Like many industries, here at Tharp Weddings and Events LTD (a tiny subsidiary of Giant Bureaucratic Organization, USA), we have a busy season. At the moment we are directly in the middle of it. Which explains the random nose bleeds and increasingly surly attitude.
The simple fact is the next five weeks are going to fuse into an undifferentiated and increasingly frenetic hail of emails, phone conversations, meetings, briefing slides, and random conversations in the halls. It’s like being inexorable pulled towards an earth-based black hole centered on the first week of May that’s doing its level best to suck in every element of reality that surrounds it while spewing anti-reality out on the other side of the event horizon.
For someone who has to work diligently at being civil and talkative in a crowded room, the whole thing is basically a preview of what my version of a hell dimension might look and act like.
This time of year is something that is simply endured. If it feels like over the next few weeks that the writing here is suffering, it’s not your imagination. On the typical day I’m busy using every scrap of available energy to fend off the encroaching madness. Historically it doesn’t leave much in the tank to deliver the kind of online snark you’ve come to expect around here… and for that I am gravely sorry.
There is a world of difference between being busy and getting things done. I was looking at my calendar for the next ten days or so and it’s absolutely undeniable that I’m going to be busy. Meetings are stacked up like cord wood and on a few days there might even be time to eat a lunch that won’t feel like either a late breakfast or an early dinner.
Although I’m going to be busier than a one armed paper hanger, what I can tell you with almost perfect certainty is that I’m not going to be getting things done. Experience tells me that the amount of work accomplished is inversely proportional to the number of hours spent sitting in meetings. It’s a known fact across the bureaucracy, but doe some reason the illusion that meetings in some way equate to work accomplished persists in the minds of people who call meetings.
Maybe it’s possible to both attend meetings and be a productive and contributing member of society, but I’ve never cracked the code on making that happen when the meetings and the work insist on occupying the same eight hours of the day. I suspect that the people who pull off spending all day in meetings and also somehow manage to get something done are willing to slip in a few extra hours on the side.
If you’re sitting around waiting for the same from me, my best advice is to get comfortable, because you’re going to have a bit of a wait.
1. Joy theft. If I’m bluntly honest, I’ll tell you that I spend all day at work wanting to get home and lose myself in a book. By the time I’m home, dinner is made and cleaned up, and I’ve tended the creatures who share my roof, I’m so bleary eyed and tired that getting through a paragraph without my mind wandering is hard. Three nights out of five I can’t seem to focus on the words long enough for it to even be enjoyable. It’s just one more way that paying bills and being responsible conspire to suck all the real joy out of life.
2. Signals over the air. All I want to do in the few minutes between when I pull into the parking lot and when I have to be at my desk is get my morning Twitter update and find some funny, funny memes. Apparently that is too much to ask because for the last two weeks the parking lot has been a large dead zone. I don’t know if it’s my phone, Verizon, or just the Department of the Army trying to suck even a brief flicker of fun out of the surrounding air, but for whatever reason there’s nothing doing on my phone for those ten or fifteen minutes. If you think a few minutes of boredom and mindlessly staring out the windshield is enough to break my spirit and get me to my desk a few minutes earlier than I have to be there, well, it’s like you don’t know me at all.
3. Mushroom status. When grown in a farm setting, many mushrooms are simply left alone in a dark room and fed a steady diet of shit. I’m sure it happens in every organization of more than one person, but this great green machine of ours seems to have honed leaving people out of the loop to a fine art. It’s always exciting to come to the office and find an email from someone working in another organization letting you know that “your boss from high on Olympus said ‘X’ is going to happen.” It’s when you, as the person nominally responsible for “X,” have the exciting opportunity to let that individual know that no one in your own organization has bothered to tell you a fucking thing and thank them for the heads up before launching out on a paper chase to sus out how much time you may or may not have wasted depending on the veracity of your informant’s information.
Being a “senior leader” can’t be easy. I speculate that at best they’re surrounded by a few dozen “true believers” who have wholeheartedly embraced their vision of the future and then six thousand other assholes who only show up because they’re being paid to and don’t much care about someone’s vision beyond how it may impact them and their continued ability to pay a mortgage and put food on the table.
The biggest difference I notice isn’t actually in the conference room, though. It’s in the parking lot first thing in the morning. The run of the mill line employees start showing up at 6:00, maybe 6:30, basically as early as whoever they report to will allow them to come in. The flood gates open between 7:00 and 8:00. While the cubicles fill, I’ve noticed the reserved “executive” parking spots directly in front of the building remain almost consistently unoccupied until 8:30 or maybe 9:00.
I’m not in any way assuming that means the people whose cars occupy those spaces are lazing about in bed while a weary workforce struggles into the office. It’s just that they are thinking and operating differently. For me, and I assume most of the rest of the masses, the operational intent is to start the day as early as possible, let 8.5 hours elapse, and then get the hell home as expeditiously as possible.
The seniors, either by choice or necessity, start their days later and inevitably end up ending them later – much later in many cases. They’re the ones who wonder why people rolls their eyes when they mention scheduling a 6pm meeting or why their workforce doesn’t want to participate in evening or “non-duty hours” social events. Again, I can only speculate that because they don’t see the cars in the parking lot at 6:30 AM, they feel slightly betrayed that theirs are the only ones left in it at 6:30 PM.
One on one, outside of the cubicle hell that we inhabit, senior leaders are probably decent enough people with their own interests and personalities. Their lofty position in the c-suite gives them a necessarily different perspective. On a day to day basis, though, my assessment is that we are simply two very different creatures, with distinctly different motivations, who just happen to be residing under the same roof for about a third of every weekday.
What we have here tonight isn’t a lack of things to say, but rather a lack of motivation to put in the time ckick-clacking at the keyboard to make anything meaningful appear. It’s probably safe to write that off to being the backlash against spending the best part of eight hours today turning out evaluation reports, project kick off emails, and trying to answer what felt like several thousand questions that revolved around the difficult task of putting 100 people on a bus two weeks from now.
Maybe it’s not exactly a lack of motivation so much as it’s just the idea of spending another second sitting in front of a keyboard making me want to violently spew my dinner all over my nice home office. No good every comes from that feeling. It seems that this week is determined to turn itself into a case study of knowing when not to say things. I recognize that has being an important skill even if it happens to be one I have never completely managed to master.
So I hope you’ll forgive me just now if I step away from the computer, set the phone down for a minute, studiously avoid tuning in to any form of news and find myself something absolutely mindless to spend the evening doing. It feels like exactly what the doctor might order as a salve for missing motivation.
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 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.