Masterly inactivity

“Shoulda, woulda, coulda: Tell us about something you know you should do….but don’t.”

Truth is, there are many things I know I should do, but don’t – or at least not in the most timely fashion. I reckon I could have prevaricated for England – but I just never seemed to get round to it.

My dear Nana always used to say: ‘Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.’ Unfortunately, I have always found this advice quite difficult to follow. 

Some people apparently find this a little irritating.

It’s quite possible that I missed my true vocation: I could have been a civil servant just like Sir Humphrey Appleby from ‘Yes Minister’:

“..after careful consideration, the considered view of the Committee was that, while they considered that the proposal met with broad approval in principle, that some of the principles were sufficiently fundamental in principle, and some of the considerations so complex and finely balanced in practice, that in principle it was proposed that the sensible and prudent practice would be to submit the proposal for more detailed consideration, laying stress on the essential continuity of the new proposal with existing principles, the principle of the principal arguments which the proposal proposes and propounds for their approval. In principle.”

Scarily, I know exactly what he means.

In my defence, I would like to say that what you may see as chronic prevarication I prefer to think of as being thorough: weighing up all the options, considering the pros and cons, completing the appropriate procedures and paying due respect to the fulness of time (told you: Civil Service).

Nor can it be denied that sometimes a period of masterly inactivity – as I like to think of it – eliminates the very real risk of being over-hasty. After all, the interesting thing about a knee-jerk reflex is that it never gets as far as the brain. And it doesn’t usually do any harm to take a little time to verify that what we find in our grasp is indeed the right end of the stick.

Nonetheless, I have to hold up my hands and admit that none of this alters the fact that some things remain undone for a little longer than is strictly necessary. Usually, the need to make an outgoing telephone call will be involved, or it might be because whatever is pending might require actual physical exertion, getting my hands dirty or some other major inconvenience.

This reluctance to get on and do anything could have proved a major drawback in my working life, but fortunately I stumbled on what I found to be an effective solution.


I discovered that if I wrote down a task as a ‘thing to do’ then at some point I would find myself compelled to do something about it. This may have been – and usually was – no more than to cross it out and put it on the list for the following day, but ultimately the sheer implacability would wear me down and I’d get it done. My reward for the final achievement would be its definitive removal from the list, which was signalled by putting a wavy line through it, whereas mere postponement merited only a straight line.

Oh. Am I sharing too much here, or would you like me to expand on that?

Just don’t hold your breath.

3 thoughts on “Masterly inactivity

  1. Pingback: By appointment | theonlydeadheadinthehameau

  2. Pingback: I can’t help it, I’m an analyst | theonlydeadheadinthehameau

  3. Pingback: #idle misanthrope | the only deadhead in the hameau

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