I took a bit of time this morning to engage in one of my favorite work activities – gazing at the calendar for the next 11 months and starting to plug days I know I want to take leave into Outlook. It’s a delicate balancing act between maximizing where vacation days adjoin various federal holidays and holding enough time in reserve to scatter around the rest of the year on days when I just don’t have the mental energy for bureaucrating.
It’s probably more art than science, but it’s one of the more personally vital things I do every year. I’ve long known myself well enough to understand I do better when I have well-marked targets. I can plow through almost any governmental foolishness when I know there’s a long (or very long) weekend somewhere out on the horizon at a date certain. I do better when I’m working towards something – and there’s not one thing in Uncle Sam’s gift that I value more than time off. Cash awards get taxed to hell and back, medals gather dust in a drawer, and certificates won’t even get you a cup of coffee… but time off, time not spent updating spreadsheets or sitting though meetings that could be emails, that’s the good stuff.
Like 2020 before it, we’re still in the belly of a plague year with 2021. Days off in the back half of the year, after we’ve all been shot, and are presumably back in cubicle hell, will be more valuable than days off here on the front end when I’m still mainly at home. My plan of attack is weighted heavily in favor of days in June and onwards, with a balance of seven days in reserve to take “just because.”
No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Some of these dates will slide about a little. It’s a mark on the wall, though – something to work towards beyond hours of mashing at the keyboard on behalf of our wealthy uncle and that’s exactly the kind of motivation I need.
1. The disconnect. No, I’m not in any way annoyed by being disconnected from people. I love that shit. It’s the disconnect from the schedule that’s throwing me off. Here we sit. I know it’s Thursday because the calendar says so but it doesn’t feel like Thursday. It doesn’t feel like Monday. I’m not sure if it feels like any day at all, or whether it’s all the days and none of them simultaneously. The days have become utterly interchangeable and that’s unsettling.
2. Extra dirt. I wasn’t prepared for the extra dirt involved with being home 7 days a week. I mean it makes sense. I’ve let the dogs in and out 37 million more times than usual this week. A certain wild, young rescue dog has already churned the yard like we’re Iowa farmers preparing to plant the back fourty. The week’s rain has turned his work into a quagmire… and they’ve both been trying to drag it all directly into the house on their paws. That more time home equals more cleaning should be surprising, but after working for the last twenty years it’s just not something I ever considered.
3. Outlook web access. On a normal telework day, I log in through a VPN connection and my laptop behaves just as it normally would in the office. With the crush of new people working from home this week, VPN is running near capacity. The alternative is old fashioned web mail, which works well enough for sending basic email. The catch is, it doesn’t pop up meeting reminders the way Outlook does before a schedule meeting… and that leads to a flurry of emails asking “wherrrrrrrre are youuu?!” I mean what am I supposed to do, look at the calendar and memorize the day’s schedule like some kind of ignorant savage?
It’s adorable when someone decides to host a meeting after the end of my scheduled work day and then acts shocked and surprised when I politely decline the invitation and explain that I have other commitments that prevent me from attending.
It’s less adorable, and my response less polite, when this is the second attempt at rescheduling – the first of which triggered my schlepping into the office on what should have been a perfectly nice telework day. So telling me that you want me to spend more time hanging out in the office when you’ve already effectively ruined the day just doesn’t sound like something I’m going to be able to support in the absence of truly extenuating circumstances.
I’d apologize for that, but the truth is that I’m not in any way sorry. I’m an extraordinarily jealous guard of my time as there is no resource I consider more precious. When it becomes obvious that no regard is being shown for that time by a third party, my interest in playing nicely diminishes rapidly.
I know there are some remarkably “dedicated” people who would give up every shred of their free time to go along with the whims of the day. They may be held in high regard by the great and good and treasure may spill out for them… so long as they’re willing to let someone else run out their clock.
There was a time that was me, too, but that was long ago and far away. I just don’t have it in me to piss away hour upon hour pretending that that it’s in the service of a higher good when it’s mostly because someone can’t manage a bleeding calendar and thinks they can squeeze 11 hours of work into an eight hour day.
My “official” calendar in Outlook is often what could generously be called a hot mess. It’s filled with blocks of times for actual meetings I expect to attend, meetings that I just need to know are happening, generic reminders of when certain things are due, the full range of vacation days and doctor appointments, and often as much other information as I can cram on to them to make the days at least look productive.
As I was projecting out the schedule on some longer range projects that had known timelines stretching through next spring, when I ran across a chit I had put down long enough ago that I don’t remember doing it. Sitting there on the calendar not too deeply into 2019 was a simple block that read “Career Halfway Point” marking the temporal spot mid-way between January 13, 2003 and May 31, 2035.
I’m honestly not sure if finding this particular Easter egg has left me feeling better or worse. Better that the halfway point is a relatively close-in target now, yes. Worse, because It means there’s still slightly more asshattery ahead than there is behind.
I won’t say that time precisely flies, but it does seem to move with haste. At least that’s how it feels when considering time in long stretches – some of the individual days and weeks can feel like they’re dragging on for years all on their own. There’s a big part of me that feels unqualified glee at the idea of being over the hump. My inner pessimist in me, of course, also can’t help but note that the closer to the end we are the closer to The End we are. It’s not quite a Pyrrhic victory, but it shares a zip code.