1. The perceived speed of time. An entire Saturday runs its course in approximately 1 hour and 37 minutes. By contrast a typical Tuesday afternoon drags on for something like 14 days. Yes, I know it’s largely just a function of the way the conscious mind processes routine experiences and memory building, but damn. I wish I could find a way to bottle that 6am Saturday morning just after I’ve had my first cub of coffee and the whole weekend is still spread out before me feeling. I could use a strong shot of that at least three times a day on any given Monday-Friday.
2. Moving with purpose. Wherever you go, no matter the time of day, you will find yourself surrounded on all sides by people who seem to be loose roaming out in the world with no particular place to go and no particular time when they need to be there. They walk slow, they drive slow, the veer left or right without warning and for no obvious reason. It’s like these poor misbegotten souls are in need of some basic purpose in life. Any semblance of purpose would be a wild improvement from the norm. Day in and day out it’s these absolute shitbirds that are the most constantly infuriating aspects of any activity that requires leaving the house and interacting with people.
3. Ask for what you want (but first know what you’re looking for). I’ve been at this kind of work almost 16 years now. I generally know the back story. I know where the bodies are buried. I know why some projects succeeded and why others failed. I’ve been around long enough now to remember the last time someone had your “brilliant new idea.” If you want my help, all you really need to do is ask for it… but when you do, it’s best to ask for what you actually want. Don’t ask me for a brief history of Process X and then tell me that wasn’t what you wanted once I gin up the information for you. If you don’t know the name of the thing you want me to talk to you about, try describing it. Give me some detail. Don’t just keep saying Project X repeatedly and thinking that we are in any way communicating. If it’s obvious by the information I’ve provided that my attempt at deciphering your meaning has failed, you should probably come at it from a different angle of attack. I don’t generally want to stonewall anyone. My goal is to get the information you want processed and off my desk as quickly as possible – because that’s the most direct path to reach my overall objective of getting you to stop bothering me. I’ve developed many skills over the first half of my career – but reading entrails and divination remain, sadly, beyond my grasp.
I had three long days to get a post together. I’d like to sit here and make some brilliant excuse for why it didn’t happen. The truth is I kind of completely forgot that today was actually Monday and not the second coming of Sunday. The fact that it’s Monday utterly escaped my mind is the closest thing I have to an excuse for today’s lack of pithy commentary/bitching and complaining.
If I’m painfully honest it was nice to have three consecutive days when I wasn’t particularly worried about stringing words together in something close to a coherent (and mildly entertaining) order. I’m sure all will be as normal by this time tomorrow, but just now I’m going to soak in the last of these three days and appreciate them for the unplanned break they became.
Today was one of those days that seemed to zip along at a respectable place. I was getting a few things done, knocking items off my ever expanding list of stuff to do, and just feel that so focused and productive that surely the end of the day is in reach… until I looked up to discover it was only ninety minutes since I came back from lunch.
Is there a name for that kind of disconnect between the perceived movement of time and its actual movement? If there’s not, there should be, because it’s a damned real thing. And that’s unfortunate in that it tends to instantly deflate any accumulated sense of accomplishment or good will that may have accrued. Look, I’m a believer that doing hard work is its own reward, but when it doesn’t also get you closer to that ultimate objective of getting out the door at the end of the day, well, it just leave a bad taste.
I no longer consider these situations an aberration or even a bad day. Instead they’ve become just the defining characteristic of the normal day – mostly like any other. That should probably make me sad, or angry, or embarrassed. A decade ago it would have. Lately it doesn’t make me feel anything at all.
If you stick around long enough occasionally good things happen to good people. Most of the time that’s not the case, but just occasionally the universe gets one right. It’s nice to see someone finally get compensated for the level of responsibility they’ve already had. It’s a damned rare thing and I’m happy to see it.
The flip side of such recognition, however, is that when these good people move up and out you inevitably end up with a pile of their old job on your desk because someone still has to do it when they’re gone. Anyone who’s been in the game any length of time at all has been on both sides of the “workload balancing” equation. So it goes.
My advice at times like this is to remember that the day is only eight hours long no matter who’s trying to cram 12 hours of work into it. Wash, rinse, and repeat as needed until the weekend arrives. A decade ago, this kind of thing would have made me nervous and jerky. Now I mostly just shrug and accept there are some things that will never rise to the top of the list of things to do – and even if that’s not technically ok, it’s just the way it is.
Some days are good. Some days are bad. Most days are somewhere in the realm of average. That’s just the nature of a normal distribution. Days like today, though, they’re different. Their neither good, nor bad, nor average, they’re simply exhausting for no apparent reason. Days like today are probably the ones I hate most. The bad days make me angry. I know how to deal with anger. The good days, shockingly, make me happy. I know how to deal with that too. The average days just sort of plod along and leave me mostly indifferent to their passing. Days like today I just drag myself through the door wanting nothing so much as to collapse into a pile and sleep… but I know there’s still a long list of things to check off before the I find myself anywhere close to bed. It’s the days like today I find my self worn out for no good reason and leave me wondering how the hell anyone is expected to get anything done with the couple of spare hours they have left at the end of the day. Though I suppose maybe making sure we all schlep home exhausted is all part of the grand plan. Yep. It’s a conspiracy. That’s got to explain it.
It occurs to me that when it comes to the amount of time we spend at work that it could all come down to tracking the wrong metric. Since early in the 20th century the “standard” has been the 8 hour day and the 40 hour week. That’s well and good I suppose if you’re churning out Model T Fords by the million on an assembly line. In that kind of work there’s no allowance for people working at varying speeds. Most of the people I know these days aren’t working on a 1920s assembly line, though.
Instead of manning the line at the Rouge River Complex, we’re all sitting at our keyboards banging out emails and memos and slides. If I happen to be super efficient and complete my assigned memos and slides in six hours, I’m still at my desk for two hours regardless of whether I’m doing anything constructive or staring blankly at the ceiling. The reverse is true as well. If I’m an utter slacker and can’t get all my emails sent in eight hours, there’s no force compelling me to stick around until they’re done. As far as my unscientific observation of the eight hour day and 40-hour week is concerned, I can only conclude that we’re basing our business model on precisely the wrong metrics. We’re managing to time rather than managing to outcomes.
If I, gods forbid, were a boss, why would I care if someone got their assigned work done to standard in six hours? Maybe in theory I could then assign them 20% more work, but in my experience that almost never happens. If your mission in life is to get X done every day, once X is done, I say go home. Go to the park, the bar, the ball game. The threat of having to do X+20% doesn’t do anything more than make the typical drone slow their roll to make sure they don’t pull too far ahead of the pack. Sure there are a few over achievers out there who throw off the curve, but when I look around they’re the exception rather than the rule.
So there it is – the thesis I should have written for my MBA. A Savage Act of Defiance Against the 8-Hour Work Day: Managing Performance Instead of Time. It feels a little like there’s a “philosophy of management” book in there somewhere… which means I should mention that the thoughts herein expressed are the sole property of the author and protected under the copyright laws of the United States. All rights reserved.