Gow's guide to wasting those precious hours

1st September 2000 at 01:00
I'M a sucker for those magical manuals which promise to reveal the secrets of success - how to manage your time, your money, your relationships, the universe. Read me, they insist, and your life will be changed utterly.

Dale Carnegie and his How To Win Friends and Influence People may have cornered the market on the definitive title and more or less said it all decades ago, but it hasn't stopped a growing avalanche of variations on the theme. The few nuggets of common sense that your granny could instil into you are dressed up and disguised until they fill a sizeable volume.

Even the more scientifically presented books on neurolinguistic programming have more in common with a good novel - awareness of the importance of enigma and deferring the ending - than they do with hard facts.

You've guessed. I'm singularly unimpressed. A non-believer. When I started work on a local paper, one of my first jobs was to write the daily horoscope. It was tremendous fun. But I still feel a pang when I see how seriously some folk take their predictions. Do I ever glance at a horoscope? Well yes. If it happens to be open at the page and it catches my eye and anyway it's only a bit of fun, isn't it?

I confess I'm particularly drawn to books on time management. Most of the time I have to admit, somewhat modestly, that I manage my time extremely well. I'm a list-maker and a planner and a stress-avoider.

OK, so I said I was a good time-

manager, not the most exciting person in the world. I'll admit I even make a weekly menu plan and stick it behind a fridge magnet. My colleagues are horrified. They think it means mince every Tuesday and fish pie every Wednesday.

Not at all. I read books on time management so I can plan how to squander it - the ultimate luxury of a lecturer on summer vacation.

Not that I didn't have several work-related projects to complete this summer. There may have been no columns to write for FE Focus but there were handouts to update, a unit to write in he new format for the Scottish Qualifications Authority and 4,000 words on Iain Crichton Smith for the Universita di Macerata - yes, quite a mouthful, so that project quickly became known as the Italian Job.

Revisiting Crichton Smith's work brought fresh awareness - every reading is indeed a rewriting - and memories of the man himself. He was absolutely committed to his writing, and the writing of poetry consumed him.

He once told me that the only reason he wrote novels was to stop himself writing poetry. His study in Taynuilt had a large window and he admitted that sometimes he felt guilty if he was sitting thinking, in case someone catching sight of him should think him an idle good-for-nothing, and not a real writer at all. Such drive, such passion, such integrity - a blessing and a curse. If Donalda, his wife, had not reminded him to eat, he surely would have starved.

The blessed and the cursed - those who single-mindedly achieve their goals no matter what the sacrifices - are always inspirational, but as role models often dangerous. For most of us, finding the balance is the important thing. I suspect that Iain never squandered time in his life.

So, perversely, books on time management remind me to squander time. The last day of the holidays I hung out a huge line of washing, and watched it flap in the wind as I sat in the sun stripping redcurrants very slowly, with our resident jackdaw on the seat beside me and the rabbit consuming the stalks which dropped at my feet. Yes, I know it sounds a bit Joanna Trollope, but believe me there's a lot to be said for squandering time.

Now that the new session has started, I will have to plan more carefully to find time to squander. But it can be done if you know the secret.

Listen, I can help you, too. In fact I'm thinking about writing a book on the subject - Menu Planning Can Change Your Life. Shiny cover. Very expensive. Orders taken.

Carol Gow is a lecturer in mediacommunications at Dundee College


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