What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Footboard. I’m officially not a fan of beds with footboards. Maybe it’s the kind of thing you don’t notice until you’ve already got a sore foot. I’ve always been a bit of a roller and thrasher while asleep, so as a result of my transition to the guest bedroom, I’ve been bashing my feet into the footboard for three and a half weeks now. How was this ever a popular bed design? It certainly couldn’t have taken into account anyone who might accidentally exceed six feet in height. Having a footboard was a non-issue when the bed in question was almost purely decorative. The number of guests I’d encourage to stay overnight is, obviously, incredibly limited, but let me just say that I’m officially apologizing in advance to anyone who might happen to visit in the future.

2. Busybodies. Have we always been a nation of busybodies? I don’t really do “social history,” so the question is a bit out of scope for me. Starting off early with the whole witch trial in Salem, though, kind of points towards yes. I don’t know how people have the mental energy required to care what other people are up to. As long as it’s not taking food out of my mouth or money out of my pocket, I have no idea why I’d care how people want to live their personal lives, who they want to fuck, what god they want to praise, or any of the other things that so many people seem to be so up in arms over. I can only assume that their lives are so boring they have no choice but to try living everyone else’s for them.

3. Failure to communicate. I’ve been playing a lot of telephone this week. I call the prime contractor, they call the sub, the sub calls the county, and then the chain may or may not ring in reverse. All I’m trying to do is get a straight answer on why getting reinspected is taking more than a week after the incredibly minor fix was made. Add in the fact that my prime changed field supervisors mid-project and it hasn’t been the recipe for clear and effective communication during this interminable two week stretch. I acknowledge that it’s possible that my background as a project manager and planner makes me a bit to sensitive to things like this, but it’ll absolutely be making the list as a “needs improved” on the after action report.

An awful lot of time…

Sitting in the office all day gives you time to think.

It gives you time to think about smelling other people’s meals, and listening to their phone conversations, and their wandering around from cube to cube looking for an ear to bend, and the hour wasted traveling to and then another hour wasted going from that monument to early 20th century management philosophy.

Yes, sir, sitting in the office gives you an awful lot of time to think.

I’m quite sure there are people out there who are dying to get back to the office full time. God knows there will be plenty of senior leaders who can’t wait to get back to preening in front of town hall meetings and capacity crowds conferences – and seeing their toiling minions stacked elbow to asshole across whole floors filled with cubicles.

More than anything, though, sitting in the office is full of time to think about how utterly ridiculous it is to sit in an office when every single touch point of your day involves email, phone calls, and shuffling electronic information from one place to another. If you’re heart doesn’t seeth with just a little bit of rage knowing it could all be accomplished from any place on the globe with a reliable internet connection and a cell phone, well, I’m not entirely sure you’re thinking about work as a product and not as some kind of half-assed social activity.

As long as those running the show put as much or more premium on the quasi-social elements like maintaining a “corporate culture” and the farcical notion that “real” communication can only happen face to face, no amount of real world evidence seems likely to move the needle away from 1950s ideas of what working looks like.

There’s still no formal guidance on what the new and improved “return to work” plan will look like here in the belly of the bureaucracy. I’m told they’re working on an updated plan at echelons higher than reality. If precedent is prologue, I’ll expect this new plan to cleave as close as humanly possible to exactly how things were done in the Before Times and ignore as much as possible the last two years happened at all.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sleep. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of sleep. I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that its hours of the day being utterly wasted laying around when I’d rather have my nose in a book, or honestly be doing almost anything else. The only virtue sleep seems to have, apart from it being a physiological necessity, is that at least I’m not consciously aware of the hours passing. I at least appreciate that the time from closing my eyes to them popping open again feels nearly instantaneous… so it doesn’t feel like totally wasted hours in the moment. That would just be adding insult to injury.

2. Communication. One of the constants across my career has been the frequency with which we fail to communicate. Vertically, laterally, inside, outside – where the communication is supposed to be happening doesn’t make much difference. The only thing consistent is that the left and right hand are almost universally unaware about what the other is up to. It would almost be fun to watch if it wasn’t so often just a enormous pain in the ass leading to endlessly repeating the same thing to 47 different people.

3. The “working lunch.” At the risk of reinforcing my reputation as generally incorrigible about such things, let me go on record as saying I don’t believe in the concept of the working lunch. There’s work and then there’s non-work (like lunch). I know this is true because my regularly scheduled weekday is 8.5 hours in length. That extra on half hour is tacked on because of the expectation that somewhere in the middle of the day, we’re supposed to “take lunch.” If that weren’t the case, I’d be happy to forgo the break and end the day 30 minutes earlier. No matter how much the powers that be wish it was otherwise, throwing some lukewarm pizza in a conference room while having a full-on meeting will never count in my mind as taking lunch – otherwise known as a pause to let your mind reset and take a breath before diving in for the last half of the day. If you’re going to do it, at least have the personal courage to call it what it is – a meeting where we’ll give you a slice of pizza in hopes that you won’t realize we’ve snuck an extra 30 minutes of work into your day. Personally, I’ll always recognize it for what it is.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Systems of systems. Outlook was down most of the day on Wednesday. That was after three days of fighting another “file sharing” system. It’s possible that this week will enter my personal record books as the one in which I spent the most effort to accomplish the least. I’m sure there are good and fine reasons why all out tech seems to be tits up more often than it’s not, but it continues to be one of the top two or three most reliably annoying elements of the job. It’s just one of the many reasons I’m dedicated to being able to walk out the door in thirteen years, five months, and a hand full of days.

2. The week before Christmas. It’s the week before Christmas, or close enough for all practical proposes. It’s certainly less than eight working hours before my long Christmas holiday commences. It’s also been just about the busiest week of work I can remember since the beginning of the Great Plague. Easily 50% of the week’s dumpster fires are entirely self-inflicted because someone just got around to looking at something that should have been handled last week, or because our electronic communication system suck, or for untold other reasons. I shouldn’t say this with so many bosses, former bosses, and other trusted professionals following along, but with seven hours left in my work year, every single one of my fucks has already been allocated. Anyone coming at me between now and 4:00 Friday afternoon expecting much more than a blank stare is going to be sorely disappointed.

3. Prednisone. Thanks to the as-yet unidentified reason my arm had been broken out in a rash for about three weeks, I had a 4-day course of prednisone this week. The (mostly) good news is that the arm has sort of cleared up – it at least looks a lot better than it did a week ago and I’m not longer tempted to satisfy the itch by scratching it with a circular saw. What the four days of prednisone also gave me was an insatiable craving for salt, rampaging blood glucose levels, an even shorter temper than usual, and I’m pretty sure at least one panic attack. I have no idea how people stay on that stuff for weeks or months on end. Next time I’ll just scratch myself bloody and it will still be a less awful experience. 

A trusted professional…

I am a professional bureaucrat. Not the best pusher of paper that ever lived, but there aren’t many cases where I have trouble holding my own.

In that role, one of the things you are faced with is that while you can be an advisor – a voice of reason – you’re not in any way to confuse your position as being that of a decision maker. That function is performed by others. It’s a fact that you either accept fairly early in your career or it slowly drives you towards a special kind of madness.

I’ve come to terms with it.

I’ll give the very best advice my seven years of running certain projects can provide. It will generally be insightful and guided by the experience of having been there and tried that at some point in the past. I can tell you where the bodies are buried, why certain ideas have never worked, and the kind of feedback we’re likely to get if you follow any specific course of action. What I can’t do is force you, as the decision maker, to follow the best path. That part is wholly out of my hands – and often beyond my ability to influence.

I can only promise that I’ll always give you my fair and honest estimate of what should be done, the resources it needs, and how to avoid the foreseeable pitfalls… but don’t think for a moment that means I won’t be right there cheerfully dispensing a loud and hearty “I told you so” when the thing turns into a barely mitigated shitshow because you wanted to go your own way.

I might be a trusted professional, but don’t think for a moment I’m above gloating even when the cock up means I’m doing 5x more work than we’d have needed to if we did things the right way from the start.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The yawning gap in medical care. I’ve blown off most of my own medical appointments since March but the animals have all hit theirs on time or as needed. That probably says more about me as a person, or at least my priorities, than I’d really like to think about. It’s probably a function of simplicity, too. I can pull up to the vet, hand off the critters for a bit of the old poke and prod, and find a nice shady spot to wait. My doc, on the other hand, wants me to schlep into an office, sit in a socially distanced chair, and wait around with other people who have God knows what plague spewing from their face holes. I’m sure it’s completely irrational, but I’d have to be quite near death’s door myself before I thought that was a good idea.

2. Failure to communicate. I’ve long suspected that the biggest problem faced in dealing with Great Plague is one of basic communication. Given the patchwork nature of our republic (combined with a relentless 24-hour news cycle desperate for things to fill air time), the public is presented with as many as fifty different, often conflicting bits of advice on mask wearing, the benefits of social distancing, and what businesses can be open and how many people they can service. There’s also the discomfiture when schools must close, but bars and restaurants can be open. There may well be fine, scientific reasons for why this is perfectly reasonable, but on its face, it’s a position that feels like it defies common sense.  Add in the fact that science, by definition, isn’t a static and recommendations change based on new data and it’s a recipe for public confusion. Frankly, I’m not even sure that cohesive national-level messaging and policy would do much in the face of how much conflicting “information” is available through every website that proports to carry the latest news or medical advice.

3. America’s Mayor. In September 2001 Rudy Giuliani was lionized as “Americas Mayor” for his grit and determination in leading New York City through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center. His steady hand on the tiller and regular presence at press conferences, exuded a calm that almost none of us felt at the time. Fast forward almost twenty years and it’s hard to believe we’re even seeing the same person. From his presser live from the parking lot at Four Seasons Total Landscaping to his performance yesterday in federal court, where he seemed to forget the name of both the presiding judge and the opposing counsel, the mayor appears to be a poor shadow of himself. For those of us old enough to remember him as a masterful leader when we most needed one, it’s an awfully hard thing to watch.

When the help isn’t…

It’s the third day back from vacation. The restive and restorative effects of having a long and happy break have long since worn off. Frankly they didn’t make it past Tuesday morning.

I’ve spent most of this week trying desperately to uncluster a Special High Interest (SHIt) event that, not unexpectedly, spent the last two weeks teetering dangerously on the verge of flying off the rails. It’s the kind of thing that happens when too many people who don’t know all the background information try to give things a little extra help.

I’m sure it was all well intentioned, but I could have done without the added mess in need of fixing this week. Easing back into the routine and building up a slow head of steam for the haul through the next four months doesn’t feel like it should have been too big an ask… and yet here we are, with me looking for the nearest load bearing structure to repeatedly bang my head against.

People will tell you that it’s good to feel needed. All things considered, I think I’d probably enjoy sitting in the corner being ignored far more than I do being the guy who gets tapped when the next SHIt event is in dire need of fixing.

Sigh. Some boys have all the luck. It’s me. I’m some boys. And all the luck is bad.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Telework. This time of year, the slow choking off of my coveted weekly telework day in inevitable. This week, I moved my regular day to accommodate a meeting that ended up getting cancelled. Another meeting was scheduled creating a conflict with the day I moved it to, so slipped it to a third day and now another meeting has cropped up. I fully expect this third meeting will be cancelled or reschedule around the time I show up in the office tomorrow. My day for next week already conflicts with a meeting request. Everywhere I go I’m often met with an, “Oh, I can’t meet that day because I’m on an alternate work schedule” or “I’ll have to call in because I’m working from home that day.” I’ve clearly got “sucker” stamped on my forehead in giant block letters. I know this time of year it’s inevitable, but I was really hoping to squeeze in one more decent week before the shit began overwhelming the fan.

Voicemail. On Wednesday I got two voicemails in a row that indicated they were from my dentist. One of them was, in fact, from the dentist. The other was from a vendor I’m working with on the current party planning extravaganza… except when I called him back he said he hadn’t called my cell in weeks. So, thanks Verizon, I guess, for delivering the message both late and from the wrong source entirely. This should just serve as a reminder to everyone that voicemail is archaic and really need not be used in the modern era.

Facebook activists. I saw several posts this week decrying the fact that former Vice President Biden was being pilloried by the popular media for being a little handsy on the campaign trail. The argument was something along the lines of “why is the media talking about Biden when Trump is grabbing ’em by the pussy.” I could be wrong here, but I seem to remember the mass media making a fairly large story about that particular quote from then private citizen Trump. In fact they still trot it out from time to time. I’m pretty sure the media isn’t ignoring it… the bigger issue, perhaps, is that large swaths of the population think the job of the media is to tell them only what they want to hear and go apoplectic when it doesn’t.


Comfortable familiarity or: What do you do for fun…

Asked in a certain way, by a certain kind of person, the question, “So, what’s do you like to do?” can be something of a loaded gun. It’s marginally less awful than the introductory questions in DC that always seemed to be either “What do you do?” or “Who do your work for?,” but it’s only a very slight degree of less awful.

It’s almost the perfect encapsulation of a no-win question. You see, the things I like to do are not the things that most people want to base a conversation around, let alone a lifestyle. I like taking trash to the dump. I like cutting the grass. I like fiddling with projects around the house. I like hanging out with dogs, cats, and sundry other animals. I like sitting on the back porch in the summer time with a cold beer and a thick, meaty book about English history.  

I forgive you if those aren’t the activities that set your heart aflutter… but I’m never going to be someone who longs to spend holiday weekends at a bed and breakfast, or driving into the city for a show, or really wading into all but a rare few circumstances that involves me and a large group of people. I enjoy the beach, though I’ve never felt the compulsive need to take long sunset walks on it. I’m far more likely to fall down the basement steps than I ever am to consider climbing K2.  

At 40 I’m acutely aware that time is increasingly limited. I spent a large amount of that time already finding out what I like and what I don’t and given the option, I’d like to continue doing the bits that I enjoy as often as possible. I think you’ll find that if your follow up question is “Yeah, but what do you do for fun,” our conversation is very rapidly drawing to a close because it’s likely we’re never going to actually understand each other.

I’m not saying that all new things are out of bounds, but whatever it is you’re reaching for had better be spec-goddamned-tacular to convince me it’s better than the joy that only comes from comfortable familiarity. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.