I can feel my brain turning to jelly just a little bit more every day. We’re squarely in the middle of what can generously be described as my “busy season.” It’s roughly analogous to trying to hold a diagram of 1,745,381 moving parts in your head and knowing exactly what they’re all doing and without getting any of them confused at any given time. Some of it you can write down, but much of the rest relies on (occasionally) faulty memory and the natural sense of how things *should* go together which may or may not bear any resemblance to reality.
There’s an ebb and flow to things here. Spring and on into summer is usually peak demand. November through the new year slows down. The periods between are somewhere splitting the difference. It varies from day to day. In some ways this cycle is just the nature of the business. In other ways it’s entirely self-inflicted – with people stacking up requirements however they best fit one or another particular schedule.
For me, the only option to stave of madness is in realizing three things: 1) Accept there is only so much you can do with the time and resources allocated; 2) Understand that some (read all) decisions are actually above my pay grade; and 3) Trudge through while trying to avoid blood pressure spikes and heart attacks due to actions or inactions that are outside of my decidedly limited span of control.
Some days I’m more successful than others at keeping all that in mind. This week, however, has been made up completely of days that fall distinctly towards the “unsuccessful” side of the ledger.
After some thought today it occurs to me that I spend upwards of 60 hours a week doing things that by definition I don’t want to do. How do I know I don’t want to do them? Well, because someone has to pay me reasonably well to convince me that it’s how I should spend my time.
That thought leads to the corollary that I’m so completely resistant to doing things that I don’t want to do in the 44 or so waking hours that I haven’t sold off because I spend so much time doing shit that I really don’t want to do in the first place.
When you spend 60 hours a week doing that which you do not naturally want to do, the calls of “you should go to the gym,” or “you should stop eating red meat,” or “do you really need that second whiskey sour” tend to fall on deaf ears. Honest to God, I don’t even hear “you’re cutting years off your life” anymore because I just assuming a good portion of what I’m cutting off are the years at the end when you sit around a nursing home shitting yourself. That’s way up there on the list of things that I don’t want to do.
The 40 or so hours that I’m awake and not being paid, are for the things that I want to do. It’s a freedom that certain life decisions have afforded me and I intend to take advantage. I’m going to drink the good whiskey. I’m going to eat the steak. I’m going to sit in the comfy chair with a book. I’m not going to spend what is currently my most limited resource on the damned stair master or learning how to make tofu “taste good.”
I just don’t want to… and that’s not a statement I get to use nearly often enough.
I’ve learned from hard experience to control my tongue in moments of frustration and anger (mostly). It’s a skill that has saved me on more than one occasion when all I’ve wanted to to was vent every little thing that was on my mind.
What it appears I’m never going to be able to master is the skill of keeping my face under control. The rolled eyes and look of utter disbelief or disdain just shows up no matter how hard I try to keep it impassive and apparently no matter who happens to be in the room.
If I ever manage to tend both mouth and face at the same time, then God help me I could take over the world. As it is, I can’t even disguise a passing moment of annoyance. Then again, I’m probably not trying that hard.
1. Intellectual inconsistency. As recently as a few weeks ago, the popular narrative was of police brutality, cops shooting unarmed citizens, and the racist tendencies of police departments across the country. This week the news is full of those arguing that only the police should have semi-automatic weapons. It stands to reason that if you think the police are a bunch of trigger happy racist jerks, they’re precisely the group of people you don’t want to have armed with “sophisticated weapons of war.” Then again, intellectual inconsistency isn’t so much of a big deal when your argument stems largely from a place of emotion rather than from logic, so there’s that.
2. Any given day. On any given day there’s no real way to tell what might be considered a priority by echelons higher than reality. There’s no reliable to plan for it, no way to prepare in advance for all possible topics of interest, and really no gauge for whether that particular thing will continue to be important the next business day. It makes for some interesting conversations with people going on for minutes sometimes without realizing they’re discussing too different things, but what it doesn’t do is make a good platform for getting anything done.
3. Office space. If you’re going to want to hold meetings about every single thing every single day, it might have been a good idea to plan on having more than two or three conference rooms for the thousand plus people you’ve poured into this fancy new building. At a bare minimum you should at least make sure your meetings end on time so the people showing up for the one scheduled to start immediately after yours doesn’t end up playing Tetris on their phones for thirty minutes while they wait for you to wrap up “just one more thing.”
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: There are only a set number of hours in any week that are designated for “work stuff”. This week, that number happens to be 32. When you deduct the hours designated for meetings (7), at least one hour of prep time to build/update slides for each meeting (7), and thirty minutes following each meeting to field questions (3.5) that leaves a total of 14 and one half hours to do the actual work – write the memos, hammer out details, do the planning, and apply the academic rigor to the job. Those same 14 and one half hours are also sliced down by people stopping by the desk for random conversations, being called on the phone, being sucked into random small meetings that aren’t on the calendar, and occasionally getting up to grab a cup of coffee or take a leak.
Fourteen and one half hours isn’t a lot of time when you’re dealing with plans and projects that tend to be complex by their very nature. It often means you’re forced into devil’s bargains about what gets worked and what has to sit and wait. What it doesn’t mean, of course, is that you’re going to somehow defy the laws of time and space and be able to do 32 hours of actual work in the fourteen and one half hours that are available.
This reality of ours has certain limits. At some point you just have to settle for doing less with less.
If you work in a giant bureaucracy for any amount of time at all, sooner rather than later you’re going to receive a mass email blasted out to the entire workforce with information that is of dubious value to more that five or six people. When that happens, what I’m going to need you to do is resist the temptation to click that ever-so tempting reply-to-all button and blast back a request to be removed from the distribution. You don’t want to be that guy.
You don’t want to be that guy because as annoying as getting one over the world email is, getting the second one within ten seconds is what really triggers the most unfortunately string of events. It’s this second email that gives people permission to respond themselves demanding to be removed from this mythical distribution list. Before you know it, because you couldn’t keep your filthy booger picker off the reply all button, there are dozens or hundreds of response generated that we all then have to delete.
Whatever smartass comment you’ve included in the 124th response to this problematic email just isn’t funny. In fact it should be a completely valid reason for your colleagues to hunt you down and beat you bloody with a three-hole punch.
Please. I’m begging you with tears in my eyes, don’t reply all unless you personally know everyone on the reply line and honestly believe you have something of merit to add to the conversation. If those conditions aren’t met, just operate from the assumption that what you’re about to send is spam at best and your own little denial of service attack at worst.
On the other hand, it lets me know that 124 people I have no need to ever talk to in the future. Their rapidity to reply all and get their two cents in tells me everything I need to know about them as human beings.
1. Loaded Thursdays. A few weeks ago I thought it would be a good idea if I loaded Thursday from top to bottom with meetings. Getting them out of the way, having the bulk of the week to prep for them, and generally ruining as few days of the week as possible running hither and yon to these sessions really felt like I was on to a winner. Compressing meetings onto one date should free up time and be efficient. Maybe it is, but in my planning I forgot the First Rule of the Bureaucracy: The Bureaucracy must expand to consume all available time and resources. I now have more meetings and less prep time than I did before arranging this new wonder schedule. If someone could step in and hit me in the face with a shovel the next time I have a good idea it would be incredibly helpful.
2. Common sense. If you log on to social media and call for common sense legislation on any topic, but then call anyone who disagrees with you on any point an idiot, a terrorist, or worse, you’re pretty much the reason we can’t have an effective dialog in this country about anything. On issues of social policy, thinking people can have wildly differing opinions about the whole array of ends, ways, and means. Refusing to so much as discuss any idea that differs from your own forecloses any possible avenue for progress. In a republic of free people, what may be “common sense” to you, may well be nonsense to another. There’s no hope of finding a scrap of common ground without the conversation, though.
3. I’m not the decider. Look, I gave up an dreams I ever had of being a professional decision maker a long time ago. I can advise, I can recommend, I can object strenuously, and I can present information in any format and order it needs to form a coherent platform from which to base decisions. What I can’t do is fight city hall. I won’t be the guy who’s tilting at windmills. Let someone else take on the burden of making a decision based on the best data and analysis I can provide them. I don’t want it. But for the love of Pete, once that decision is made can we all agree to shut up and move out smartly? No? Fine. Let’s all just sit around and piss and moan that we think it should be different. That’ll do the trick.