On writing · Smart Thinking

Time Windfalls

The children’s author and former Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson is probably best known for “The Gruffalo”. We have been fans of her books for many years, with “Stick Man”, “The Snail and the Whale” and “Room on the Broom” all constant features of our children’s younger lives. When my son and daughter were 5 and 3 respectively we saw the Tall Stories production of “Room on the Broom” twice, bought the CD from the show and bought numerous copies of the book, one of which came with an Audio CD of Josie Lawrence reading it. We didn’t really need the CD; I knew the book off by heart anyway.

One of Julia Donaldson’s less well-known books, and also a favourite round here, is “A squash and a squeeze”. Like most of her stories it has illustrations by Axel Scheffler. It tells the story of a woman who feels that her house is too small. She complains to a wise old man that her “house is a squash and a squeeze”. He advises her to take in her hen. The house feels even smaller. He advises her to take in her goat, which causes further mayhem, and then her pig, and finally her cow. By then her house really is a squash and a squeeze. He advises her to take them all out, the hen, the goat, the pig and the cow. “But then I’ll be back where I first began,” she complains. But as she pushes out each of the animals her house feels bigger and bigger until:

“She huffed and she puffed / and she pushed out the cow.
“Just look at my house / it’s enormous now …”

She is back where she started but her house feels bigger.

I have spent the last three years comparing this story to how I use my time, and to the concept of Time Windfalls. Three years ago today I arranged to have lunch with a former work colleague in Stratford, on the other side of London. I set aside four hours to travel there, eat, catch up with him, and travel home. Mid-morning he called to say that he had to cancel. I had an unexpected four-hour gap in what passes for my diary. I still had lunch (I never miss lunch) and spent the rest of this Time Windfall drafting the first few pieces for this Blog, something that I had vaguely planned to do but not achieved.

It took another 30 months to finalize any of these drafts and publish them here but 1 July 2013 was the first day that I drafted anything that was intended for these pages, the day that started the process. If my original lunch plans had gone ahead I wouldn’t have drafted anything. If there hadn’t been a lunch plan in the first place I probably wouldn’t have drafted anything either. I surprised myself with how much I achieved. Each first draft took around 30 minutes and I managed five of them that day. Four of those five pieces appear in some form elsewhere on this Blog. Those first drafts, like most first drafts, are unusable. I have spent part of today going back over the other hundred pieces from that summer to see if anything from 2013 could be copied and pasted across to here but every item has needed re-drafting.

To get back to “A squash and a squeeze” and Time Management, the trick here is to fill your diary with appointments and then have them cancelled. Like the old lady in the story, who feels that she has far more space than she started out with, you feel like you have far more time in your day than you started out with. I’m not sure if the same applies with appointments that you set up and cancel yourself. I suspect not but you could try it and find out. You might end up paraphrasing the lady in Julia Donaldson’s story: “Just look at my diary, it’s enormous now …”


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