Tuesday is the new Monday. There. I Said it.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago I use to dread the arrival of Sunday night and the end of the weekend. Now that Mondays are usually spent working from the comfort of home, Tuesday is the day that causes the most angst and consternation. Now that I’ve settled into the new Monday routine I’m even more starkly aware of just how cripplingly unproductive a day at the average office is.
The trouble with being an information worker is that so much of what you touch requires some amount of reflection and analysis. Concentration is pretty easy to come by when you’ve got views of the woods and the loudest sound is mid-morning trash collection across the street. It’s a much harder commodity to come by when you’re stacked shoulder to shoulder with 30 other people who are all having their own conversations, or are warming up their lunch, ignoring phones ringing, pushing reams of paper through the shredder, and making their way to and from meetings and appointments, or who are just away from their desks wandering around to pass the time.
Now I can be a pretty focused guy. When the need arises I can summon monumental amounts of concentration on one point to the exclusion of all else… but I’m starting to suspect that the need to do that all day, every day is a major contributing factor to why I drive away from the office four days a week feeling like someone has run my brain through a blender. Somehow I doubt seriously that’s part of the recipe for wise and effective analysis over the long term.
I know for a fact that isn’t not even a short term recipe for a happy and productive Jeff.
I’ve always had trouble finding my mental focus in loud environments. I don’t know if that’s what makes the hermit life so appealing to me or if it’s the other way around. It doesn’t really matter which caused what. The end result is the same – sitting at my desk with glazed eyes completely unable to cobble together a single coherent thought. It’s just one of the many joys of existing in cubicle hell.
If I’m honest, I’ll admit that the day to day isn’t as bad as I feared, but with that said the bad moments are absolutely hellish. At one point this afternoon I was an unwilling third party participant to at least six conversations taking place simultaneously within 20 feet of my desk. Keeping track of the thread of my own thoughts proved to be something between challenging and impossible for the better part of two hours today. For the record, that doesn’t lead to good staff work and leaves me feeling just about as annoyed in this particular workplace as I’ve ever been. That’s no mean feat.
When other people leave the office they’re in a rush to meet for dinner, or go shopping, or engage in some other socially acceptable form of human interaction. When I leave I can’t get away from that sort of thing fast enough. Home is far from silent, of course. There’s the clatter of dogs on tile, television or radio humming quietly in the background, HVAC noises, or appliances running. Somehow those things manage to not be distracting. Half a dozen overlapping conversations, on the other hand, leave me tired and more than a bit frustrated with my own inability to focus through the distractors.
Whatever reason, the subdued sounds of home, a good book, and something pressed from the fruit of the arbor feels like exactly what I need to steady myself.
If nothing else, you can always say that I didn’t give in to peer pressure. Not that the pressure was all that significant after someone kindly pointed out that it was beginning to feel a little like Official pressure to paste on a happy face, lay your money down, and partake in the Organization Non-Denominational Holiday Luncheon and Party.
Hey, no one appreciates a swinging good time more than me, but that’s not what you’re likely to find in a room full of your coworkers. It tends to be an opportunity for awkward conversation and the passing illusion of actual community. As it turns out, sitting at the bar and staring out the window at the water doesn’t actually qualify as “participating” in one of these events. Since that’s what I invariably end up doing at the location where these activities are held, taking a pass felt like the least bad of all possible scenarios.
Back when I was young and ambitious I worked for a guy who was quick to say that colleagues “can be friendly, but they can’t be friends.” Aside from a slim few friends I made at the dawn of my career, I find his thought process was spot on. Keeping as sturdy a firewall as you can between your personal and professional lives feels like a critical action item, because either one bleeding into the other is never going to end well.
Or maybe I’m just antisocial. That’s also a distinct possibility.
The concept of a Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Office Party is a lesson in contradictions. First, fill the room full of people that you really only know passingly well. Add a DJ who can’t play any good music for fear of offending someone. Add a healthy dose of forced conviviality and Christmas joy. And finally open the bar in the middle of the afternoon. It amazes me year after year that office Christmas parties don’t result in drunken shouting matches between people who generally don’t want to be in the same room with one another when it can be avoided. It’s one of the biggest reasons I know mankind can do anything that we collectively set our minds to.
As office parties go, I have to admit that this year’s was pretty well laid on. I’m never going to be super happy in a large crowded room, but the food was plentiful, the adult beverages were cold, and no one tried dragging me onto the dance floor. Under the circumstances, that’s pretty much how I define success. Now if anyone needs me I’ll be hiding out in the basement trying to recover from an afternoon of actual socialization.
I’ve got an employee who hasn’t been able to come to terms with the fact that I’m leaving. Every day he comes in and wants to discuss events that are going to happen months from now and stands there blankly looking for some kind of meaningful response. Why he thinks that I’ll suddenly care at this late date and with my time getting very, very short I just don’t know. After four of five days of this, I though I’d make it very easy for him. I explained that, yes, I was leaving and no, I wasn’t paying much attention to what he just asked. I literally told him that I wasn’t paying attention when he was talking. I said it to his face in front of God and everyone… and he kept talking. Just kept right on rambling about whatever it was he decided was important that morning.
I still wasn’t paying attention, but this time it wasn’t due to lack of interest but because I was too stunned that even at point blank range he couldn’t process that I really didn’t care about what he was saying. Sometimes I wonder if it’s actually better to live life in that kind of bubble of obliviousness and just roll from task to ask happily unaware of the subtitles of the world around you.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
In theory, I work with responsible adults who have the ability to both read and understand the English language. The majority have an undergraduate degree and many have at least one master’s degree. Therefore, you’d think it would be easy enough to follow a set of directions that said simply:
Review the attached documents and provide your written feedback via email to Mr. Random Bureaucrat at firstname.lastname@example.org not later than 10:00 AM.
Of course, what actually happens is you get flooded with messages that say things like “I didn’t like the way things were formatted, so I changed the layout and increased the font because I can’t see so good. Oh, and I changed some of the numbers because I don’t think they were right.” Or someone wanders to your cube wanting you to take dictation about the 37.25 things they want to change. Or someone sends in their changes at 4:32 PM and is then offended when you don’t drop everything, immediately recall the data that had been sent up the chain of command at noon and make their “critical” changes.
Look jerkwater, we spent three months crunching the numbers you sent us. Don’t blame the analysis because you don’t like how things turned out. And definitely don’t blame the analyst when you want to send in “updated” data six hours after the absolute last deadline for changes has passed.
For the love of God and all things good, right, and holy, spare us all the embarrassment of how badly it must suck to be you and read the instructions next time.
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.
I’ve seen almost every stereotype you can think of in the eight years I’ve been in federal service – the solitaire wiz, the three newspaper reader, the aged technophobe, the guy who nods off during meetings, and even the pointy-headed boss. But the one thing I hadn’t encountered before today was the one who falls flat out asleep in their cube. Now it’s been a slow few days and given the lack of foot traffic, it should be at least notionally possible to fall asleep briefly without attracting undue attention. Snoring on the other hand, is a dead giveaway – but has the up side of providing several hours of entertainment for your colleagues… Especially when you do it again after lunch… and even more so when gravity takes over and your head, arm, or other body part thumps onto your desk.
I have to admit that it’s a pretty ballsy move to take not one, but two naps when you’re only three weeks into your new job. I mean, I can be an arrogant prick, but my hat’s off to that kind of nose-thumbing of authority. Tomorrow I’m going to try keeping my riotous laughter to a minimum as I think it might have disturbed our sleeper. Maybe I’ll bring in a nice CD of Brahms and try to set the right mood for the day. In any case, it’s some of the best in-office entertainment I’ve had in a while. Not sure if that’s good or just sad. Possibly both.