What Does Against the Clock Mean?

Against the Clock Meaning

Definition: To work quickly to finish something before a deadline.

In this idiom, ‘clock’ refers to ‘time,’ as a deadline does not always have to do with a specific hour but a period of time or an event marked in some other way.

Usually, working against the clock implies that you do not have enough time to finish something, and you are working as fast as possible to complete something in a given timeframe.

Origin of Against the Clock

Meaning of working against the clockThe expression against the clock came about during timed sports’ rise to popularity in mid-20th century America.

Instead of racing each other, as in the past, contestants could now be timed individually with a stopwatch. The race, therefore, was against the clock and not necessarily against an opponent.

Examples of Against the Clock

Up against the clock idiomWhen you have a specific point in mind, and you must finish something before that, you say you are working against the clock (even when there is not necessarily a clock involved).

For example, if a volcano is going to explode, that is the point of reference, and scientists may “work against the clock to collect specimens before the volcano erupts again.”

Oftentimes, students race against the clock to finish an assignment before it’s due, or doctors work against the clock to help their patients before it’s too late.

More Examples

  • Now the first lady and her team are racing against the clock for a final push of ‘the Obama brand,’ as former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers once called it. –The Washington Post
  • The wildlife advocates are on a race against the clock. On Monday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a so-called depredation permit for P-45, which allows for the lion to be killed within 10 days. –Los Angeles Times


To work against the clock is to race against the clock and try to ‘beat it’ by finishing a task before a deadline.