40 hours…

The 40-hour work week where everyone arrives and departs at the same time each day probably made eminent sense when it was instituted for a country with a massive manufacturing sector committed to assembly line methodologies. When you’re living in an electronic age and the output product of your efforts live in a storage device as a series of ones and zeros, a fully regimented work schedule is a little harder to understand. In a plant where they build cars, you can expect X number of frames to roll by a given point on the line each eight hour shift every day of the week. OK, a standard 8-hour day makes sense there. In the information sector, Wednesdays might be the heavy volume day and represent 11 hours of required work while Monday only requires five hours of work. Even though the requirements have shifted, we largely cling to that magic eight hours a day, five days a week concept.

If I were king for a day, I’d propose a new standard for information workers. In this system, you’re paid your base salary for 2080 hours a year. On days when you get the work done in 5 hours, feel free to go on home. On days when workload is high, plan on staying a little longer to get it done. All things being equal, I’d be willing to bet that in most cases, the time would even itself out over the long term.

Of course we know that all things are not equal. Some people are going to abuse a system based on them being honest about their workload. Some people will work half days every day and others will put in 12 hours every day. So yeah, I intellectually understand that there are pretty high barriers to getting away from the standard work week. I get that my new system is a managerial nightmare and completely impractical, but on those days when I blow through my assignments in 4 hours, it sure would be nice to have the option of punching out for the day rather than sitting around watching the clock tick on towards the end of the day…. because let’s face it, when their actual work is done, no one is sitting around dreaming about what other great things they can do for the overlords, right?

The process…

I wish I had more time to just sit and write. There are always enough things that need to get done that writing never seems to fall at the top of the list, but there are still hundreds of ideas, even one or two big ones, that are just screaming to get out. Finding the time to massage them through from concept to notes to drafts to reality, though, has been the challenge that I haven’t been able to overcome.

One of the definitive characteristics of writers, of course, is that they write. They have a process. My process is mostly jamming 150-300 words down on a page in whatever free minutes of the evening I have available. It’s hard to work out the definitive history of anything 150 words at a time. And thinking about telling the epic tale of the rise and fall of a small government organization a paragraph at a time? Forget about it. You’ll end up with pages of notes and a couple of intro paragraphs and then lose focus completely.

For me, the process is not working. Maybe I’m not supposed to write an epic. Maybe the story is supposed to come together in 200 word segments; one blog post at a time. Maybe I need to change direction completely with my idea of what it means to write. Whatever the case, I need to find a new process – one that works better for me and one where I can start seeing the threads of the story coming together. It could be time for a change of focus around here.

Message received…

As much as I try to be a good trooper, there’s just something in my personality that seems to pick up on the snarky, the jaded, and the slightly bitter. What can I say; government service brings out the best in my inner malcontent. That makes it hard not to pick out and focus on the little sound bites that hit your ear on a daily basis. Like first thing this morning, when I heard a snipped of conversation between a vexed young line employee and a not particularly grizzled officer turned civilian. She was asking why things needed to be done a certain way, which based on my understanding of the issue seemed like a perfectly reasonable question. His response, though, was telling: That’s the guidance we got from higher; we don’t ask questions, we just do what it says.

That pretty much tells me what I need to know about how to go along to get along in this little part of Uncle Sam’s extended family.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Being local…

Although I’m one of the last in, I think I’m actually one of only two native Marylanders in the office. As far as I can tell, everyone else has come to the north eastern corner of Maryland from their pre-BRAC homes in New Jersey. For years now, I’ve spent a good portion of my free time griping and complaining about how jacked up things were in Memphis and just how different and therefore bad it was. I’m realizing that these people are in the same boat, though in a different location. For them, it’s Maryland that’s strange and different… and nothing here is right. The traffic is jacked up. The network blows. They’re still working on the building when it was supposed to be done six months ago. Crime is terrible. There’s nothing to do and nowhere to find their favorite food. Everything I ever said about Memphis, they’re saying about Aberdeen… though I sort of chuckle when I pass by and hear someone complain about driving the whole two and a half hours to get back home. If nothing else, it’s fun to watch them get worked up.

Especially when you know they’ve got it all wrong. It must be terrible to be this close to the center of the universe and not even know it.

OCD Takes a Night Off…

One of the ongoing challenges with my self-diagnosed mild-OCD is that there are a whole bevy of things that normal people seem able to put on a back burner that stay a priority for me no matter what else is going on. That shaggy grass is going to get cut no matter how god awful the neighbor’s yard looks – and it’s going to get trimmed to. The laundry is going to get done once a week even though I could probably go three or four weeks without technically needing to wash clothes. Things are going to happen on a schedule even though there’s no rea practical reason why they need to. I’m a creature of habit, we all know this.

Tonight was the first night since I’ve been in the house when the compulsion to “do things” hasn’t been triggered the moment I walked in the door. The guest bedroom still needs put together and the basement looks, well, like a basement, but tonight I just came in, sat down and watched television rather than listened to it while doing three other things. It was sort of nice in a complete slacker kind of way. That’s not saying that the little voice inside my head that likes everything to be “just so” won’t make himself known again by this time tomorrow, but for tonight, everyone including the dogs seem content just to let things be.

Signing on…

No PC? Check. No phone service? Check. No building ID card? Check. Two year old three ring binder full of outdated briefings to spend your first week “reviewing?” Check. No cell coverage at your desk? Check.

It’s fun to be the new guy. It’s a new week… It’s a new job… but it sure does have a familiar flavor.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Two ways to do things…

I got a call Friday afternoon from my own property manager. It seems the crack in the kitchen window had finally gotten to the point of needing to be replaced. If I hadn’t been thinking months ago about the house becoming a rental property, I would have fixed it already. The up side of being a landlord is that alot of projects that were a normal expense when you were living in the house magically become a business expense (and therefore deductible) when you have a tenant.

You didn’t really need to know that little bit of administrative minutia except it was my way of saying that there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a landlord/property manager. The right way is to adress issues as they come up and do it as expeditiously as possible. It helps build the tenant-owner relationship and maybe buys you some good will when the lease is up and they have to decide between renewing and moving on. The wrong way would have been to make the tenant call half a dozen times, not show up when I said I would, or otherwise ignore the problems. Doing things that way tends to breed an attitude where the tenant doesn’t give a damn what happens to the property.

I guess there are two schools of thought when it comes to owning rental property. For some, it’s an income stream and nothing more. For others, it’s a long term investment that builds more value when it’s well maintained. Both ways of thinking are probably valid to some degree, but only one of them is right.

Being the new guy…

There’s something incredibly humbling about being the new guy, especially when you’re use to being in the know about most everything going on in an office. It’s hard to shake the feeling that everyone is talking to you like you’re a slightly dull child. I appreciate everyone’s efforts to take a brain dump on me over the last couple of days, but really I’m not going to pick up much until you cut me loose to start working on some projects. That’s coming, of course, so I should probably appreciate the few days of relative calm before being tossed directly into the storm.

Even with the trials and tribulations of being the new guy, I’m a little concerned that the psychotic convolutions of the Uberboss were so central to the nature of this blog that it may be impossible to keep up a steady flow of material without having him around to provide the fodder. Somehow, though, I suspect that there will be plenty of stories to share no matter where in the belly of a Big Government Agency you happen to sit.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

Complaint department…

As of today I have a new washing machine, the moldy wall section is patched, and the the random dog run has been removed from the driveway. Now if we just get the damned Expedition towed away and fix the garbage disposal, we’ll be in business again. What we’ve learned from this experience is that loud and long complaining to everyone involved in an issue will eventually start to bring about some semblance of resolution.

Rolling boil…

I got an email on Monday night from the property manager (after talking to the actual homeowner) stating emphatically that he would be in on Wednesday (that would be today) to address the laundry list of things that were broken in the house and/or to haul away junk left by the previous tenant. Being 7:30 here in the east coast, I think it’s now officially safe to say that he isn’t coming today. What has been a low simmer most of the week is now a rolling boil. That small bit of sympathy I had yesterday? Yeah, that’s pretty well gone. The good will of being new to the neighborhood and not wanting the first thing I do to be make waves is worn off completely. Now I pretty much want to be a pain in the ass until everything is resolved to my satisfaction. I wonder how many phone calls a day I get before it’s technically harassment?