Monday, September 21, 2009

There’s a saying that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person. I think I probably qualify.

So, for the last four years I’ve been looking after a flat for a friend who’s living abroad and wants to rent the place out. As time’s gone on it’s got harder and harder to deal with and (not helped by the fact that the tenant turned the place into a S&M dungeon and didn’t pay any of the bills), somewhere along the line it became less a job (my friend paid me a few pounds for looking after the flat) and more of a favour. An indicator, I suppose of just how much my life has changed in the last four years.

It’s got to the stage now where I have less and less time to devote to the place and need to hand it back to her… (to be honest, it was probably a mistake carrying on with it after the first year I agreed to manage it – I wouldn’t consider acting as agent for a property I owned, so what made me think I should do it for someone else’s I’m not sure). And it’s become a problem for me and for her.

Now, the actual business of acting as an agent shouldn’t be that hard – just a few phone calls here and there and the odd visit to make sure everything’s going OK – or so you’d think - so what is it that makes it impossible for me to find the time to do it?

I find time to do extra pieces of work when they come my way. I find time to do all kinds of things I don’t plan to do – and it seems to work. So what is it that transforms what should be a few easy tasks into something I just can’t find the time to do?

Maybe it’s more finding mental space rather than time. If I’ve got lots of things on my plate, I tend to make lists – when something comes in, I don’t necessarily do it immediately, but I do decide when I’m going to do it and leave a note for myself in my diary. Even if it’s something like “make a decision” or “send someone an email” That way, I can safely forget about it and it won’t be cluttering up my mind in the meantime. A lot of stuff that doesn’t go in the diary, I do forget about, or delay for months – sometimes forever… calling people, doing admin, birthdays, etc.

But on the other hand, a lot of stuff I don’t put in the diary does get done. I found the mental space to think up a new recipe for Lisa and I for dinner on Wednesday (king prawn bloody mary cocktail followed by spaghetti with beetroot and a watercress pesto – very nice actually). I manage to do this blog. I manage to find the time for all kinds of stuff...

On Monday, when I was out running, it was getting dark. I realised I was all alone in the park except for a fox, some bats and a woman out walking a weasel (no joke). I got half way round before I discovered that the part of the park I was in had been closed. The gates locked (I’ve no idea why – there are no gates at the other side, so locking the gates serves no purpose). I had to run all the way back round to get out.

The point being that despite spending five minutes or so stumbling about in the dark trying to find a way out, my running time was the same as usual and I got back in time for University challenge… Somehow, I found the time because I wanted to.

So perhaps that’s it. Perhaps the reason it’s impossible to find time to deal with my friend’s flat is quite simply that I don’t want to do it. And having lots and lots of other things on my plate just means I feel justified.

Then again, I don’t just do things I enjoy. Mostly, I grant you, but not exclusively – and a lot of things I really want to do I can’t find time for either.

I think the real reason is that I really resent jobs that overrun. When I can’t get the job done in the time I think it justifies, I really start to get annoyed with it. And renting a property is one of those jobs that never can be scheduled. Almost everything you have to do on it is unexpected and additional and everything is (to everyone but you) an emergency. Anything that’s not an emergency is trivial and ends up being put off (by everyone involved) until it becomes one.

Which, I suppose, answers my specific question about the flat, but not the general one of how I – as someone who undoubtedly has a busy life – manages to fit everything in that needs to be done.

And the answer to that, I’m afraid, is that I don’t. Things do go missing out of my mental and physical filing systems. Jobs do get postponed either because I don’t want to do them or sometimes because I do. A lot of stuff gets done, and a lot of stuff doesn’t. juggling lots of balls just means it’s more acceptable when you drop some.

So I suppose, if you want something done, ask a busy person. But make it something concrete and definable, not expanding and open ended. And try to have a plan “b”….

1 comment:

Jon said...

You're falling victim to what Robert Pirsig would call a 'gumption trap' - your mental approach to the job completely shapes the outcome. In this case you clearly don't want to do the task, and so immediately you've created a gumption trap. And it's like quicksand.
So the longer you have to ruminate on it, the deeper you sink. Best to just pick up the phone or whatever rstraight away without giving yourself too much time to think about it and 'spoil' it.