In each and every job I’ve ever had I’ve had a standard list of issues and items that are defined, at some level, as being things that I am responsible for doing on a regular and recurring basis. These are “primary duties.” There are also secondary duties – perhaps items that I do when someone is on vacation or that require more than one person to complete in a timely manner. Lastly, there are the ubiquitous and ill-defied set of “other duties as assigned.” These ODA have a tendency to be ash and trash actions that aren’t particularly time consuming but that have a bit of a tendency to be dull, thankless time sucks.
Through them all, the primary, secondary, and ODA, though, I’ve always made it a point to know my lane – all of those things for which I am collectively responsible to carry out at any given time. Now, the list isn’t static. It changes based on manpower, skills, personal preference, and sometimes (usually) the whim of senior leaders everywhere. In a more ambitious age, I knew not just my lane, but also had a fair depth of understanding of the lanes to my left and right. I won’t say those days are gone forever, but I certainly pay a lot less attention to the things that are outside my currently assigned channel markers these days.
Knowing your lane and its boundaries is, in my opinion, one of the most important tasks you can master as a run of the mill employee drone. Knowing what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it, where it comes from, and where it goes will put you in good stead 85% of the time. If nothing else, it gives you at least a little bit of ammo when someone asks you to do something that you know well and good lies in the purview of some guy who sits down the hall.
I make it my first order of business to know my job and where its limits lie. Now if everyone else could just find their own lane and bloody well stay in it, what a wonderful world it would be. Yeah. I’ll be holding my breath on that.
1. Over sensitive douchenozzels. Many documents we pass around require some kind of specific coversheet. For years now, hanging on the back wall of all the cubes I’ve inhabited are fictitious versions of these covers, identifying them as coversheets for information that is Stupid, Futile, Bullshit, etc. In the wake of morale hitting rock bottom and starting to dig, it seems that those little bits of paper have now been adjudicated as being “not funny and inappropriate.” I wish more people understood sarcasm. I also wish people were less thin-skinned. Most of all, I wish I didn’t spend five days a week in the company of at least one cowardly douchnozzle whose identity is unknown, because as of this week I know there’s at least one person in that room who can’t be trusted.
2. Cicadas. I found the first evidence of cicadas on the back porch this very morning. The two things that stick with me from the last round of these little beasts being above ground is the unholy amount of noise they generate and a particular chocolate lab who thought they were treats in the wing called forth just for her indulgence. Of course I deny these dogs almost nothing, but watching them chow down on a yard full of bugs is just a bridge too far. I wonder if somewhere on the dark web someone is selling a can of DDT. It would be awfully tempting if I thought that would do the trick.
3. Shopping for clothing. I don’t know that there’s a word in the English language strong enough to describe just how much I hate clothes shopping for myself. It ranks well below tagging along while other people shop for clothes, if that tells you anything about where it falls on the list. There was a time when I would just force myself to physically go to the store and do it. Now, mostly I just go to the closet, find the brand and size of something I have and already like and then order the exact same thing (or as close to it as is currently available) in three or four different colors. I don’t suppose I’ll ever need to wonder why my basic wardrobe hasn’t much evolved since the late 1990s. Still, it’s better than leaving the house for clothing.
Here’s a pro tip from the average American office – if you’re bored and casting around for something to do, the answer should never be to park yourself in front of a colleague and then as many stories about your childhood, medical experiences, coworkers as you can come up with. Feel free to stop by to say hello, or to ask a question, or to relay some important tidbit of information, but for the love of all that’s holy, don’t look to the people you work with to entertain you when you can’t come up with anything better to do with your time.
It’s not necessarily a matter of interrupting anything important or time sensitive so much as it is that I simply have no desire to be your default method of passing the time. Do what everyone else does: piss away your day on Facebook, or walk down to the lobby and spend a few minutes watching TV, or take you cell phone and go sit in the john for 30 minutes. The important thing is that you not just make the rounds engaging everyone in 15-30 minutes of conversation from which it will prove difficult or impossible for them to escape.
I get it. We’re all bored. There are 746 million things we’d all rather be doing, but adding a person who doesn’t know when to STFU and move on to the mix adds insult to injury and makes one wonder what case could be made for justifiable workplace violence. In the average office, I’d be willing to bet a very large percentage would be willing to testify for the defense if you were to ever accidentally bludgeon your office talker into unconsciousness for the greater good.
I make a concerted effort to steer this blog away from specific issues at my own office and more towards a general discussion of work in general and the foibles of the workplace writ large. However, like the modern cop dramas that everyone seems to love these days, the following issues are ripped from the headlines of real life experience while working in an office somewhere in Maryland. No bureaucrats were physically harmed in the writing of this post, but their souls might just be a little more crushed for the experience.
1. Don’t send an email and then immediately walk over to the recipient’s desk to tell them you sent an email. Thanks to the little glowing screen on their desk, they probably know this already. Plus, there’s a good chance they’re working on something and will get to whatever issue you’re having in its order of importance to them, not based on the number of times you ask for it. In fact, multiple requests for the same information will result in all of your messages being shifted to the bottom of the pile.
2. If you’re working in an office far removed from lunch options, there’s a safe bet that you’ll do at least a little eating at your desk. While it’s sad and depressing in its own right, the thing people need to remember is that the lunch break is sacrosanct. It should be inviolable, except under the most extreme of circumstances. If you approach someone’s desk and they’re stuffing half a sandwich into their face, that shouldn’t be considered an open invitation for a long winded discussion about anything. That’s especially true if the victim of your verbal deluge is trying to read a few pages of a book or magazine while jamming his face full of food – pretty much the universal sign that they’re on break and not working at the moment. If you’re one to be stuck eating at your desk on the regular, picking up a Do Not Disturb or Out to Lunch sign to hang on your cube at appropriate times might not be a bad investment.
3. If you think you’re having a discrete personal conversation on the phone in your cubicle, think again. Everyone within earshot knows if you’re blowing up at your wife, behind on your mortgage, or recently contracted the herp. Yes, we all know having those conversations from the comfort of your office chair is convenient, but sometimes everyone would be better served if you wandered off somewhere and had that discussion on your cell phone. When you’re forced by your profession to sit shoulder to shoulder with them for eight hours a day, you can at least do them all the favor of not discussing your most recent bout of hemorrhoids?
1. Color commentary. I hate people who feel the need to share at every opportunity… and nothing fills me with more homicidal rage than listening to a nonstop stream of running commentary about how the day is going from a few desks away. This didn’t work. That didn’t work. I just had to reboot for the 100th time. Yes, look, we all know the network is in a bit of a snit. Most people are experiencing the same issues… and rest assured, those few who aren’t experiencing your issues are having issues of their own. In times of crisis, my best advice is to sit down, STFU, and try not to aggravate the ever-loving hell out of those around you. John Madden’s commentary may have been obnoxious, but at least that meathead came with a mute button.
2. Spam (the electronic kind, not the gelatinous potted meat or the song). If you’re a business and you have my email address – my real address and not a junk account I set up to catch wayward marketers – you already have products or services that I like and use on a regular basis. The best way in all the world to convince me to never purchase anything from your business ever again is to flood my inbox with “helpful” email. I’m already a customer. I don’t need to be reminded. When I need a refill, a reorder, or a new product, I know where to find you… and even if I forget, there’s a better than average chance Google will be able to track you down.
3. Sleep. Every now and then I convince myself that I’ll get along perfectly fine on four hours of sleep. Usually those occasions revolve not being in a good place to stop reading or wanting to “catch the end” of some 50 year old move I’ve seen dozens of times already. Very rarely they’re the result of just plain old not being able to fall asleep on schedule. Regardless of the cause, the result is always the same – by 2:30 the next afternoon, I’m poring coffee down my throat in Big Gulp sized quantities and still barely manage to keep my head from slamming into the keyboard. I’ve grudgingly accepted that sleep is an inconvenient necessity. I think in fairness sleep should concede to me at least one day a week where I can get less than five hours of it and still feel mostly like a human being.
1. The damned darkness. It’s been said that it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Still, all things considered, I’d rather be home before lighting the candles is necessary. I know it’s that fabulous time of year when the days are getting short and all, but I can’t help but think it would be awfully nice to get home in the afternoon before the photovoltaic sensors crank on the outdoor lights for the night. Plenty of daylight while I’m driving to the office in the morning is nice and all, but while I’m sitting in cubicle hell, it doesn’t make a lick of difference to me whether it’s blue skies and sunny or pitch black out there. Having an hour or two of daylight at the end of shift, though, would make all the difference in the world. You can keep Christmas. The winter holiday I’m most looking forward to at this point is the solstice.
2. Hand holding. Public displays of affection are fine, what makes me crazy are the allegedly professional members of society who need hand holding through every step of whatever it is they are supposed to be doing. I don’t have the time or the inclination to be your security blanket and dispense constant reassurance that you’re doing good work, or the right thing, or whatever other nonsensical prattle you need to hear multiple times a day to keep your little world from flying out of its orbit. Being a grown ass adult means you get to meet your own needs, not wander around looking for someone to meet them for you… because right now the only thing I can say you need for sure is a punch to the throat. That might not solve your problem, but it would sure as hell solve mine.
3. Everything else. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s causing it, but my general state of being could best be described as “annoyed” for most of the last week. While that may not sound surprising, the truth is actually do my best to ignore, or at least not engage with, most of what goes on around me. Observe it? Absolutely. Interact with it? Only when it’s unavoidable. I find that I’m much more at peace with the world and those in it when I hold the whole ball of wax at arm’s length. This week, though, I wake up pre-annoyed for some reason… although it saves me the trouble of needing to gin up a good level of rage later, it doesn’t exactly contribute to the smooth passage of the days. Sadly, that’s not a problem that can be fixed by the judicious application of more cowbell… unless you duct tape the cowbell to the person annoying you and then play it with a crowbar. That might actually help.
When someone is sick, most people feel some kind of empathy. That’s the human response. The slightly more jaded response, though, is giving a brief moment of thanks to God that the person in question is not going to be in the office today. As badly as I feel about someone being ill or suffering, that’s nothing compared to the overwhelming relief I feel at not having to deal with them for two days in a row. That’s probably more than a little wrong. It’s possibly evil. It does, however, have the virtue of being exactly how I feel about the issue. I may be a lot of things, but dishonest isn’t one of them.
Sure, if it were something life threatening I’d probably feel bad about the situation, but if someone having a head cold can give me a few moments of peace, there’s no harm in being happy about that, right?
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.