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Getting Things Done Post by :freeman~crying Category :Essays Author :A. A. Milne Date :August 2011 Read :1404

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Getting Things Done

In the castle of which I am honorary baron we are in the middle of an orgy of "getting things done." It must always be so, I suppose, when one moves into a new house. After the last furniture van has departed, and the painters' bill has been receipted, one feels that one can now settle down to enjoy one's new surroundings. But no. The discoveries begin. This door wants a new lock on it, that fireplace wants a brick taken out, the garden is in need of something else, somebody ought to inspect the cistern. What about the drains? There are a hundred things to be "done."


I have a method in these matters. When I observe that something wants doing, I say casually to the baroness, "We ought to do something about that fireplace," or whatever it is. I say it with the air of a man who knows exactly what to do, and would do it himself if he were not so infernally busy. The correct answer to this is, "Yes, I'll go and see about it to-day." Sometimes the baroness tries to put it on to me by saying, "We ought to do something about the cistern," but she has not quite got the casual tone necessary, and I have no difficulty in replying (with the air of a man who, etc.), "Yes, we ought." The proper answer to this is, "Very well, then. I'll go and see about it." In either case, as you will agree, action on the part of the baroness should follow.


Unfortunately it doesn't. She, it appears, is a partner in my weakness. We neither of us know how to get things done. It is a knowledge which one can never acquire. Either you are born with an instinct for the man round the corner who tests cisterns, or you are born without it, in which case you never, never find him. There are men with the instinct so highly developed that they can tell you at a moment's notice the name and address, not merely of a man who will test your cistern for you, but of the one man in your neighbourhood who will test it most efficiently and most cheaply. If your canary moulted unduly, and you said to your wife, "We must do something about Ambrose," they could tell you at once of the best canary-mender to approach. These are the men I admire. But there are weaklings (of both sexes, unfortunately) who would not even know whether a greengrocer or a veterinary surgeon was the man to send for, and who are entirely vague as to whether a cistern is tested for water or for lead-poisoning.


The press speaks of this or that politician sometimes as the "Minister who gets things done." I have always felt that, given an adequate permanent staff, I might go down to fame as the householder who got things done. As you see, my staff lets me down. I am quite capable of sitting in my office and saying to an under-secretary, "We must do something about this shell business." This, in fact, is just my line. I am quite capable of saying firmly, "I must have ten million big guns by August." And if the undersecretary only made the correct reply, "Very well, sir, I'll see about it," my photograph would appear in the papers as that of "the man who got the guns." But when your under-secretary refuses to carry on, where are you?


What I want, and what, I imagine, most people who have moved into a new house want, is an intermediary to get things done for us. I suggest this as a profession to any demobilized soldier looking for work. He should walk about London, making a note of the houses which have just been sold or let, and as soon as the new residents have taken possession, he should send round his card. "Tell me what is worrying you," he would say, "and I will see that something is done about it." He might charge a couple of guineas as his fee. Perhaps it would be better if he said, "Let me tell you what is likely to worry you"--if, that is to say, his business was to go round your house directly you got into it, to make a list of the jobs that wanted doing, and then, armed with your authority, to go off and get them done. Many people would gladly pay him two guineas for such excellent services, and he could probably pick up a trifle more as commission from the men to whom he gave the work. It would be worth trying anyway.


But, of course, such a man would have to have a vast knowledge of affairs. He would have to know, for instance, how one buys string. In the ordinary way one doesn't buy string; it comes to you, and you take it off and send it back again. But the occasion may arise when you want lots and lots of it. Then it is necessary to look for a string shop. A friend of mine spent the whole of one afternoon trying to buy a ball of string. He wandered from one ironmonger to the other (he had a fixed idea that an ironmonger was the man), and finally, in despair, went into a large furnishing shop, noted for its "artistic suites." He was very humble by this time, and his petition that they should sell him some string because he was an old customer of theirs was unfortunately worded. As far as I know he is still stringless, just as I am still waiting for somebody to do something about the cistern.


(The end)
A. A. Milne's essay: Getting Things Done

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