There are more quotes about time than probably any other subject. How we use it, pass it or waste it, there’s always a sentence of reflective words to describe it. People ask me how my time is used because of my travel, life and importantly, my work. ‘You’re always away’ seems a common statement, and ‘how do you get out so much when you have a job..?’ is another. During my engineering life, I’ve worked part time, normal days, 24hr stand by and more recently, shifts. They disrupt your life, both physically and socially, but it’s not all bad news. They do allow you to get into the outdoors, provided you’re effective with your time…
My alarm rings at 5:30am. That’s the time I need to rise when covering my morning and weekend shifts. During the winter months it can feel like a real bind as the cold, dark mornings rule, but as early April brings brighter dawns, the warming rays of the sun make me feel alive. The soft scents of Spring flowers fill the dawn and birdsong echoes through the trees. My front door looks eastward and I often stand with a steaming brew, facing the rising sun before the working day begins. Some of my shifts finish at 2pm, and if I get myself in order I can be walking or cycling in the Peak District by 4pm. Rarely do I ever see a traffic jam or struggle to park. I revel is this afternoon and evening air as the fields are quiet and the tracks empty. I often stay out until sunset, eating either in my VW Camper or a local pub, before heading home. I do have to bear in mind that the dreaded 5:30am alarm awaits so I can’t do this every evening, but once or twice a week is good. Exercise is wonderful, but rest is also important…
For evening shifts, I don’t have to leave for work until around 1pm. Again, I can get out locally and enjoy a ride or walk, before my profession beckons. Most people are piling into our towns and cities for 9am, leaving the outdoors peaceful and quiet. I’m not one for lying in bed as the routine of early starts has engrained itself into my brain, so I might as well get up, get outside and enjoy my free time.
My holidays come in week-long batches. Though fixed to a rota, I do have some flexibility with swaps, but I’m usually off when everyone else is at work. Because of my expedition travel, I bunch time off into bigger blocks, which allows time for my cross world adventures. Many of the engineers I work with swap shifts. We all have different priorities, and many have families, so I’m happy to cover Bank Holidays and school breaks. I’ll work most of the Bank Holiday weekends this year, and in return I can get time off to better suit me. Living near the Peak District, I see the procession of cars and caravans pounding the roads on every Bank Holiday weekend. The A6 near Matlock Bath regularly has multi mile traffic jams, which I have no intention of sitting in..! I remember when the cable car opened at the Heights of Abraham in 1984, the queue stood last over 14 miles.
Many of the people I work with find family life and shift working a challenge. We can’t book days off with little notice, and there’s usually a debate over school holidays. We’re already having conversations about time off in 2018..!
The downside with shifts comes when you wish for some company. I wrote about this last year when I was ‘Adventuring Alone’. One week in three I’m working afternoons, so struggle for any companionship in the mornings. I also work one weekend in three, and have to juggle the chances of any trips away. My shifts have some flexibility, but I will admit being all over the place at times. I have a few friends who also work shifts, but trying to make the different patterns match is a planning nightmare.
I’ll admit to being selfish. My time is my own and I make the decisions on how to use it. Having no commitments can isolate you from company because you get too used to getting your own way, but shifts only make the problem worse. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked ‘are you coming out this evening’ or ‘were going away this weekend’ that I’ve had to refuse because of work, but it is what it is. A rigid shift pattern allows you to plan years in advance (quite literally), but allows little short notice flexibility.
We all have patterns in our lives. Some revolve around families, some around schools, some around work, and we have to use our time effectively if we are to get the best from it. Thousands of people work shifts, keeping the country quietly running in the background. Everyone from Cooks to Cleaners, Engineers to the Emergency Services have their part to play.
We shouldn’t use shifts as an excuse to stay in, or feel excluded when there’s a beautiful world out there, just waiting to be quietly explored. We should use what time we have, to do the things we love.
How do you use yours..?