Don't talk to me about time-wasting.
Or rather, do, but understand that it may take me some time to decide if what we're discussing actually is time-wasting, or whether it should be more accurately termed as procrastination, or perhaps one of half a dozen other names for that thing you do when you're not quite doing the thing that you're meant to be doing. I'm just not sure. I mean, my levels of procrastination are so advanced that I once took a herbal remedy to counteract it. Well, I was going to.
While pottering around a large health-food store, in one of those vague sunshiney sort of moods where you should have got the bus home quite some time ago but you're lingering in town, hoping for your soul to be redeemed by standing near some powdered kelp, I came upon a tiny bottle of Bach's flower remedy. It promised that a few drops on the tongue, or diluted in a glass of water, would bring your prioritising ability into sharp relief. So for eight quid, I bought it.
Once home, I unscrewed it, opened my mouth wide, and held the dropper expectantly over my tongue. And then I thought – hey! – you know what? – maybe that whole mixing it with water thing would be a better idea! Maybe undiluted is going to be a bit much. Maybe it tastes awful. Maybe I should think this through properly at some unspecified later date when I know what to do about this sort of thing! Eight years later, the bottle sits untouched on a shelf still.
And so it is with grim satisfaction that I read last week's research, by a management consultancy firm, suggesting that junior council staff spend 68 per cent of their working time doing nothing remotely productive, and that managers are "uncomfortable confronting the poor performance of staff."
Time-wasting accounts for two-thirds of the working day for these hapless folk who aren't forced to spend their time more usefully, and so don't. Of course, this is just a survey, to be taken with a pinch of salt – we have all met council staff who are overworked, underpaid, surrounded by despair and yet heroically grafting through it.
And yet, so many of us are also too familiar with that sensation of wasting our days away. You know, the creeping thought that, instead of sorting out that spreadsheet or writing those notes for the meeting, maybe you should just check out that website with videos of abandoned dogs who need adopting, or the property site for rundown farms in northern Portugal that cost less than a bedsit in Croydon. Or endlessly refreshing an ex-boyfriend's Facebook page, to try to understand why somebody who once loved us with a blind poetic rage has now married a blonde who lists her interests as "goin out *music *drinks *stuff".
Well, according to the consultancy, planning and management are the solution to this. Planning your time better, and planning your staff's time better, is the only way through the temptation to slack. Is that really the answer? Or just another way of stacking yourself into the future without soaking up the present?
When John Lennon said that life was what happens when you're making other plans, he didn't mean that you should plan harder; he meant you should take a look around at what's actually going on. Because endless planning is the worst procrastination of all, when life carries on apace, under your ink-smudged fingers, or your glowing screen. It isn't something to plan through, or turn the other way through. It's right here, right now. Do with it what you can.