No distractions…

The best part of the one day a week I spend working from home: The usual distractions found in every office don’t exist. It’s a rare chance to concentrate and actually do the work versus dealing with the administrative minutia of the office.

The worst part of the one day a week I spend working from home: The usual distractions found in every office don’t exist. Some days that means the requirements stream in relentlessly and being at home means you don’t have the myriad of office interruptions to force you into taking a breath or distracting you from it for a minute.

Don’t get me wrong, here – I love my day spent working from home. It’s easily 2-3 times as productive as any other day of the week. Occasionally through, that level of productivity comes at the expense of going utterly crosseyed based on the volume of electronic paper that needs pushing. Sure, that volume of paper would have still needed pushed regardless of my geography, but it just seems more onerous on days when it happens when I’m at the house.

All things considered, I should probably be glad it happened today. If the tide of emails had come in tomorrow it would have taken three days to get through them all with something like reasonably coherent responses.

Surely there’s something wrong with life when this is what passes for a “good” version of Monday.

Danger zone…

I’m historically a guy with a long… fuse. Most of the day to day trauma rolls past little noticed and I drive along on the same trajectory doing whatever it is that needs doing. Sure I comment on it here because it makes for somewhat interesting reading, but beyond the notes I jot down in the moment, I don’t internalize much. A quick spike in blood pressure and then I can smile, nod, and keep on going.

That’s most days. Then there are the ones that  aren’t most days – the ones where you can feel your blood pressure rising continuously, until you’ve ended up with a screaming headache. They’re the days when every batshit crazy idea comes out of the woodwork and you end up wondering what the actual fuck you’re even doing. Days like that aren’t the worst ones, though.

The worst moments are reserved for the days when you have meetings stacked like cordwood at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00. 12:30, and 2:30. They’re the days when inevitably someone is going to ask why some actual work didn’t get accomplished while you were busy enduring your laundry list of meetings.

I might roll my eyes and mutter under my breath, but I’m not the kind of guy given to violent outbursts. I know from hard experience, though, that I’m a guy with limits beyond which it is unwise to push. And while that outburst may not come in the form of flipping over desks and beating someone with a three hole punch, it often comes with the loosening of the tongue and the saying of things that discretion and common sense would tell a clear thinking person are better left unsaid.

Opening my mouth and letting what’s usually my internal dialog flow out as actual spoken words isn’t the kind of thing that ends well. Mostly because what I really think is, in most cases, considered “not helpful,” “unprofessional,” or in some cases “wildly inappropriate.” I can’t quite shake the feeling that tomorrow is going to be one of those days where we’ve crossed well into the danger zone and every ounce of available restraint will be needed just to keep my mouth shut and my face from doing that thing it does when I’m abjectly annoyed.

Two hours or: The break even point…

When serving the staff there’s something that you need to remember always. Everyone is always going to think that whatever they happen to have you working on is the most important thing that anyone is working on. They will have a tendency to want their project to take up all available oxygen in the room, every moment of discussion time, and every bit of available manpower. That leads to the typical day being a maelstrom of competing priorities and people who want something done right-the-hell-now.

The reality is, good as I may be, I am but one man with one keyboard and a finite amount of time to allocate in pursuit of whatever harebrained scheme has priority at the moment. As often as not, I determine the priority of effort among the universe of possible projects that need action with minimal outside input. I like it better that way, really.

From time to time, though, something comes along that someone wants and yet it still never bubbles to the top of the list of things to do. Eventually, though, someone high enough in the food chain gets it in their teeth and starts gently nudging you towards whatever this favored need may be. When they nudge hard enough, no matter what else is churning, it gets some attention.

That’s all my long way of saying that it’s remarkable what can get done in two hours when you lock yourself in a room, turn off Outlook, don’t answer the phone and just start writing. It’s remarkable and might even get you off the naughty list of the person who’s been asking for that bit of information for three or four weeks… but of course it lands you squarely in hot water with the 37 other people who think their projects also deserve special attention.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this place is marginally easier to contend with once you realize that falling behind is the norm and the best possible day is one where you manage to break even because with the time and resources authorized there is literally no way to ever get ahead of the volume of things that need doing. Trying to have a little bit of perspective is awfully important.

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.

It’s in the face…

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.

Fourteen and one half hours…

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.

Reply all…

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.