Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fire Breathing Toaster: Maybe I'll Never Have to Do It

by Bill Adler

This is Fire Breathing Toaster, a new Cleveland Park Listserv column.

Let me get right to the point of the column. Or not. You see, the inspiration for this column, if inspiration is the right word, is that I'm avoiding doing real work. As tax season gets closer, I have accounting matters to deal with. The days are dwindling between now and when my book is due at the publisher. I have five or six tedious phone calls to return, and a questionnaire for jury duty to fill out.

So I'm doing everything other than what I need to do. I've run out of interesting blogs to read, and am all caught up on the worthless television shows I watch, so I decided to create a new column to keep me from doing those important things.

Why? It would be simple to say that procrastination is a human trait and be done with it. But I'm a pretty smart person, able to learn from previous errors: I've learned that if I drink from a just poured cup of coffee and burn my tongue, not to do that next time. I figured out that if I forget to respond to a letter from the IRS and they fine me, I shouldn't hide that letter under a pile of papers again.

So why am I not working on my new book? Why am I not getting a running start on my taxes? Why am I writing this column, something that's entirely optional, when I have pressing obligations? Why am I pretty certain that after I finish writing this article I'll head right over to my favorite blogs --again-- rather than doing what I need to do?

One problem with time is that we often don't have enough of it. Not having ample time makes for shoddy work, incomplete research, and typos. But having too much time to complete a task also isn't good. We don't focus, we get sloppy because, well, because we have time to fix things or do it later. When we have too much time to do something, instead of focusing our intellect on what we need to do, our minds wander.

How do we judge how much time we need to do something? That's rarely possible to do precisely, even with tasks we've done before: If it takes 45 minutes to get to the airport and we allow 45 minutes, there will be a time when it only takes 30 minutes and we'll wonder why we left for the airport so early. But there will also be a day when it takes 90 minutes and we'll be sweating all the way, wishing we had left earlier.

We are damned if we procrastinate, and damned if we don't.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," and "Outwitting Squirrels," He tweets at @billadler.

Fire Breathing Toaster is a new column on the Cleveland Park Listserv. It doesn't yet have a home on a particular day. What does Fire Breathing Toaster mean? It's doesn't mean much, but it's a fun image, and once the column name popped into my head, it stuck.

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