Watching Paint Dry

What do you plan to be doing today? I asked Jim*.

‘I’ll fill in the hole in the ceiling and then watch it dry. Then I’ll paint over it and then then I’ll watch paint dry’, he said.

I smiled and left him to get on with it.

Being thrifty enough to squeeze life out of nano seconds, I thought he was joking. I mean I manage to organise the kitchen even between flipping some parathas, so there must be something he might like to get done with the extra time on hand.

I got on with my work, serving coffee and biscuits through the day. Every once in a while, Jim would leave for a cigarette which I noticed because he needed he would ring the buzzer for access each time he wanted to come back in. Paint, coffee, cigarette was his pattern for the day.

When I finished work, we got chatting.

‘I’ve painted extra sections for you. There are ball marks all over the hallway. Your son plays a lot of football it seems,’ he said.

‘Oh thank you!’ I was grateful that he went the extra mile.

‘You see I get so bored watching paint dry.’

By now I had figured that he really meant every word. In fact, coming from a painter, the phrase now sounded totally authentic.

‘What about watching Netflix of YouTube,’ I asked.

‘I feel like I am skiving. When I am at work, I like to feel that I got a lot done.’

‘Fair enough,’ I said.

Oddly, the chat with Jim reminded me of a very similar conversation at the ‘Future Branches’ Conference in Amsterdam last week where some banks shared that staff boredom was a key issue for them.

You see, as more customer choose to self serve and footfall in some branches declines, they said that colleagues in branches had less to do. With the branches  needing to remain open for several reasons, this sometimes resulted in boredom.

So I thought why don’t we look at this at two levels. One, at a personal level such as Jim, you or me and then two, as an organisation, such as a bank or a hotel.

As an Individual

If this article resonates, here are some ways to view spare time at a personal level.

Think Discretionary Time
From a pure time management perspective, any time which is generally left to your discretion to manage (be it time between appointments, time in a coffee queue or time between quotes of paint) is called discretionary time. The art of being productive is to master how to utilise this. Personally, I love to write and to read so I usually get on with my journalling or finishing some unfinished pieces of writing. Depending on how I feel, I might check in on my stocks, sort some banking, plan holidays, etc. I could go on but am sure you get the point.

As with all of us, I have lots to do but I don’t follow any lists.

My energy drives my choices and not the reverse. Sometimes I too, sit and stare as I escape into a parallel universe. 


When I say connect, I don’t mean hooking up to social media to hit endless and meaningless likes. What I mean is to make time for those who matter. So yes, I use these small slots to check in on the wellbeing of those that matter to me, sometimes to then set up deliberate coffee chats.

Next, What could you do as organisation?

Think Beyond

I see in the financial sector that people are more wedded to their teams or their lines of defence. I cover this extensively in my book called c-tunes. Here, I’d like to encourage a little more creativity and will take some examples from my career in hospitality and media.

At one of the hotels where I worked (Trident, Cochin), multi-skilling was just the norm. For example, if there wasn’t much happening at the reception, that would be a great opportunity to upskill in the kitchens and fillet the fish or try some silver service at the restaurants.

I still remember smashing six beer bottles when balancing them on a salver while wearing a (blue) saree and high heels. I guess it’s all part of exploring.

Also while working with BSkyB, I partnered extensively with the colleagues in the call centres. As project manager, I made it my business to sit in the call centre in Dunfermline, Fife or Livingston in Scotland. Each time when the call volumes were low, the teams helped me with process maps and project analysis. Not only did my projects benefit from ground level understanding, the teams got a great sense of how projects worked. Some of them even went on to become business analysts. Meanwhile, I learnt a bit about Netgear and Sagem routers!

So I hope this gives you a few ideas on how to get creative with time at a personal and organisational level.

Productivity is often associated with overworking and planning to death. I believe it is the reverse as it enables you to be relaxed and creative. If you still think being productive is boring, you should try watching paint dry.

Anyway, it’s nearing 7.00 a.m. and Jim will be back soon to finish work.

Today, I might tell him to read this while he watches the paint dry to see what he has inspired! I also need to thank him again for going the extra mile.


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Written by Vinita Ramtri. Rights Reserved.

* Jim’s name has been changed

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