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Avoidance Behavior

©01 The Media Desk

      One advantage to having spent several years studying things like the psych/soci/parapsych –ology line of academic endeavors is that you have the ability to, at need, analyze your own behavior, diagnose said behavior, and then recommend corrective action.

      This has come up several times recently. Most recently… right now. The Desk has a massive project that it is in the middle of at its day job. It has managed to swamp the Desk’s desk to a maximum depth of about six inches in places. At times the telephone has become buried. Some of the mess has had to be filed on the floor. No sooner than the Desk wades through some of the files, disks, folders, printouts, and other nonsense, then files or pitches it at need, than it is replaced by a whole new batch.
      So, of course, instead of working through the latest additions, the Desk is writing up a case study of the fact that it is not doing it.

      A couple of weeks ago the Desk was at home. And the same sort of situation came up.
      Sitting in a broken lawn chair just outside the garage the Desk realized that it was completely surrounded by work that needed to be done. And it was smoking a stale cigar, drinking a half warm beer, and listening to a race on the radio.
      Directly in front of the chair was two bicycles that needed greased and adjusted, one of them had a flat tire. To their left, at about ten o’clock, sat the pressure washer, awaiting somebody willing and able to wash any of the three vehicles that desperately needed it (the Desk’s wife’s red car was slowly turning greenish yellow from tree pollen). At nine o’clock sat the cordless drill and other tools for use on the new half-cut oil drum grill the Desk was building for the summer. Said grill was just behind the table full of tools at about seven thirty, unfinished and leaning. Directly behind the Desk’s chair was a 16 horsepower Wheel Horse lawn tractor with terminal transmission problems. The tractor had its front end hanging from the ceiling on an engine hoist while its back end was a foot and a half from the floor on jack stands. At about five o’clock sat the giant tool chest cart with everything a mechanic would ever need to repair the tractor, except a new hydrostatic transmission. To the Desk’s right at about three o’clock sat two vacuum cleaners from the Shelter, rescued from the burned out building they needed cleaning and troubleshooting to make sure they are still usable. Directly beneath the chair to the right was a battery operated remote control toy truck, it had given out while bouncing up and down the driveway and running into the bicycles a few minutes before because its batteries had died. At about one o’clock, to the right of the bikes, the Desk’s own van was waiting for the Desk to patch its back tire which had a slow leak.
      Absolutely surrounded by work, and it should be noted that the Desk has the tools, the reference materials, supplies, and experience to accomplish everything on the list, except repairing the tractor as it turned out, the Desk was struggling to ignore it all, and listen to the race.

      How could somebody, fully knowing that NONE of it would get done unless he did it, sit there, and ignore it all, wasting time, listening to sports? The tire isn’t going to fix itself, the Desk knows its wife can’t do it. The stuff to do it is in the giant toolbox, take it off and fix it!
      Yeah… later.
      Number Two Daughter’s bike was un-rideable, if she ever got her room clean, she’d want it ready to go. The Desk is a passable bicycle mechanic, aligning a front wheel and adjusting the brakes is no biggie. Get up and do it!
      In a minute.
      The car, van, and Jeep are all an ugly shade of green. Martha Stewart wouldn’t even think about making a set of bath towels that color. The machine already had the bottle of soap on it, and you’ve got a hundred feet of hose hooked up to it. It won’t take but half an hour to wash all three of them.
      The man can’t come and pick up the tractor to take it to the shop until you put it back together and get it down from the ceiling. Put the deck on it, put the belts on it, then chain it to the Jeep and drag this turkey out to the side yard where the man can come and get it.
      Next commercial.
      The Shelter Manager asked you last week if you’d looked at the vacuums, when are you going to get to that?
      After I move the tractor.

      The Desk knows all about the classic symptoms of Clinical Depression. This ain’t it. Burnout? Nah, had that at the jail. There isn’t really a name for it. Besides Avoidance Behavior, which is a symptom, not the disease itself.
      Its not just being overwhelmed. Or facing a deadline. Or having somebody standing over you demanding the work be done… done NOW… and done correctly.
      It’s simply a lack of inclination to do it. The cure? Doing it!
      It’s a temporary condition. At best an hour or two, sometimes it’ll stretch to a day or so. But it will pass. In fact, in the case of the garage full of stuff, it had passed by the next day. The bikes got fixed, the tire was plugged, and two of the three vehicles were washed. By the next week the tractor was sitting out in the rain waiting for the man to come and get it. One of the vacuum cleaners is working, the other may be toast. The new batteries for the remote control truck are sitting there, and if it ever stops raining, it’ll be good to go down the driveway again too.
      And the grill? The grill was done that day, and in use the next weekend.
      As for the current work project at the Day Job. It may have been easier to do all that other stuff than to do it.
      Working with information is actually tougher in some ways that repairing riding lawn mowers.
      With the mower, if the Desk had a replacement transmission, or the money to have the mower man do it, it would simply be a matter of throwing the parts at it until it was done.
      When you are distilling information, and reformatting it, and then proofing and correcting it, you’re never done. Either the mower will start, and then move, or it won’t. Nobody changed their mind and says, ‘Oh, we need it listed THIS way.’ Or, ‘Miss Burghersville is now Mrs. Whippersnapper and she wants to be hyphenated, with her middle initial too.’
      You’re never done. It’s never right. And just when you get ready to submit the final product somebody important calls and wants an entire section redone, with three new subsections that throws the pagination of the next eighty pages off.
      Gotta love it.
      With the tractor… Wading through the shop manual and a couple of phone calls revealed that something inside the transmission had either broken or stripped. Give it last rites and start over with another one. Simple. Not cheap. But simple.

      So which would the Desk rather be doing?
      Well. As a maintenance man, wearing the tool belt, fixing garbage disposals, patching drywall, working on the odd toilet or fighting with a security light, when you were done, you were done. This bit of nonsense might take three days, but at the end of those three days, the paint was dry and you were done. If you were now working on cars, you could see the end of the project. Replace the drive shaft, grease everything that would hold still long enough, test drive it, and you’re done. Order a pizza, get greasy, beat on it with a pair of over-sized Vise Grips, and it’s fixed.
      But even then, as in the garage the other day, getting started may be half the battle.
      More than half.

      So the current project is sitting here. No closer to done now than it was a couple of hours ago.
      It has to be done. There is no doubt about it. Until July 1, that is the job description. It is what we do here. After that date, who knows… “You want fries with that?” That’s too long to put it off. Some sort of progress has to be made, and shown to They That Command Progress.
      Well. Might as well do Something with it. Even it its just calling the contact and telling them we got it, and ask if they want what they sent in published. Sometimes the answer to that question is ‘No, wait! Let me check with They That Need Checked With.’ If it is, no more pressingly urgent project.
      And no more Avoidance Behavior.


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