It was a lovely spring afternoon and I sat sipping tea in the conservatory, calculating the amount of my time I spend procrastinating. The task was prompted by the sight of shirts, towels and smalls fluttering prettily on a washing line that I had just put up; a job that took 3 years.
In the calculation I limited myself to the last ten years, and then considered only major DIY work. Delay was to be based on the time spent from when I agreed to do the work to when it was completed. I chose not to consider small household jobs, such as mending a cupboard door or replacing the toilet seat. I reckoned that in total these would have taken less than a year or so. Nor did I include delays relating to personal commitments, such as writing or editing, and where procrastination is not normally an issue, although my writing-a-book project is now in its 5th year and there is not yet a word on the page!
After much puzzling, my procrastination tally came to 27 years. To the washing line figure I added the time to fit a shower curtain (6 years), tidy the cellar (9 years), convert the spare room from being fit for family to being fit for guests (9 years). Interestingly, all of these major tasks were requested by my wife, so from time to time I would get tactful reminders. Perhaps because I had done nothing her words had a way of touching my guilt centre, which for these issues is very sensitive.
I do have excuses for delaying, and all of them seem eminently sensible. The fact is that the idea of the task immediately engenders a set of worries – the job will take days to complete, will need complicated planning, will require me to buy tools and/or materials, will demand physical exertion (sometimes contortional), will mean working in dirty or possibly unsavoury conditions and most importantly will take me away from doing things I actually prefer.
Setting aside these concerns, the overall process is simple. It just takes time. In brief – the challenge is accepted, the issues are mulled over and a bevy of practical, theoretical and emotional problems are resolved. Then, when a propitious moment arises, i.e. something tips the balance like Rohan asking me for a washing line for Christmas, I begin the task.
Let me illustrate. With the washing line I was keen first that it would not be an eyesore and second that it would be robust. In this instance, it took years to find the right type of line – a strong retractable outside sort. Then it was a matter of tracking it down, ordering it on the web and then collecting it from the post office sub-station as there was no way it would go through the letter box. To mark the end of this first stage, the device was delivered to Rohan in her Christmas stocking. Some time later, having inspecting the fixings, it was off to the ironmonger for some metal plates, the timber yard for a pole to hold up the line, to one DIY store for attachments to provide the pole with a forked top and a rubber bottom and to another for a new electric drill, an extra large masonry bit and some matching screws and rawlplugs. The actual fixing took around three hours, which involved balancing precariously atop a long ladder whose feet were trespassing in the neighbouring private car park. All done, we then waited for the sun on a washday. The consummation took place over tea last week.
My next three jobs are replacing a light switch (already 4 months; completion predicted in December 2012), clearing out the attic (9 years; predicted May) and gluing the head back on a stone statue (3 years, predicted June). The odd thing is that the completed jobs give such pleasure. Putting on a shirt dried in the sun and wind rather than in our tumble dryer is such a pleasure. The trouble is that whatever is the cause of these delays, it is likely that finding a solution will be subject to more procrastination.