Working time, Knowledge Work and Post-Industrial Society: Unpredictable Work

After a glorious bank holiday weekend, I'm sleepily reading my email. I'm thinking how quickly time discipline evaporates.  I love the moment when the clock fades away, we stay up late, sleep in, eat at random. At this time of year the days are getting longer, and I garden until stopped by darkness, totally unaware of what time it is.

But now I'm back in an office, and I'm browsing through my google scholar alerts and what do I come across but an an alert for my own book! Totally unexpected, it's now on google books.


Eagle eyed readers will note that my cover bears a resemblance to the opening credits of the most recent Dr Who. 

Samuel Pepys Working Day

I've become a tad obsessed with a wonderful site which blogs Samuel Peyps diary, with explanatory annotations and interesting comments from other similarly fascinated readers. It's a lovely example of how digitisation and providing online access to content can enable access, enrich our understanding and create community. 

I've also been giving lectures about working time to a Masters course on work, labour markets and employment, so I've been reading with particular attention to how Sam spends his working day. Samuel Peyps was an naval administrator and later member of parliament in a world without phones or internet. He uses boat, carriage and legs to get from A to B.

Here he is on Tuesday the 1st of March 1663/4

Up and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and at noon to the ‘Change, and after much business and meeting my uncle Wight, who told me how Mr. Maes had like to have been trapanned yesterday, but was forced to run for it; so with Creed and Mr. Hunt home to dinner, and after a good and pleasant dinner, Mr. Hunt parted, and I took Mr. Creed and my wife and down to Deptford, it being most pleasant weather, and there till night discoursing with the officers there about several things, and so walked home by moonshine, it being mighty pleasant, and so home, and I to my office, where late about getting myself a thorough understanding in the business of masts, and so home to bed, my left eye being mightily troubled with rheum.

Here Sam gets up early, breaks for a nice dinner, has a lovely evening chatting with some officers, followed  a pleasant walk back to his office where he studies masts until bedtime. 

On the Wednesday below he goes to his office in the morning, but spends the afternoon in a lecture on bread making, then home to do work preparing an answer for his boss, finishing at eight to spend the evening with his wife

Wednesday the 1st of March 1664/5

Up, and this day being the day than: by a promise, a great while ago, made to my wife, I was to give her 20l. to lay out in clothes against Easter, she did, notwithstanding last night’s falling out, come to peace with me and I with her, but did boggle mightily at the parting with my money, but at last did give it her, and then she abroad to buy her things, and I to my office, where busy all the morning. At noon I to dinner at Trinity House, and thence to Gresham College, where Mr. Hooke read a second very curious lecture about the late Comett; among other things proving very probably that this is the very same Comett that appeared before in the year 1618, and that in such a time probably it will appear again, which is a very new opinion; but all will be in print. Then to the meeting, where Sir G. Carteret’s two sons, his owne, and Sir N. Slaning, were admitted of the society: and this day I did pay my admission money, 40s. to the society. Here was very fine discourses and experiments, but I do lacke philosophy enough to understand them, and so cannot remember them. Among others, a very particular account of the making of the several sorts of bread in France, which is accounted the best place for bread in the world. So home, where very busy getting an answer to some question of Sir Philip Warwicke touching the expense of the navy, and that being done I by coach at 8 at night with my wife and Mercer to Sir Philip’s and discoursed with him (leaving them in the coach), and then back with them home and to supper and to bed.

The following Saturday, he pops into town to do some chores and then to the office to do some work.

Saturday the 4th of March 1664/5

Up very betimes, and walked, it being bitter cold, to Ratcliffe, to the plate-maker’s and back again. To the office, where we sat all the morning, I, with being empty and full of ayre and wind, had some pain to-day. Dined alone at homemy wife being gone abroad to buy some more things. All the afternoon at the office. William Howe come to see me, being come up with my Lord from sea: he is grown a discreet, but very conceited fellow. He tells me how little respectfully Sir W. Pen did carry it to my Lord onboard the Duke’s ship at sea; and that Captain Minnes, a favourite of Prince Rupert’s, do shew my Lord little respect; but that every body else esteems my Lord as they ought. I am sorry for the folly of the latter, and vexed at the dissimulation of the former. At night home to supper and to bed. This day was proclaimed at the ‘Change the war with Holland.


Sam's working day seems very irregular, with work and non-work intertwined, long breaks for lunches or lectures matched by evening and weekend work. The irregularity prompted one commentator to note that Sam doesn't seem to work very much. Of course he does, but not to the rhythms that we take as natural. Factories, regular working time and fixed hours are yet a hundred years in the future.

What time is it?

Last weeks clock change highlights, in the words of Barbara Adam, that “time is of our own making”. Daylight savings time has been linked to increased heart attacks but there are social consequences as well, at least there are for me. My sister is in Sydney (who change their clocks next week), so this week the window that we have to talk is an hour smaller.


How do we make time in places where our current time zone distinctions don’t quite make sense? At the Antarctic all the lines of longitude, and hence time zones, converge. What time is breakfast? There are ten research stations on the Island and each operates under the time zone of the country that owns it resulting in eight time zones.

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What about the International Space Station – by its very nature it travels through every time zone every 90 minutes as it circulates the earth. Its ground control bases are located in three time zones, Houstin in Texas and Korolyov in Moscow. The time zone roughly half way between these two is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) – so this is used to define what time it is in space.


This means that strangely it would be easier for me to Whatsapp with a astronaut than with my sister.

Buzz Aldrin with wrist watch. The Apollo moon landings used Eastern Daylight Time - the time zone of Mission Control in Florida.   

Buzz Aldrin with wrist watch. The Apollo moon landings used Eastern Daylight Time - the time zone of Mission Control in Florida.


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