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.
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.