I’ve taken one day of vacation time since coming back to work following New Years. From my vantage point here on June 26th, what I can say with some certitude is that in the future I probably won’t let nearly all my leave roll over to the back half of the year. Even in the face of a pandemic that effectively precludes using that time off for anything beyond tinkering around the house, I’m recognizing that I should have been burning a few hours now and then.
Working from home is infinitely better than working in the office, but just because the set is dressed like a “day off” there’s still the actual work that needs doing – so my long term telework experience has been one of presenting the illusion of down time without any of the relaxing or restorative effects that traditionally go along with time not being spent in the office.
I’m going to start correcting that issue over the next couple of weeks by taking an actual four day weekend for Independence Day, scheduling a few vet appointments, and an eye exam and starting to think hard about how I plan on burning the balance of this year’s vacation time, even knowing that in all likelihood I won’t be going anywhere or doing anything particularly exciting with that time.
It turns out that having just a bit of down time blocked off to go handle a few of these “must do” activities is enough to start improving my outlook. I’ll be looking for an even more marked improvement in my mood when I pack a few actual breaks onto the calendar.
I’m not sure any of that qualifies as something I learned this week, but whatever. It’s Friday. Give me a break.
1. Embedded links. We have you a nice, prettied up agenda. We even tucked the event links into the text of the document so it wasn’t a three line line long ugly-assed URL. But that doesn’t stop several hundred of you from not reading for comprehension and emailing that you can’t find the URLs. I mean how the hell hard is it to either click the embedded link directly or to right click and copy the link to paste it in your browser? Given that two thirds of your contemporaries managed to get it done without our help, I’m forced to conclude that one third of the total are just total mouth breathing wastes of space.
2. Podcasts. I haven’t deleted any social media friends as a result of COVID-19, protests, riots, or political affiliation but in the last week I’ve dropped a shit ton of podcasts that have vered way the fuck off topic. Everyone’s entitled to their position and perfectly free to use their platform to do whatever they want, but if I show up expecting insights on contemporary television and find deep dives on politics and current events, I’m out. I’m headed to my podcast list to avoid the general fuckery on television, not to find more of it. Hard pass.
3. Steady working. So far during the Great Plague, I’ve been steady working. I’ve missed my scheduled vacation and now the couple of days I usually take off immediately following the massive organizational vanity exercise that I’m nominally charged with carrying off every year. Yes, I’ve been working from home… but it’s still very much working and having my head in that space continually. Physically being back “on campus” these last few days just feels like heaping insult atop injury and it’s got me moody as fuck. Plague or not I think I’m going to need to start burning some days off that sweet, sweet pile of vacation time sooner rather than later.
This week is something of a scheduling oddity due to a confluence of unrelated events. It features a federal holiday, a telework day, half a day off for a dental appointment, and day of annual leave “just because.” That leaves exactly 1.5 days of time physically spent in the office. On one hand, of course, that feels like 1.5 days too many, but on the other it feels like just about right amount.
Of all the things I bitch about you’ll very rarely find the amount of time off I have in my hip pocket making the top 50, let alone the top ten. I know exactly how lucky I am to have that big beautiful stack of vacation days and sick leave sitting there waiting for me to use them.
Right now I’m making up lost ground to tend to appointments I didn’t have time to make in the first four months of the year and burning off days here and there to do things that are just more easily accomplished on weekdays than weekends. After the planned 5-day 4th of July weekend, the burn rate will settled down to a more sustainable rate for a few months. I suppose every week can’t be exceptionally short.
Those full, 5-day work weeks through the height of summer are going to make for a difficult adjustment. Sigh. I need to do something exceptional and get myself a nice time off award in order to stave off the madness just a little longer.
Everyone reading this is probably well aware that I’m not what anyone would describe as a “party” person. In most cases, hell really is other people – especially other people crammed in a room studiously avoiding any topic that could even possibly be considered controversial (and therefore interesting). In most cases the Nondenominational Office Winter Holiday Party is effectively a very long lunch in which everyone carries on the conversations we would otherwise be having over the cubicle walls.
These Nondenominational Office Winter Holiday Parties are said to be morale boosters. For some, maybe they are. If you should ever want to perk up my flagging spirit all that’s really necessary is cutting me loose a few hours early to hang out with the critters. It has the added benefit of not requiring anyone to reserve the back room somewhere and order in a deli tray, so it’s kind of a win-win.
Still, though, if I’m honest, the $13 price of admission is a small price to pay for getting four hours away from the cube farm without burning off any of my own vacation time so it isn’t an utterly lost cause.
Today I was sitting at my desk around 9AM lamenting that it was only Wednesday and there were still hours to go in the first half of the week.
After a moment’s pause, I realized a few important things:
1) There is a three day weekend incoming;
2) I still have 40 hours of use or lose annual leave on the books;
3) I just got my 40-hour performance award (because I’ll take time off instead of cash money every time); and
4) Starting on January 13th, I’ll be earning 8 hours of annual leave a pay period in recognition of the fact that I’ve managed to not get fired or dropped dead since signing on with Uncle fifteen years ago.
After completing the required paperwork – because truly nothing moves in the bureaucracy without the required paperwork – I’ve effectively created a time machine by which I can skip one of the annoying days in the middle of the week and head directly into the weekend starting at close of business tomorrow.
That’s made Wednesday far more tolerable on just about every level.
Well, it’s Tuesday. I spent a small shit ton of money and burned off eight hours of vacation time.
I also learned an important thing. Usually I think of Tuesday as Monday Part 2. Usually it is annoying and I return home in something of a foul mood. Today there wasn’t a foul mood to be seen… and that despite the cash outflow and “wasted” time off.
The lesson here is that the issue really isn’t Tuesday. Turns out the foul mood isn’t generated by the day of the week, but rather what I’d normally spend that day of the week doing.
That’s good information to have… but begs the bigger question of what the hell I’m going to do about it.
I’ve been told on more than one occasion I “do days off wrong.” I’m probably guilty as charged. As evidence let me walk you through an example 8 day period…
Monday. Day 3 of a three-day weekend. Scheduled root canal surgery.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – Normal Work Days.
Friday. Day 1 of a 4-day weekend. Features an oil change for the Jeep and an eye exam with dilation.
Saturday, Sunday. Standard weekend procedures.
Monday. Day 4 of a 4-day weekend. Sit home and wait for HVAC service tech to show up.
Just now I’m filling my gullet with high test products from big pharma hoping against hope that I can stave off the aforementioned Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from turning into one or more days of mucking through life with whatever cold virus of the week is going around.
I miss the days when I took a day off to not do a damned thing instead of either a) hacking up a lung and feeling like ass or b) to be a productive and responsible adult homeowner.
I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the extra four hours off this morning. I never turn my nose up at free time off. That being said, four hours is just an awkward amount of time. Given the passible but not clear state of the local roads, my commute in is going to take an hour. Given that the average driver is stupid and there will undoubtedly be more than one driver on their way home this afternoon that puts it into a snow bank, my drive home will likely be over an hour. At a commute to work ratio of less than 1:2, if you’ll excuse the phrase, it just feels like something of a waste of time – as if we’re opening the doors today just so someone can say “yes, we’re open,” without having much concern for whether or not anything actually happens inside those doors.
Liberal leave – time off for which pre-approval isn’t required – is an option. Due to the peculiarities of Uncle Sam’s timekeeping regulations, though, under these circumstances one can’t combine the 4-hour delay with an additional four hours of liberal leave. If you’re going to stay home, those four hours in the afternoon are going to cost you a full eight hours of vacation time. That was a hard lesson learned.
So now the roads could be running with lava and there could be a troll under every bridge between here and there, but damned if I’m going to spend eight to get four. The math just doesn’t work, so I’ll go in, eat lunch, check some email, bitch about the snow, and then schlep home. Not exactly a recipe for productivity, but I’m sure it counts on someone’s report card as a full day’s work.
Reaching the end of the year with every hour of “use-or-lose” leave accounted for is something of an obsession around this time of year. After some quick back of the napkin math, it looks like I’ll be opening the new leave year with 232 hours in the bank. Since we can only carry 240 hours from year to year, I’m on the correct side of the allowable amount of carryover time. I’m sure there are plenty of people who “give back” time at the end of the year, but that violates one of the most sacred principles of my professional philosophy – “Gather unto yourself all the benefits to which you are entitled and guard them jealously.”
If my calculations are correct (and I assure you they are), there are 13 work weeks left in 2012. Of those 13 weeks, I’ll work a full five days during only five of them, with three of those weeks being the ones immediately preceding the week and a half I’m taking off at Christmas. Put another way, of the 77 days between now and the start of my Christmas vacation, I’ll only be at the office for 59.7% of them after accounting for weekends, federal holidays, and random days off.
After a few more mathematical gymnastics and allowing for time at the office only being a third of each 24-hour work day it really breaks down to me only being at work for 19.91% of the next three months. Suddenly even the most batshit crazy day doesn’t seem quite so bad. Apparently the secret is looking at time in aggregate and not at individual hours and days. Hopefully someone will remind me about this the next time I’m tempted run away and join the circus.
There may be nothing in this great land of ours more useless than an government office on the Friday before a federal holiday. If you’ve ever worked in one, you know that’s not an exaggeration. Between people taking leave and the magic that is the Alternate Work Schedule program, no more than half the staff shows up to begin with. Around noon another 10-20% disappear to start their weekend. If anything was getting done to begin with, you can forget it after 2:00. The handful of people manning their desks are just a skeleton crew, left behind to give the illusion of productivity and even at that they’re not working very hard. Every eye falls on the minute hand as it sweeps its way around the clock to the earliest possible moment for departure.
I’ve always worked with a lot of people who take these days off since “nothing’s going to happen anyway.” I’m a bit of a contrarian about time off, though. Why burn up eight perfectly good hours of leave on a day when no real work is going to happen even if you do spend the whole day at your desk? I’d much rather save my time off for days when all hell is breaking loose. It’s a matter of extracting maximum value from every hour away from the office. Time off isn’t much good when I’m relaxed already. Feel me?
If Uncle wanted to save some scratch, he’d go ahead and shutter every office on the Friday before a holiday weekend. Whatever small amount of productivity happens is almost purely accidental and can’t come close to offsetting the cost of just turning the lights on.