Weíve already had the incident of people telling us that seat-saving is not allowed, so Iím putting my train buddy in a tough situation. She has become a pro at looking busy and keeping her head down while the people in front of me pass her without asking to sit next to her.

Recently, however, someone boldly attempted to sit in my seat next to my train buddy. I was further back in the line, as I had gotten held up on the elevators at work that day. Before my train buddy could respond to this bold individual, a fellow commuter said to Ms. Bold-rider, "She has a train buddy," and shooed her along. Ms. Bold-rider will never try to sit in my seat again. As for this fellow commuter who stood up for my train buddy Ė I have a lot of respect for her. I would stand up for her train buddy any day.

This fellow commuter who stood up against Ms. Bold-rider is an interesting character. I always notice her in my daily routine Ė she is tall, and sports a long brown coat during these winter months. She boards the train at the same station as me and gets off the train at the stop before mine in the city, even though her work is closer to the next stop. Interestingly enough, I pass her every day on my walk to work. She walks more than 10 blocks to her work in the morning, when she could walk less by getting off at my station. If her motive is purely for exercise, I applaud her, especially in the frigid morning air. She has even got me thinking that I might start getting off at the same stop as her to get in my morning exercise as well. In the evening, however, she boards the train at my station, the one closer to her work.

People-watching on the train is an art and a great way to pass the time. All of us train riders watch each other in our daily routines and secretly notice how the others spend those 45 minutes of timeless freedom. What would you do if you had an allotted 45 minutes twice a day of confined freedom? Would you spend it wrapped up in your career by getting a jump start on your day? Or would you take that confined freedom and spend it wrapped up in your own thoughts and dreams, far away from the rest of the world?

Our routine lives may be all about timing, but we cannot forget the importance of stopping to take a few seconds, maybe 45 minutes, to forget the time.

Read other articles by Jacqueline Quillen