On Daylight Savings, A Modest Proposal

I was up at five this morning. Well, technically it was six, having set my clocks an hour ahead last night after dutifully testing the smoke alarms. And while I’m normally up at 5:30 on weekday mornings, arising at five on a Sunday seemed . . . unnatural. And somewhat painful. Certainly not something I’d want to do on a regular basis, but because I’m teaching a Sunday School class and need to set up my classroom early, it was necessary today. So I crept out of bed at five. It was dark. Cold. Dawn was still more than an hour victoryaway. Nothing about it felt quite right.

It didn’t occur to me until later in the day that perhaps we’re approaching this problem of daylight savings with the wrong mindset.  Maybe, just maybe, we could find a better way.

Now, I’m not one of those people vehemently opposed to daylight savings. I get it. I come from a part of the country that’s largely agricultural, and making adaptations for the sake of the farming community is a perfectly normal way of life for me. In fact, when I was a kid tractors didn’t even have headlights, so that proverb about making hay while the sun shines – that was not actually a proverb in Missouri. That was just what farmers did. So why wouldn’t we shift the clock to accommodate the processes that create food for our society? It makes good economic sense.

Even today, when daylight savings is more about energy savings than farming, I’m all for it. I like saving a little money on my energy bill.

No, my objection is more in the implementation than the theory of the thing. It’s how we make that bi-annual transition between Daylight Savings Time and whatever we call the other thing (Real Time? Normal Time?) that doesn’t make sense to me. Because, you see, we’ve made a decision based on an assumption, and that assumption is that we should bury the transition at 3 o’clock on Sunday morning, so that we all sleep through it and it has little effect on our lives. Why cloak it in darkness? Let’s drag that monster out into the daylight and give it a makeover. In other words, I think we could start thinking about this transaction in a different way, and come up with a result that’s more satisfying to a larger group of people.

Let me explain. For the sake of consistency and convenience, we’ve standardized the time when the transition occurs – 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, twice a year. There’s logic in this method. Consistency is generally helpful, and pinning the change to a regular time helps us remember to do it (if our cell phones fail to remind us). But let’s challenge the assumption that the leap forward and the fall back must occur at the same time of day, or even on the same day of the week. In fact, decoupling the two events from each other opens up an interesting possibility.

We can all acknowledge that, universally, we relish the extra hour of sleep in the fall. And equally so, we all decry the loss of the hour of sleep in the spring. But there’s an imbalance to the system that, having disconnected the events from sharing a day and time, we can now rectify. The whole system is set up so that in the spring we gain, and in the fall we lose. After all, that’s the way the world works, isn’t it? Time is a set commodity, and you can’t gain an hour for one activity without losing an hour for another. If you gain an hour in the fall, you have to lose an hour in the spring. Ad oculos. But what if we set it up so that we gain an hour that we all enjoy, and lose an hour that none of us like anyway?

Here’s my plan: Once a year, in March, let’s Spring Forward on a Friday afternoon at 3:00. In other words, we could agree to lose the worst hour of the week. Let’s face it, Friday afternoons are already terrible, and Friday afternoons in the spring, just when the weather is starting to get nice, are unbearable. I left my office during the middle of the day for meetings a couple of times during the warm spell last week, and then had to force myself back inside, back to my desk for the afternoon. Three days later, and I still regret everything about that decision.

Think about it. Once a year, the three o’clock Friday meeting would be an impossibility. “Sorry, Frank – I can’t meet with you to go over the slides for Tuesday, because today we’re going directly from 2:59 to 4:00 with no intervening 60-minute waiting period. Catch me on Monday.” Can you see how lovely that is? Pure joy.

And, on the back end, let’s agree to Fall Back and gain an hour when we all really want it. Rather than bury the transition in an extra hour of sleep, let’s take our extra hour at 3 o’clock on an appropriate autumn Sunday afternoon. Use it for a nap if you want to, or extend your weekend by taking a long walk, playing a board game with your kids, or reading a book. An extra hour of church. Have dinner with friends. No matter what you do with the time, it’s still an extra hour during the best, most restful part of the week. Think of how refreshed we’ll be on Monday after enjoying our annual 25 hour Sunday!

That’s it. A slight change in thinking, a little shift in the schedule, and daylight savings could become everybody’s favorite biannual event. We could gain an hour of something we all want, and get rid of an hour that’s universally despised. Win/win, yes?

I realize that I’m probably not the first person to think of this. And I’m sure there’s a downside in there somewhere. The labor unions are likely to object. I’m sure someone will let me know why That Will Never Work. This is why comments sections were invented. Go for it. But for now, just let me dream of an abbreviated Friday afternoon and an extra hour of Sunday afternoon sunshine.



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