The timing of unnecessary work


Have you ever tried to avoid something simply because you knew if you could avoid it long enough you wouldn’t need to do it?

Yeah. Same here.

My favorite job that falls into such consideration is shoveling snow. Usually by March, I’m so fed up with the white stuff in the driveway that anything under two-inches of accumulation is immediately ignored. Sun will take care of it. A rise in temperature will take care of it. Tomorrow’s rain… our walking for the mail or driving the cars… something will take care of it. If I can avoid it long enough, I won’t need to shovel it.

The problems? Well… consider snow… and then consider something like an oil delivery. It’s never just an inch or two that falls overnight. It’s either a dusting or break out the boots. Oil company usually likes some type of a path if the snow is deep enough. I mean, I know… and you know… and even they know… that there will always be an inch or two (or three) on the ground to be trudged across and dealt with for an early February delivery. But, if you’re a thoughtful and truly decent person, you pay attention to the oil level in the tank and watch the weather forecast, and if you need a delivery then you make sure there is a path to get to the pipe on the side of the house.

You can’t always just ignore snow, with the result being that it goes away.

Part of the fun though is the timing of the process.

Friend of mine used to have what he referred to as the two-weekend review policy.

Now, it didn’t last two weekends for every project. It wasn’t an exact length of time. It… well… here’s how it began…

Several years ago, he was building a shed in his yard. His wife mentioned that she thought it would look good painted white. He didn’t care if was painted white, purple or with multi-colored polka dots. If she wanted a white shed, what he wanted was peace and quiet, so white paint was fine with him. Next day, she left on a trip to visit her sister for about a week. Having been excused from the travel—a blessing for which he was beyond grateful—he decided to use two nice days while she was away to finish building the shed and paint it.

She got back and hadn’t finished saying hello before starting a story about how she saw a place near her sister’s where the shed had been matched to the shutters on the house to create some kind contrast that still matched, and she wondered what he thought of painting the shed a forest green.

If it was just the shed, or more precisely a one-time thing, he wouldn’t have cared at all. But it wasn’t. Experience had taught him otherwise. There would be a first presentation… some consideration and tinkering… some adjustments… then a second presentation. And nothing about either presentation would allow for a simplicity of work. It was one option of the other. And now you probably see it, her arrive at his hit the pause button for a bit approach. Let the idea develop. The two-weekend review.

For him that unnecessary work idea was something completely different. It wasn’t about avoiding something so nicely that nothing needed to be done. He was avoiding having to do things twice.

From time to time I try to apply his approach to things. It works. Hitting pause is ok. Especially when I’m wondering if the effort is actually going to be worth it.

Rake the leaves today when there is a storm coming tomorrow and more leaves to fall, or, head out there later for just one day of raking instead of two?

Worth considering.

A few months ago, Terry and I were plotting out our garden. I checked the rototiller, and was all set in what I was thinking of doing. Didn’t want to listen to alternatives. Terry just let me go. And then, as we headed outside to begin the work, she mentioned that I was an idiot. We had plans for raised beds this year, but I had been thinking of rototilling the entire garden area. She knew that was unnecessary, but it was never going to hit me as long as I stubbornly held on to my plans for the effort. But as we walked in the yard… she pointed out what I didn’t need to rototill because of where our raised beds would be going… and ultimately saved me from a few hours of unnecessary work.

Sometimes the trick isn’t found in frustrations or changing your mind. Sometimes it’s just knowing not only what to do, but what not to do. (It also never hurts to put off for tomorrow what you don’t need to have done today. But that’s an argument for a different time.)


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