If you stick around any place long enough you’ll find that you’re often able to predict trouble spots in most of your standard and repetitive procedures. The place where I didn’t expect it to show up this week was in finding myself personally responsible for one of the 60 people who just didn’t bother to show up as scheduled.
It turns out that even though 59 other people received the voluminous email messages addressed to “Dear Random Major Event Attendees”, and showed up as directed, email is “not a sufficient way to communicate.” The other, simpler, possibility is that someone just didn’t bother to read and follow the directions that got, literally, every other person on the list to the right place at the right time.
Look, I don’t mind taking my lumps when I well and truly fuck something up. By all means, lay it on. However, when the fault lies plainly on the 1 in 60 that failed to comply, well, I don’t know what to tell you… Maybe plus up the budget a bit so we can hire a full time invitation engraver?
If you’re wondering what the deal is with that word up there in the title line, it represents the total number of emails I received today. Being a careful shepherd of my limited supply of vacation days, I realized that burning one off on the Monday before Independence Day was likely to be a tragic waste of resources. I thought this for two reasons 1) I was scheduled to work from home today anyway and 2) Virtually no one who can avoid it is going to come in to work on a single day between a weekend and a federal holiday.
My assessment of the situation proved to be entirely accurate although just how dead it proved to be was well beyond my expectations. Neither of the messages I received called for immediate action… and in fact one of them was just thanking me for providing some information requested last week.
I don’t have a years long study to back up this supposition, but I’d be willing to stake my questionable reputation on the fact that Uncle Sam could save a shit ton of money by just closing up shop on these oddball occasions that pin a work day between two days off. Then again, if Sam went around doing things that made sense on a regular basis, I’m not sure I’d even recognize the place. I suppose we’ll just carry on then.
My inbox is a war zone. It’s a maelstrom of electronic strife sorting itself daily between the dozens of easy to do things that each take 1-2 minutes or the majestically hard to do ones that command hours and days of constant attention just to sort out. I find if I focus too long on clearing the deck of the easy to do, hard stuff becomes a raging hairy beast. If I focus on the growing beast, however, the easy multiplies until I find myself as Gulliver – surrounded, cut off, and overrun by Lilliputians.
Time management “experts” will tell you to only respond to email at certain times of the day and give you tips and tricks on how to run triage and only engage the “really important” bits. I don’t know who these lunatic experts work for, but every SOB that lobs an email at my box expects an answer. Yes, some are more timely than others, but it’s the rare gem that gets flat out ignored.
To me, it feels like nothing so much as a grand opportunity to pick your poison. On any given day you’re entitled to a death by 1000 cuts or by a enormous rock falling on your head from a great height. Maybe some days, if you really foul things up right and proper you can have both simultaneously, but don’t get greedy because you’ll have to rise again tomorrow and fight the battle all over again.
1. Superfluous email. I’ve been keeping a rough track of emails I receive – specifically those in my inbox at the start of the day or after I’ve been away from my desk for a few hours. Though not purely scientific, I’ve found that only one out of every four emails is something I actually need to see. One in six are messages resulting in my needing to actually do something. Might I recommend not cc-ing everyone who you’ve ever tangentially met on your email messages? If feels like it would save us all hours every year of time we currently spend reading and then deleting email that has absolutely nothing to do with us.
2. Being a watched pot. I’ve got the assignment. I’ve told you when I’ll have it finished. I’ve gotten awfully good at estimating things like this over the last fourteen years. What I don’t need you to do is call and email me every 7 minutes asking if it’s finished. All that serves to do is 1) annoy me and 2) slow down the process making final delivery later than it would be otherwise. I do good work and good work takes time. Believe me when I tell you know one wants a project off my desk more than I do.
3. Syria. Two or three years ago, I actively advocated for putting American troops in harm’s way to try to bring order to that chaos. The Syrian war in 2017 is a far cry from what it was in 2015, though. Back then there was still a fighting chance for the sides opposing Assad to win the day without the direct assistance of an overwhelming number of American and allied personnel. Back then a nudge – in the form of material support and “advisory” personnel – could have made the difference and toppled a tyrant who was busy killing his own populace. The battlespace has changed and it increasingly looking like Syrian government forces will be the “last man standing” after a long and bloody fight. Landing American troops, on a mission with no clear objective and even less prospect of an exit strategy, would be a mistake – and those calling loudest for it today would be among the very first to denounce it as “Mr. Trump’s War” and a “foreign policy disaster” when the butcher’s bill came due.
Today was not an unmitigated success. There were no meetings and, if I’m honest, that goes a long way towards making a day more tolerable if nothing else. Then there was the great cleaning of the inbox. Clearing out near 300 backlogged messages that had no hope of being answered felt like a win… until I then was left to ponder the hundred or so that remained and actually needed some kind of answer. I spent way more of the day plowing through those than I want to think about. The amount of time wasted on email would be spectacular if anyone ever bothered to add it all up. They won’t, of course, because no one really wants to know the answer for fear they may have to do something to make that number more reasonable.
So now I’m back to the office. They say great art comes from great pain. That could very well be true. I don’t know if “pain” is the right word here and I’m in no way vain enough to call what I’m doing art, but my best and most consistent writing almost always finds its source at the office. Sure, that could be because for five days out of every seven that’s where I spend more waking hours than anywhere else. I like to think, though, that it’s because the bureaucracy is a vast treasure trove of stories begging to be told. If I weren’t part of it, I’d have a hard time believing that anything so convoluted could even give the impression of functioning.
I’m not thrilled beyond all reasonableness to be back in my swivel chair, but for the sake of the blog it’s a good thing… and that’s as close to glass full as I’m going to be able to manage.
1. The link doesn’t work. In order to register for a major upcoming event, people need to follow a ling from the announcement to the registration page. For 20 people today, the internet proved to be too hard to use… and led to the creation of a response that I could copy and paste instructing them to 1) copy and paste the link into their browser if it wasn’t appearing “hot” in the announcement message; 2) Try using a different browser if that didn’t work; 3) Restart their computer and reconnect to their company network in the event neither #1 or #2 resolved their problem. Failing all three quick fixes, I directed them to the actual help email of the website they were trying to use. These are the thought leaders and business developers in the communications field. I just shouldn’t need to tell them how to internet at a basic level. And people wonder why every damned thing is getting hacked. Sigh.
2. Teams. Against my wishes and my better judgement I’m called upon from time to time to be in charge of various team projects. They’re not fun or character building experience, more something that must simply be endured. The problem, largely, with teams is that they are populated with other people. Those other people will likely not feel the same sense of urgency to get things done that you yourself may feel. Some will have no urgency to speak of while others will treat every small decision like The Most Important Thing in the World. Both of these types of people are obnoxious and entire detrimental to good order and discipline. Sadly punching them in the throat or drinking heavily at your desk are both considered “inappropriate” coping skills.
3. Vaguely worded email. If you’re going to take the time to send me a message via electronic mail, for the love of God go ahead and take the extra 30 seconds to read your own drivel and make sure that it makes some semblance of sense to the reader… Because honest Injun, if I have to consult the oracle or cast bones to divine your intent, that mess is going to end up deleted and I’ll spend the rest of the day judging you.
1. Things I already did. If it’s three weeks after you asked me to do something and you’re feeling the temptation to ask where it is and why it’s late, that’s probably a good place to slow down and check yourself. Sort your inbox by name. Find mine. Then look very closely through the ones that are unread. Based on my observation, that will constitute most of them. Somewhere in that stack of unread messages, perhaps time stamped 37 minutes after your original request to me, you will find the information you seek. The lesson here is you’ve asked me for something, told me when you need it, and I’m not suffering from a debilitating illness of some sort, you’ll have it on time and to standard. The fact that you just can’t find it feels like less of my problem.
2. Surprise. The fact that any of the gods on Olympus are surprised that they can’t seem to find anyone interested in started their day at 10am and sticking around the office until 6PM or later is just staggering. There’s just no amount of cajoling that will ever make me think that’s a cherry schedule. Most of the rest of us just want to get the day started and ended as quickly as possible. I know for those who have climbed the heights there’s no greater calling than whatever petty bullshit is going on inside the office walls at 6:30 at night, but for the rest of us that’s the part of the day where actual life happens.
3. Safe spaces. As best I can tell, we’re really only entitled to one “safe space.” That space would be our own home. See, once I’m outside the kingdom that I am able to rule with an iron fist, I’m stuck with observing most of the social niceties, not telling people what idiots they are, and more or less accepting that there are ideas other than my own which may be valid. Home, my safe space, however, is where I keep my books and my writing and my fuzzy (and scaled) critters. It’s a space protected by lights and alarms and powder and lead. It’s where I can emote to my heart’s content without expecting my employer, school, or local businesses to accommodate my “need” to sit down and have a good cry.