A Chindogu Clock for Procrastinators

The Procrastinator's ClockSetting one’s clock ahead by 15 minutes is a useful trick for procrastinators. I do this myself with my alarm clock, not that it ever does me any good, in the hopes of being a little bit earlier out of bed. This comment by “Vadi” in Academic Procrastination gave me pause:

If this advancing clock can be done for dates it will be great. Perhaps you have a Calendar that is a day in advance? But somehow that idea still looks far fetched. Any good suggestions?

That does seem far fetched, but I got to thinking about why the “set your clock ahead” trick works. I think it presumes the following:

  • You have a terrible sense of time, or are obsessed by last-minute details, either of which cause you to be late.
  • You actually do care being on time, but your friends have started keeping a separate timetable just for you thanks to your legendary unreliability.
  • Enough awful things have happened because of lateness that you’ve resorted to pre-emptively tricking yourself by advancing the time on all your watches and clocks.

Now, the problem is that you know that I know you know you’ve already set your clock ahead, so you cleverly take this into account and end up being even later. It’s a vicious circle. What we need is a way to channel fear and anxiety positively, while keeping you from getting too comfortable with your clock.

Enter the Procrastinator’s Clock. It’s guaranteed to be up to 15 minutes fast. However, it also speeds up and slows down in an unpredictable manner so you can’t be sure how fast it really is. Furthermore, the clock is guaranteed to not be slow, assuming your computer clock is sync’d with NTP; many computers running Windows and Mac OS X with persistent Internet connections already are.

So why go through all this trouble to make a clock that’s sometimes fast and sometimes not? FEAR, UNCERTAINTY and DOUBT, my friends! If you use this clock to keep appointments and deadlines, and you really care about being on time, you have to assume that the clock might actually be telling the correct time though it’s likely to actually be up to 15 minutes fast. Yikes! All that anxiety should give you a good kick in the pants to get moving, because you can’t really trust the clock to be anything but on time, even though it probably is fast.

Get all that? Click here to try it out. It will open up into a small window.

I offer this clock in the spirit of Chindogu, the Japanese art of creating almost useless objects. Technically, the clock maintains a “time buffer” of “fastness” measured in milliseconds. This buffer is modified every second by a certain amount, either adding or subtracting a number of milliseconds. Every once in a while, the delta value changes and the rate of change may increase or decrease. The time buffer is added to the actual time before the display calculations are made. The whole point of all this is to keep ya guessing as to what the real time is. The clock should be, on average, about 7 minutes fast, but betting on the law of averages in the short term is a good way to screw yourself. So just assume the clock might be on time, but accept it’s probably fast. Since you don’t know if it’s fast by just a few seconds or several minutes, it’s safer to assume the clock really is telling the right time, which is just what you should be thinking :-)

Incidentally, there’s a Procrastinator’s Watch that weights the minutes instead, which is genius. However, it’s far too reliable and therefore relatively easy to “game” by clever procrastinators. To be useful, we really do need a clock that’s reliably unreliable and predictably unpredictable to keep them guessing—and motivated—in the right way.

There are now three versions:

Enjoy! ;-)

If you liked this, you might find Regift Receipts, Chain Letter Breaking Certificates, Social Yardsticks and Gauntlets of Productivity interesting too. For more serious tools, check out the Printable CEO Series.

UPDATE: For those of you asking for physical versions, I’ve been made aware of a patent already covering the same idea.

68 Comments

  1. Jeff 8 years ago

    Researchers have devised a mathematical formula for calculating just how much you’ll procrastinate on that Very Important Thing you’ve been putting off doing.

  2. Deb 8 years ago

    Dave, patent this NOW…..

  3. zzap 8 years ago

    “Dave, patent this NOW” lol, good idea.

    I’m usually a procrastinator when it comes to doing work, but I’m surprisingly good when it comes to doing things on time. Hmm…

  4. ashley 8 years ago

    once again, another useful tool from david sheah. now, if only i can morph this clock into every clock at home and work with an ALARM! still, very needed. i almost lost my job due to lateness, not because i didn’t want to go, but because everything i do is last minute, unforunately!

    thanks david!

  5. Amanda Himelein 8 years ago

    My mother has the same problem, so my brother acts as a procrastinator clock by randomly reseting her watch.  So she may guess that her watch is 2 minutes fast, but if she’s seen Ian recently, it might have changed, so she has to assume it’s correct.  Since Ian’s over there no less frequently than once a week, it keeps her pretty on-time.

  6. Chris Harrison 8 years ago

    Man, this is pretty cool :) I’ve used the 15 min trick on my alarm clock for years, and I always get used to it after a while…

    I would note that if anyone plans to use this on their desktop, it’d probably be a good idea to turn off the clock in their taskbar…

  7. Ian Muir 8 years ago

    I think that I’m lazy enough to require a more active clock.

    http://www.nandahome.com/

    This one will actually run away after you hit snooze, forcing you to find it before you can hit snooze again.

  8. kevin 8 years ago

    another great product David.

    awesome. thx!

  9. Tim Foreman 8 years ago

    This is a very cool idea, but sadly it won’t help my procrastination problems.

    I often procrastinate on things I don’t want to be doing, but I hate to be late, so I don’t have issues with time.

    I just have issues with getting things done. I really enjoy procrastinating. Sadly.

  10. Deb 8 years ago

    Amanda, that’s hysterical! Can Ian be hired? :D

  11. empress 8 years ago

    I like this but I agree with ashley. Unless this comes with an alarm, I’d probably not use the clock but I really do love the idea. How about a little tweak? :)

  12. Dave Seah 8 years ago

    An alarm feature makes too much sense :-) I’ll think of how I can quickly add this. I don’t have much time for GUI coding at the moment :/

  13. Matt 8 years ago

    Similar to a fuzzy clock.

  14. Love it!!!

  15. Matthew Cornell 8 years ago

    Clever!

  16. Ignat Drozdov 8 years ago

    Very clever indeed. A desktop version?

  17. Dave Seah 8 years ago

    Matt: The fuzzy clock is cool!!! I hadn’t seen it before. Though it’s similar in vagueness, though…the intent behind it is completely different.

    Ignat: I can release a projector version. That might be fun. I’ll see when I can get around to it. There would have to be some modifications to make to it first so it runs a little nicer than the base “make a project” feature.

  18. a11en 8 years ago

    Doh!  Someone did it!  I had this idea years and years ago.  I wanted to do it as a wrist watch, however, as it would always be on your wrist (most of the time, thats where we look throughout our days).

  19. Dave Seah 8 years ago

    a11en: You should still totally do a wrist watch version. That would be awesome!

  20. Jodie Miners 8 years ago

    David, I would love it if my PC System Clock could be replaced with this clock, it would be great.
    Thanks for another excellent Idea.

  21. Ben 8 years ago

    GREAT!!! Love it!

    Some suggestions:
    – konfabulator widget version (could be placed over systray-clock etc)
    – screen saver version
    – 24hr format
    – sync with system clock, Palm, iPod, and the clock hanging in my cubicle ;-)

  22. late.late.late go-go-go! 8 years ago

    would love this for my phone too!

    i’ve always tried to put my clock ahead by 17, 28 or 9 minutes ahead (each clock is different). Those numbers take a little bit of thought for me to do the subtraction in my head.  And since I am so rushed (lazy?) i can’t be bothered figuring out the actual time – so I’ve got to go go go!

  23. Krishna Kumar 8 years ago

    This is a great tool. As some people mentioned, it should take over or hide the system time display.

    Also, are you looking into manufacturing real clocks and wristwatches based on that idea? I think there would be an enormous market for that.

  24. Leng 8 years ago

    Wow, brilliant! I’m so confused now that all my clocks are set to different times, I never know which one I can trust… But it doesn’t make me any more responsive, in fact, it makes me far more fatalistic about ever getting anywhere on time! I’m gonna try this at work and see if I can actually make it to my morning meetings on time. We also need a version that people like Lisa—who are NOT always on the computer, and DON’T wear watches—can use. Maybe on their cell phones? ;)

  25. jon kukuk 8 years ago

    This is nothing new, I’ve been doing it for many years and my father before me. And I’m 50 years old so you young whippersnapers are just now seeing what is old becoming new again. Normally I’ve set my alarm +20 – 30 mins ahead for years. But then again I was doing holes in my jeans before 1970. Give me a break, this isn’t new, but it is useful.

  26. Dave Seah 8 years ago

    Krishna: No plans to manufacture anything. You CAN hide the clock on your computer manually. On windows, right-click the toolbar and choose “properties”, and uncheck “show the clock”.

    Jon: It’s not just setting the clock ahead, if that’s what you’re arguing about. The point is making it hard to guess how much faster the clock actually is.

  27. Jeff 8 years ago

    Me too.  I have been doing this for years and get razzed about it all the time.  I thought I had an issue (and I probably do—more than one, I’m sure), but it totally works for me and makes me more of the strange bird I am.  Great job.  I really like it.  I’m with the others—I want it in place of my system clock, as a widget in Vista.  Cheers.

  28. Brian 8 years ago

    You guys are so accurate, I want a procrastinator’s calendar ;)

    Good work.

  29. Walter 8 years ago

    I have a real/physical alarm clock that works on this principle, albeit as a fluke.  My clock would slowly gain random amounts of time.  Sometimes it would be stable, sometimes it would jump a few minutes.

    Being an EE, I wanted to build my own that was more controllable, but you’ve beaten me to it.

  30. Chris White 8 years ago

    I like it a lot, very useful for the smaller things.  Is there an easy way to bookmark the browser version to open in a new window like the Javascript does?

  31. Andrew 8 years ago

    Can you make an active desktop version of it so that it is always running or perhaps what would be better make it a screen saver.  I think i would like the screen saver idea better.

  32. a11en 8 years ago

    Hey David!  :)  I’d love to try- I figure you’d need a little random-number generator or something, so that you could determine how far off it’d be, then a normal clock-circuit etc.  ;)  All my EE friends that I talked to about it back in the day just laughed and said: “Dude- you really have it bad, don’t you?  I mean- seriously- you want a clock that doesn’t tell you the time?”  I’d swear and then yell at them- “YES!!”  :)

    I’m very glad I wasn’t insane, and glad you’ve come out with this!  A great idea to do it in software- much easier than an actual clock I think.  Although I still hope someday perhaps I could do it!  :)

    Cheers, David!!

  33. Dave Seah 8 years ago

    Chris: I added a link to the HTML version to pop itself up into another window.

    Regarding other form factors, screen savers, widgets, etc: As I figure out how to make ‘em, I’ll make them. Some of the tools to do some of these things cost some money (screensaver converters for Flash, for example) or require learning something new (making a wrist watch, creating a Vista or Mac OS X widget). If anyone has useful pointers or recommendations for these things, feel free to post ‘em here in the comments.

  34. Morris Talley 8 years ago

    Hey David.  Great program.  What are the chances of linux users getting a version too?  I couldn’t get it to run with wine.  It freezes.

  35. tpjim 8 years ago

    The problem with making a real mechanical version is that the owner has to be able to access the real time in order to set the clock, which is a shortcut around the obfuscation that is the point of the timepiece.  Unless it’s designed picks up the real time over some automatic wireless signal.

  36. tpjim 8 years ago

    designed to pick, I mean.

  37. Rahul 8 years ago

    Is there way to keep it always on top?

  38. optimalista 8 years ago

    Hey people u can use it with active desktop :D add the site http://davidseah.com/tools/pclock/

  39. Barry 8 years ago

    15 minutes – that’s chicken feed.  My wife lives in a completely different time zone with her watches set 43 minutes fast ;-)

  40. Antje 8 years ago

    Love it!

  41. Owen 8 years ago

    Cool, I shall use this clock to go to lunch and clock off every day…

  42. rjk 8 years ago

    Nice trick!

    Many years ago, I used what I think might be a similar technique to draw 2D mountainous backgrounds – randomly pick a height to start and randomly adjust the height by one pixel with each step across the screen.  I got the best results by changing the probability of each step up or down depending on the previous one, so the slope would tend to keep rising or falling smoothly.  I didn’t think of it at the time, but it would be nice to have the height (or lateness value here) repelled by the ends of the range instead of being stuck close to one end for quite a while.

    Am I guessing the method correctly?

  43. Alex 8 years ago

    The clock needs to be able to stay on top of the other windows otherwise it can quickly get lost.

  44. Scott 8 years ago

    Hi David
    This would be really useful on a PDA which many of use for alarm clocks (windows mobile in my case)- any chance of supplying one!!?
    Great stuff btw

  45. Charlie 8 years ago

    David – This is fantastic.  I would love to see it function as a screen saver.

  46. SirGuile 8 years ago

    I’ll download this in a little while, when I can make some time to set it up on my home PC.  The PC is not working right now, as I have to get around to replacing the keyboard, but I have to buy one first.  I was going to go out and buy one last week, but my car ran out of gas.  I have to wait to fill the car up until gas prices to drop.

    So, I’ll take care of this just as soon as oil prices come into line.  If you know any Big Oil Executives, give them a call for me sometime and see if they have time to take care of the whole price thing.

    Thanks.

  47. kevin 8 years ago

    how can i integrate this into OS X as a clock?  maybe dashboard widget?

  48. Wayne C. 8 years ago

    I was going to download your clock, but I’ll just do it later.

  49. Koen 8 years ago

    Wouldn’t it be cool to turn it into a Google Gadget?

  50. Jeremy 8 years ago

    This is an awesome tool can’t wait untill its in shops in australia.

  51. total_loss 8 years ago

    I’ve been doing that since I was a kid, and I’m 50. And I learned it from my dad and I don’t know where he picked it up. However the web version is pretty neat – for an old trick.

  52. Becky 8 years ago

    Great Idea!!!!!

  53. Charlotta 8 years ago

    fantastic idea – does it work as a screensaver?

  54. Alexander 8 years ago

    yOU SHOULD make an integrated version into the colck for windows

  55. Tijl Kindt 8 years ago

    Is it just me or has the online version of this clock been ahead no less than 14 or 15 minutes for the last 5 days? I haven’t seen it be less than 10 minutes ahead for ages… :-S.

    Anyway, I love the idea, but unfortunately we live in a world with way too many clocks… There’s one on my cell phone, on my iPod, in my Instant Messaging client,… :(

    Cheers,
    Tijl

  56. Mr Mcawesomo 8 years ago

    This is a great idea, and most of the things I was going to say have been said already.

    However, as far as I can tell, no one has brought up buses.  My schedule revolves around when the bus stops near my house and when it stops near my work.  This could easily make me wait in the cold for up to fifteen minutes…..

    Good idea though.

  57. ashan 8 years ago

    Fantastic idea! I’ve tried setting my clocks ahead but as you know, it doesn’t always work.

    I’d love to use your program, but it just seems a little unwieldy in its current form for OS X. Could you perhaps make it run on the menu bar to replace the system clock (ideal) or make it a widget?

    Cheers.

  58. Philip Flip Kromer 7 years ago

    The most general way to integrate it into other programs on your computer would be to make an NTP proxy.  Get the NTP server source code, and drop in the same algorithm you used to dither the time.  Then, you just install the NTPPP (NTP Procrastinator’s Proxy) on your machine locally. NTPPP uses an actual-time NTP server, and then serves up a dishonest time.

    On each machine you want to lie to you, go into the date and time settings, and tell it to use the NTP server on the computer with NTPPP installed—that would be 127.0.0.1 if it’s the same machine.

    Now your computer thinks the dishonest time is the actual time—every clock or time display on the machine will use and display it.  Caveats:  this could make things like rsync that depend on file times to do synchronization.  (For rsync, you’d use the—modify-window=15 flag) You should make sure that the NTPPP software never travels *back* in time (that is, it can dawdle at 10h47m05s for 1100 ms or race through it at 500ms but I wouldn’t allow it to go back to 10h47m04s, as that could cause real trouble with sessions, authentication, samba, etc.).

  59. Glaurung 7 years ago

    Great Tool! Any chance of getting it in 24h time format for us spoiled europeans?

  60. Ben Kinzel 7 years ago

    great idea!!!

    I am a huge fan of chindogu! Nonsensical fun at its finest!

    we recently created a series of chindogu videos with everyones favorite actor Shaving Cream Man and posted them on YouTube. Check them out at:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/ShavingCreamMan

    I would love to hear what you guys think. Thanks

  61. Isaac Csandl 7 years ago

    I agree with the commenter who requests a menu bar version. I can’t have this giant clock hogging my screen (even with the window shrunk as far as it goes, it’s still way too big)… but it’s a great concept.

    Also, in the PM display, the P and M are too close together, making it look like “AM”.

  62. Carla 7 years ago

    Hi David,
    I’m trying to get to he Procrastinator’s Clock, ut at the bottom of the page it keeps saying “Error on Page”.
    This clock seems like it would be very useful for me and I’d like to check it out.
    Thanks!

  63. Kennedy 7 years ago

    It would be really cool if you could make this a gadget for microsoft vista!  Then it would just sit and run on my gadget bar!

  64. Gnoupi 7 years ago

    Here is a fastly done widget for netvibes (and eventually the base for other widgets, netvibes provides it, if someone is motivated) : http://eco.netvibes.com/widgets/295008/procrastinator-s-clock

  65. spaggio 6 years ago

    I started with setting my clocks 10 minutes ahead, then 15, 20, 25, 30… now I have some of them set 20 minutes ahead, some of them just 15, and some of them 45 minutes ahead… I live in the future!

  66. Jesus Presley 6 years ago

    This is pathetic.
    Please go all back to normal life.

  67. Hvatum 5 years ago

    Greetings, I see there are no comments here for awhile, but I’m working on both a Vista/Win7 sidebar gadget and a modified NTP time server. The sidebar gadget will come first. It’s far less work.

    The NTP time server is worth the effort though. This will allow you to sync Windows, Linux, OSX or any other system to display “procrastinator” time. Some phones also allow NTP time synchronization (like Windows Mobile based ones). Since the clock of your computer or phone itself will be fuzzy there will be no need for platform specific gadgets or hiding the default OS clock.

    You can then occasionally (every few days) set your watch to match the time displayed on your computer. All in all, if I get it done it should be a very elegant solution.

    … And Jesus Presley – you sad troll. If you’ve honestly never been late to anything, then congratulations. Otherwise: Pot, meet kettle.

  68. Velu 2 years ago

    I will pay $100 to buy a wristwatch version of the procrastinator’s clock. It is well worth it. This watch will change the world, just like youtube did.

A message from Dave:

I really believe we all benefit when we share our own perspectives on common experiences. It would be great if you added your own anecdotes and comments, even if you don't necessarily agree with the premise of the post; that's just good conversation in my book. The house rules are "treat each other with kindness and respect" and "enjoy the flow of ideas!"

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>