ORIGINS OF THE SAYING
It is, apparently, an old Greek saying, so I am immediately transported back to the happy years spent living in Cyprus, in the days when donkeys were seen in the rural areas, laden with hay and trudging slowly along the road in the heat of a summer’s day. I sort of presume that there are many areas of the island in which this is still the way of life.
It means that we have done most of the work, with just a few details left to sort. Or we’ve done most of the hard work, yet keep side-stepping the last bits which, in fact, could well be relatively easy. Maybe the donkeys that I recall had worked a full day in the fields and were wending their weary way back home, carrying that heavy load, back to their stable, or field and some well-earned rest. The thought of that probably encouraging them to plod on with visions of a cooling drink of water and a good rest keeping them going. Maybe they felt like simply stopping by the roadside and putting down that load, but the prod in the ribs, or tap on the rear from the black clothed human companion stopped them from doing this. They weren’t allowed to choke on that tail. No matter how stubborn, they had to keep on trudging along their weary way.
In human terms, a scene from the London marathon earlier in the year springs to mind. The ‘elite’ athletes were long gone past the finishing line. Those who were running for the many varied charities were ticking off what may have come to feel like a seemingly growing number of miles to that line and their medal. What of those who had run wearing a whole variety of fancy dress costumes? Granted I didn’t spot any donkeys, but one be-costumed runner who certainly stood out was a man almost at the end of his run dressed as Big Ben. That wonderful symbol of our capital city. He only had the tail of the donkey to consume, but … this suddenly became a big task rather than simply a tick on the final leg of his race. He hadn’t accounted for the gantry over the finishing line with which Big Ben collided. He tried to manoeuvre his towering costume to sort of limbo under. That ever-ticking clock. This task wasn’t helped by his limited vision meaning he could see neither the top of his costume, nor the gantry. How frustrating, as so near yet so far away – he was choking on the tail of his run. Fortunately, the tail was eaten when other runners and a steward came to the man’s rescue. Task completed, medal received, all parts of donkey gone. The positive part of his story’s ending is that donations to his charity shot up.
DOES THE TAIL PROVE TOO MUCH FOR SOME PEOPLE?
It certainly does. I know that I can be guilty of not completing a task – one for which I have run out of ideas, run out of time, run out materials. It’s usually a piece of craftwork that takes its place with the other ‘to be completed at some, undesignated, time in the future’ pile of tails.
I wonder if this had happened in a house I was viewing for a possible re-location. The whole of the sitting room was painted a deep purple, apart from an alcove filled with a large palms-on-a-beach mural, that is. A mural that sort of ranked along with the trio of flying pot ducks on walls! Oh, and the white bit. I guess that said white bit could have been as a result of running out of paint. However, my first and I believe best guess was that the white area of wall used to house a piece of furniture – a cupboard or could it have been a piano sized area of white? Whatever, the tail of the donkey obviously proved too much for the amateur painter and decorator when it came to completing that wall. Much easier to ignore and hope that nobody would notice – fine concept until they moved out, taking the piano or whatever with them and leaving the white patch no hiding place.
I guess there can be many reasons for not completing a task. These probably include enthusiasm disappearance, money or time running out or simply laziness and the hope that it will annoy the pants off someone else who will go on to finish the job. For younger folk, I have found that it can be a case of them not actually seeing the necessity for a task to be completed – well, at least not by them. This can seemingly be so if they find that someone always magically steps in and finishes off. They are enabled to abandon the task in order to do something that they find more entertaining, less boring than the allotted task. Not a good way to encourage our formative adults/teenagers/younger ones to accept responsibility. This acceptance, the eating of the donkey’s tail is a lesson well learned, so long as it is well taught by a caring parent, or other adult.
BACK TO SCHOOL PHYSICS
I seem to remember a law of inertia/motion way back when studying ‘O’ level physics with the wonderful Mr Lucas – he of the tomato soup slopped down his tie. Did this guy ever eat any other variety of soup or did he boast just the one tie? I am so pleased that the study of physics led to my questioning mind! I believe the law in question is one of Newton’s offerings to the world of science. I deviate.
Said law, if memory serves me right, tells us that a body in motion stays in motion. So had the decorator simply stopped, maybe for a cuppa and never got re-started, with ‘sod it’ ruling? Maybe, the sorting of my mail and filing would be completed, so long as I keep going. But, once you have stopped, it becomes a difficult task to begin again. That interruption, preventing the tail eating, can be externally, but is frequently internally centered. This is especially so if there is no specific break off point when all, in theory, should be completed. Rather, it is an airy-fairy point of time at some unidentified future location on clock or calendar. Dare I say it – a need for those SMART targets with a firm, timed finishing line? Maybe you too can visualise a whole heap of donkeys’ tails tucked out of sight? I know I have my personal pile. They vary in size, and longevity. Those crafting tasks to be finished, photo albums to be filled to name but two variations on my personal theme. Lurking in a no-man’s land between completion and dispatch for re-cycling.
Those who struggle to finish a task can be a different group from those who struggle to begin them – the procrastinators amongst us. I wrote a blog back in 2016 on this subject. Pity the poor so and so’s who are not only procrastinators but are tail strugglers too!
WHY THE COLLECTION OF TAILS?
It could be that doing of the task in hand is being enjoyed, with the final product not being the main event or main incentive. Finishing of the task could be being seen as an ending of that enjoyment, especially if no further fun projects are lined up. This can lead to several projects’ final steps being kept at abeyance, the main body of the task being dragged out.
Some may float the idea of them being a perfectionist as their reason for non-completion. The perceived need for perfection may be for self-fulfilment, or a concern that others may judge what they have done and boy oh boy, anything less than that ten out of ten is seen as failure. However, is this in reality a reason, or in fact an excuse, as I believe that perfection in most areas of life is well-nigh impossible to achieve. Re-writing parts of an assignment, tweaking a craft project, may all be repeated several times before moving to the final words, the final stitches, the conclusion, the tail. It may simply be a delaying tactic to avoid judgment, from others or self.
There may be a concern that we had aimed too high, bitten off more of that donkey than we could chew. We expected too much of ourself at the outset of the task. By lowering that expectation, probably to a more realistic one – job done. However, this can be seen by some as a cop out, a self let down, even a fail.
There are those of us who claim to work better under pressure. By delaying task completion, there is a tail-end build up as a completion time looms ever closer. The pressure builds. Despite claims to the contrary, evidence suggests that such time pressures do not actually produce better results,
HOW TO ENDEAVOUR TO OVERCOME THIS WAY OF BEHAVING
Before considering how we finish, we need to plan for this at the beginning, thereby ensuring that we have the time, the inclination, the resources of goods or money to get us over that finishing line. Obviously, there are times when external pressures such as a line manager, a family, will have a great influence over our attitude towards and our completion of a task. There may be a need to put our foot down with a firm hand in order to complete a task. A timely reminder that you cannot go out for that drink, spend the day at a family outing if that tail is not to beat you. Such delays can be supported by promises set for post-completion – promises which must be kept.
Careful consideration of the end before we begin can avoid wasting time, effort and money on a task abandoned as the tail approached. Careful consideration of how much you will need by way of enthusiasm, dedication, a need to set other things aside will serve you well. Don’t be over-faced, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Set your goals and targets carefully, including that date for reaching the end.
It may sound silly, but you need to know when you have finished. Apart from hitting a final date, include this in your planning to avoid a final input of titivation and tweaking. When you reach the end, be proud of all of the steps that have been taken to get you to that point – many of which may have become buried by the layers of subsequent work; the scraping and filling before you can begin the task of painting and decorating. Or, with aspects such as thinking and planning time which have no actual physical presence in the finished product. When you paint that final stroke, put that final full stop, tie that final knot, give yourself a huge pat on the back – and maybe throw in a glass of wine or piece of cake for good measure – as a desert after finishing off that tail.
We also need to accept that sometimes, there will simply be some tasks that are just not seen through to completion. I guess that is called life, and if this happens, so long as it isn’t part of a regularly occurring pattern, we set it aside and learn from what has happened. Certainly, not all blogs reach the tail end, rather they find their way into the deleted basket, or their contents are divided up and surrounded by other ideas. C’est la vie.
If you struggle with those tails – do get in touch for support to make a break with this habit.