What I learned this week…

Sometimes I wish I’d never started underwriting Fridays to feature “What I learned this week.” As often as not, the answer, really, is “not much.”

As it turns out, unless something is running wildly out of tolerance, most of my weeks are remarkably consistent. There’s enough different most weeks to not be entirely Groundhog Day, but the similarity is enough that it’s not exactly the environment for learning new and interesting things.

This week has been another like the others – not so much full of new ideas or experiences, but heavy with reminders of lesson already learned – like nothing will be critical to the Uberbosses until it’s close enough to bite them in the ass. My personal favorite this week is the old tale of waiting to the last possible moment to throw up a new, completely undiscussed requirement which threatens to derail weeks of work.

There’s very little I do that should be particularly difficult, but Lord don’t we find a way to make even the easiest things into the heaviest of lifts… and all for no apparent reason.

Lord save me from the Bureaucracy. Maybe it’s time to get working on that sequel to Nobody Told Me…

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. One day shipping. I know there’s a pandemic (despite or apparent collective decision to ignore it). Shipping times have been all jacked up, but “arriving on or before” has been reasonably reliable throughout. I placed an order last Thursday that indicated next day delivery. It was, of course, a no show. By Saturday afternoon the order status changed to “delayed.” Then it was the Sunday and federal holiday Monday. On Tuesday the status changed again to “There may be a problem with your order.” By Wednesday, the status changed yet again to “We think we lost your order” and offering a link to request a replacement. I duly followed the link, requesting the replacement… about two hours before the original item arrived on my doorstep, delivered by a third-party carrier that was never once mentioned in any of the shipping information I received from Amazon. Sometimes I think they are true masters of logistics. Other times it feels like they don’t have any idea what’s actually rolling through their system. 

2. Someday, just once, I’d love to know what it’s like to be part of an organization where the left hand has any semblance of a clue what the right hand is up to… or I could just continue to flail helplessly in a bottomless morass of abject fuckery until it’s time to turn out the lights. Either way, I guess.

3. Personal bubble. After a week of continuing to mute the hell out of people on Facebook, I’ve started doing the same on Twitter – Except this time I get to block whole words, phrases, and hashtags instead of (or in addition to) ignoring entire accounts. I’ve grown weary of feeds spewing uninformed content, virtue signaling, and purity tests so I’m opting to continue to curate my personal online bubble. There’s enough absolute shit to deal with day to day without being flooded across my social media platforms too. For what it’s worth, I haven’t needed to do a thing to Instagram and will cheerfully stay there… ummm… for the articles. The left and right hands.

Jeffrey Tharp and the Zombie Conference from Hell…

For the last six years I’ve found myself saddled with one project that I haven’t been able to shake. Reorganizations and realignments have come and gone and yet this project hangs on grimly, like Marley’s suffering in spectral chains for a life misspent. It’s the classic example of creating a massive boondoggle where having a simple website would be sufficient. Circus tents, cigar bars, catered lunches, live bands, and evening socials… for some reason, the Gods on Olympus have pegged me as they guy you want running your social extravaganzas. Yeah, the guy whose idea of a good time is getting home early and tucking in with a good book and avoiding people as much as possible. That’s exactly who you want to plan your biggest party of the year. 

You’ll never convince me that the universe doesn’t have a particularly fucked up sense of humor. 

It’s really only on my mind today because, in the era before the Great Plague, today would have been opening day for this particular event… and I’d have been two wake ups away from getting the shitshow over for another year.

Other, more reasonable organizations, have decided this isn’t the time to do big productions. They’re being cancelled left and right, being pushed into the fall or into 2021. We’ve gone with a different option of kicking the can down the road a scant five weeks and “reimagining” the whole thing as an online event. That’s fine. I’m sure there won’t be any problems at all with scrapping nine months of planning and collapsing three days of material into a single day using a webcast platform that none of us has ever used while coordinating with 30-40 key players via email and phone because we’re mostly home hiding out from the Great Plague. Seriously, I mean what could possibly go wrong with this plan that’s been too-quickly conceived, barely coordinated, and will be almost completely unrehearsed?

Even in the face of mayhem, chaos, plague, supply disruption, fear, anguish, loathing, and common goddamned sense, we will drive this project forward. For reasons that defy any mere human logic, it’s the unkillable zombie conference from hell and the absolute bane of my existence.

I’m sure it will be the best doggone conference ever. 

The bitterest end…

I was sitting in the kitchen this morning and the realization came that this – endless early weekday mornings of the cat expectantly watching for the first birds to arrive at the feeders, dogs snoring comfortably after their breakfast, and a book in my hand – this is going to end eventually. 

This is going to end and mornings will again be about rushing madly to leave the house on time and get to the office. We’ll go back to sitting for 8.5 hours doing the things that the last month have proven don’t need to be done in a special box, in a certain room, in a specific building. 

It will end because old management philosophies die hard. It will end because despite evidence to the contrary the bosses are never likely to accept that work gets done if they can’t see asses in chairs. There are outliers, of course. People who can’t or won’t function on their own initiative or a few tasks that for reasons can’t be conducted “in the clear.” Those are the outliers, though, and could be resolved through proper performance management or innovative scheduling. That’s likely too big an ask for a creaking old bureaucracy.

Eventually this will end and the relentless tentacles of Cubicle Hell will reach out and pull us all back down into the pit forever.

It’s the most bitter of bitter ends.

Agreement…

I’ve had my current telework agreement in place for over three years. That represents about 150 weeks of working from home at least one day per week. There have been occasional technical issues, but I like to think my performance over those last 150 weeks hasn’t suffered. My yearly performance assessments under two different bosses seem to back up that theory.

The telework agreement I’m working under, and I’ll quote here, says in part, “Employees’ participating in the telework program enhances workplace flexibilities and it allows he Command to maintain Continuity of Operations (COOP) during any emergency situations, pandemic health crisis, or special event that causes disruption in the workplace.” I added a bit of emphasis there.

We are currently living through the exact reason why employees are issued laptops and encouraged to have telework agreements in place. I can perform 95% of my daily tasks right here in my sunroom without a problem. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has declared offices in DC “open with maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees.” The Centers for Disease Control is recommending that no gatherings of more than 50 people take place for the next eight weeks. The President of the United States lowered that to groups of no more than 10 during this afternoon’s coronavirus working group briefing. Every news outfit on the planet is preaching the gospel of social distancing. I spect sooner rather than later, many jurisdictions in the United States will find themselves with soft “lock downs” similar to what Italy is experiencing.

Letting people who can work from home go do that makes eminent sense. The fewer potential vectors wandering the halls the better for everyone. My particular part of the vast bureaucracy, though, has opted to remain utterly silent on the issue. I can only assume that means they think piling hundreds of people into a hermetically sealed building is somehow a more advantageous strategy to ensure the business of the organization continues to get done.

It’s a bad take… and it’s the very definition of an unnecessary risk to personnel. Maybe I’ll catch hell for saying that publicly… but of the things I could catch in a room where 30 people are packed in asshole to elbow breathing recirculated air and not seeing the sun, catching hell should probably be the least of my worries.

I’m lucky that I got to work from home today. Unless someone steps up with a little leadership before tomorrow morning, I’ll be expected in the office the rest of the week. Ultimately, though, I’m responsible for my own health and welfare. If I can’t depend on the powers that be to make good decisions for their employees, I’ll continue to conduct my own daily risk assessments and determine for myself when it’s time to hunker down until the worst blows over, regardless of whether that means working from home or burning off the mountain of leave I’ve banked over the last 18 years.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sheetz. The quintessential gas station of my youth which has grown to be a regional juggernaut. For the last couple of years I was able to order ground coffee and k cups through their online sales arm. I went to plug in a reorder this week and find that their site has gone defunct. Twitter confirms that there are currently no options for ordering online. I’ll either have to start buying the stuff 20 pounds at a time when I’m west of Baltimore or just go ahead and give up on the idea of being able to brew the good stuff at home. Both options are… disappointing.

2. Bureaucracy and decision making. Very rarely some things benefit from the application of a little bit of bureaucracy. Most things don’t. Mostly all ratcheting up the bureaucracy does is make sure that decisions happen more slowly and result in shit tons of extra work for everyone involved. I’ve encountered a rare few leaders who can manage to slice through the bureaucracy and get things done… though it’s hard to remember the last time I saw one of those in person.

3. Jealousy. The state of Maryland is kicking off a great big batch of telework for eligible employees in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. Uncle Sam is opting for the more traditional, approach of telling employees to wash their hands and disinfect hard surfaces (supplies not included), and wanting as many people as possible sitting asshole to elbow breathing on each other in his vast cubicle farm. In this case it’s more jealousy than annoyance. Once the Feds collapse, I guess it’ll free up some job opportunities for our friends in state government, so it’s not all down side.

What I learned this week…

I know that a few months ago I told you I like learning things. In fact,I promised to make each Friday’s post a tribute to that idea.

Here, now, I’m going to backtrack on that statement a little. This week has been an unrelenting bitch. I don’t want to learn anything new this week. In fact it would be helpful if I could just turn my brain down to a low simmer for the next few days and focus on blocking out things that are old and stupid rather than acquiring that which is new and interesting. I just don’t have the bandwidth for it this week.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put something completely mindless on the telly and read until my eyes go blurry. That should carry me through about 8:30 ot so. Then I’ll sleep and hope to rise again tomorrow and pretend it’s not just a two day pause in an endless parade of major and minor shitshows otherwise known as weekdays.

Fifty days…

There are a grand total of 50 working days between me and kicking off a what I affectionately think of as The Greatest Shitshow on Earth. Fifty days sounds like a fair amount of time. Maybe it should. The reality, in the belly of the one of the world’s great bureaucratic organizations, though, is that 50 days is almost nothing. It’s closer to the time it takes to order and receive supplies than it is to what it takes to deliver a major project.

It’s fifty days to start, two more to do the thing, and a grand total of fifty two more days before this particular piece of work slips astern. It means I’m going to wake up every morning for the next fifty two days a little bit more annoyed than I was on the previous morning. It’s possible that at some point during this endless march of days, my eyes will physically roll right out of my skull.

I’d love to tell you it’s all for a good cause or that the return on investment makes the sheer weight of aggravation somehow worth it. I can’t and it isn’t. The whole thing is a fucking vanity exercise devised and propagated by echelons higher than reality. Look, I’ll go whatever way someone points me, and deliver whatever they ask for as best I can, but don’t ever expect me to pretend it’s an exciting opportunity to do great things. It’s just one more dumbass thing I’m doing to stay off the breadline.

The deep breath…

Well. Here we are again. I should probably have something controversial or heart felt to plug in here today. I don’t know, maybe the apathy here at the moment is a nice punctuation mark following yesterday’s post on motivation and the lack thereof. That’s probably how I’ll end up justifying it to myself, anyway. You, of course, are free to make your own determination.

The reality is that I’m just looking for a night where I don’t spend at least a portion of the time railing about some fuckery that’s happened at the office. There’s something to be said about not giving them free space in the evening after letting them rent out my brain for eight hours during the day. So much as I’m tempted to rant and rave as usual, I’m just not feeling up to it tonight.

I found myself in a bit of a lull today anyway… I’m not saying that it wasn’t the kind of hot mess you’ve come to expect. I’m in a position for the moment where everything is pushed out and waiting for other people to do their bit – a review, a signature, and bit of bureaucratic hand-waiving. As Gandalf would say, “It’s the deep breath before the plunge.”

It’s the deep breath before the next plunge, anyway. But then there’s the next one. And the one after that. And the one that follows that one right out through the next couple of months. Maybe I should be thankful for the momentary pause… though all it’s really done is ratchet up the anxiety level that it’s not a pause at all and the ominous silence means something has flown wildly off the rails.

Yeah, living in my brain is a laugh riot sometimes.

The well of motivation…

I’ve often thought that motivation is one of those qualities that ebbs and flows over time. Some days you may be full of piss and vinegar and other days just getting out of bed could count as a major accomplishment. Maybe that’s an overly simplistic way of looking at it, but I can tell you for sure that motivation is not a static thing. What you had yesterday is in no way reflective of what you might have tomorrow.

It’s hard to believe now, but there have been times in my life when I could have been considered highly motivated. Some of those times were even fairly recent, at least in relative terms. Recent in this sense should in no way imply that reflects my current level of motivation… or maybe it’s just that I’m motivated by different things.

I should probably say I’m motivated to deliver a great product on time and budget… but the only real motivation I have tonight is in knowing that this particular shitshow has an end date. Holding myself together to get past that marker is just about the only goal I have. I simply don’t have the bandwidth to think about what comes after that… because it will most assuredly be just a different flavor of ridiculous and ill advised.

My well of motivation is tapped the fuck out.