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.
No matter how many times I do it, I always seem to forget that going back to the office after a long few days off is, quite simply, exhausting. There’s the usual flurry of emails – mercifully fewer because so many other people stayed home too. A few, though, were real humdingers – written, clearly, by someone who chooses to ignore the holiday and assume everyone spent every waking minute of their time off thinking about things back at the office. That’s fine for some people I suppose, but it goes entirely against my wiring.
It’s Wednesday at least. Having a week that starts halfway through does seem to help ease the transition back into the world of work. The impending arrival of snow in the local area tomorrow is having something of the opposite effect by filling my head with dreams of an extraneous day off. It’s a pipe dream, of course, given the forecast, but it’s a happy dream. I’ll try not to let it rock me back on my heels too badly in the morning when I wake up and all it is outside is dark and cold.
The good news, if you can call it that, is the first day back is over now and it can cause no more trauma. Like the journey of 1000 steps – or more aptly in my case the journey of 6,357 days – the key part is to take the first one and then keep grinding them out.
After the better part of two weeks off, some might say that they feel rested and ready to get back to work. I’m not one of those people – never have been. Eleven days of doing whatever I want, whenever I want has precisely the opposite effect. There’s been a lot of reading, a lot of cooking, some visits with old friends, nights spent sprawled across the living room floor with the dogs while we catch up on a few TV shows, and tending a few necessities of home ownership. What hasn’t happened at any point during these days off (until the sun climbed over the yardarm today), is giving any but the the most passing of thoughts about what might be going on and/or waiting for me back at the office.
Now that I’m squarely facing the last day of this glorious long, long weekend tomorrow it has come creeping back into my thoughts… and decidedly not in that “oh yay I get to go back to the office soon” kind of way. There’s nothing for it, of course. I’d be shit at living under a bridge and the endless bulldog medical bills won’t pay themselves, so face it I must.
There’s still a day standing between me and whatever bat shit crazy ideas have passed themselves off as the best things ever over the last two weeks. I feel it’s my personal obligation to do my best to ignore those thoughts as best I can for at least the next 24 hours. After that, all bets are off, and we’ll be exhausted and right back in the tall grass as if there never was a break at all.
Ok, so I’m going to use today as a learning experience and opportunity for growth and professional development by implementing a new rule. Effective immediately you don’t get to spend two weeks wringing your hands wondering why morale is in the shitter and then start scheduling meetings that don’t start until 6PM. Frankly there’s no better way to wreck whatever small satisfaction I manage to find in the work than making sure I don’t get home until 4 hours after I’m supposed to. It’s fine to preach the importance of balance and being laser focused on people, but if you don’t actually practice those things, I’m not sure why even bother talking about them. Nothing gives the lie to “taking care of people” like doing the opposite.
1. The speed at which you can go from hero to zero and back again. They say no one remembers all the good stuff you did past that one time you do something bad. That’s probably true enough. Good and bad, in my experience, are simply matters of perception though… and the whiplash between one person declaring you a shithead and the other proclaiming your glory is probably something I will never get use to. It’s a good thing we don’t have objective and standard measures of performance against which all things can be judged.
2. People always notice the big things. Tell people they have to work a double shift and that eight hours is as noticeable as a sore thumb. Let that same eight hours slip away in increments of 15 minutes here and 45 minutes there and no one seems to notice much. I notice, of course. I notice because I value my time more highly than just about any other commodity. If I were to start randomly showing up between 15 and 45 minutes late with no notice or explanation, it’s a fair bet suddenly that incremental time would start being important to more people than just me… and I’m feeling just passive aggressive enough to see about putting my pet theory to the test.
3. Home maintenance. I bitch a lot about home ownership. With that said, I should note that I really do love the house I’m in. What’s grating on my nerves at the moment, though is the “systems maintenance” do loop I seem to be suck in at the moment. Water heaters, gutters, HVAC, sundry other appliances all need their fair share of attention – some more than others. As with every aspect of home ownership it always boils down to a simple matter of time and/or money. As both are in somewhat short supply at the moment, I hope I can be forgiven my slightly jaundiced view on the joy of home ownership at the moment.
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.