What proportion of our lives is actually productive, by which engaged in value-adding activities of one sort or another?  Even if we say we’re run off our feet, that’s rarely the case.  We may last out a task in a multiplicity of ways, but there is always a portion of every day that is spent waiting for someone or something, be that for personal or professional reasons.

It might be a meeting in which someone turns up late, leaving us frustrated or worrying about wasted time.  It might be someone keeping us hanging around on the phone, or worse still stuck on the end of a customer service line while the interminable music on an IVR system plays in a loop with some awful message about how important our business is to them.

We might be waiting for a bus or a train, our patience wearing thin as the rain hammers down, even in a checkout queue at a supermarket.  In an increasingly impatient society even waiting fractions of a second for a page to load on your computer can cause blips of temporary insanity.  Not hard to see how road rage can easily result, particularly if you have to wait for road works or traffic lights.  Everything adds to the stress ratio of daily living and the impatience of being delayed for reasons outside your control for the next thing – even if that is only getting home from work to be with your loved ones.

Of course there may be other occasions when taking things slowly, enjoying life at a gentle pace may actually be preferable, but waiting when we believe the time is precious and being wasted for reasons outside our control makes us foaming mad!  In short, we forget about waiting when time is on our side, but as soon as that situation is reversed we are either twitchy about waiting or, at worst highly volatile!  After all, waiting implies you are waiting for something overdue, though in the famous cliche you might just be waiting for death.

Nowhere is the frustration more apparent than in the NHS, where in some cases patients frequently are waiting for death.  The previous government set up a sophisticated programme of targets under the banner title of 18 weeks.  The aim was to get every patient from GP referral to first significant treatment by a hospital consultant within 18 weeks.  Some specialties always were well within those boundaries, but others, not least orthopaedics, had a national problem with queue lengths.  Patients in need of hip or knee replacements, sometimes other complex surgery, were being forced to wait stoically through each step, from initial meeting with their specialist, X-rays or MRIs, tests, further consultations, decisions to conduct a procedure, the waiting list for operations, pre-op and finally surgery and then recuperation.  From the patient perspective, they probably want to get the ordeal over and done with as quickly as possible, but from a hospital perspective, particularly where they are operating pretty much in excess of capacity, getting down waiting lists and giving all patients the optimum treatment path can be hellishly difficult.  If it could be done quicker, it would be but for the resources we put in 18 weeks was always going to be a very optimistic target, one which encourages patients to stress more and feel worse.

We Brits are by nature a nation of grumblers and groaners, though complaining does not come naturally to us (about which I have written before.)  There is an element of enjoyment in our noble suffering, something we take with dignity, even if it is waiting for our turn to take advantage.  Should we be more demanding and expect everything instantly?  Certainly in youth that is how things are – a keen expectancy for instant gratification, where with age we tolerate through knowledge that things sometimes take time: “the best things come to he who waits.”

The other way to look at waiting is that it gives you thinking time, which you may or may not use wisely.  Much research evidence suggests we perform far better at work with the benefits of breaks, though the same principle could surely be applied to anything we do, work, rest or play, chores or duties.

Taking things steadily and allowing yourself time to enjoy the task makes everything more pleasurable, gives you greater satisfaction and helps you worry less about the other things on your tasklist.  Don’t allow yourself to be stressed and the waiting period is more tolerable. If we took a more relaxed attitude, closer to the stereotype of Spanish “mañana” society, we would enjoy more, suffer fewer coronaries and keep our focus about the important things in life all the more.

Oh, and if you think this just applies to humans, think again – maybe we can all learn from animals?  I remember years ago my family’s golden retriever, Benjie.  Benjie was a noble dog who loved my dad with a passion – they were inseparable – but hated being left alone while my parents went out to work; but then he loved it when anybody came home to see him during those lonely days.

Above all he knew above all when my dad was due home from work, to the extent that his body clock went into overtime.  When 6pm approached, any car noise outside would be met by Benjie bounding on to my dad’s chair so he could see out of the window.  When he was disappointed, the look on his face was pitiful.  When he saw the car on the drive, he leapt to the front door to greet my dad like a long-lost son.  Waiting may often be in vain, but for the loyal dog the return of his master was worth waiting for.

I’m learning patience, slowly.  It may take me some years to perfect, but gradually I accept more that waiting is as much a part of life as doing, that I can’t achieve 100% but need to accept down time as being as much a part of living as those highlights we all cherish.

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