1. Second Monday. Look, I’m 100% thankful for the unscheduled Federal holiday on Wednesday. The unintended consequence of this Executive Branch largess, though, was that this week had what is effectively a “second Monday.” Going back the the work after a bureaucracy-free and relaxing weekend is a regular, recurring minor trauma that fills Sunday evenings with angst and dread. Once the week gets going though, the follow-on weekdays are each slightly less traumatic than the day before. Plopping an unexpected day off down in the middle of the week created an unnatural imbalance in the normal flow – and in doing so made Second Monday feel even worse than regular Monday. It’s hard to believe that such a thing is possible, but there it is.
2. Cubicle Hell. For all of the wonderful management literature written extolling the virtues of “open concept” workplaces, none of them bother to take into account how the average employee may actually require some time to analyze, read, or complete a work product that requires some level of concentration. I only bring it up because of the increased frequency of people holding entire goddamned meetings with groups of 4-5 others spilling out into walkways or shouted over the top of adjacent walls. Multiply that by as many as 5 of these impromptu “meetings” fired up all at the same time, well, you might as well sit back and start counting ceiling tiles because even pretending to look productive under the circumstances is a lost cause.
3. The human tailbone. I’m not a fancy big city doctor, so I don’t know exactly what a tailbone is supposed to do for a person. I reckon it’s mostly like an appendix – except that when something goes wrong with it it doesn’t burst and kill you so much as it stays right where it is and hurts like a sonofabitch whenever you sit down. In any case, it seems to me that there should be some kind of corrective option beyond, well, just don’t sit so much. That’s fine advice, I suppose, when your day isn’t spent tethered to a desk and reading volumes of fine print for the minutia that someone is trying to bury in the fine print. And yes, before someone points it out, I know that Churchill worked at a standing desk. He also worked in the bathtub and I am, clearly, no Winston Churchill.
It’s one of those weeks where it would have been far easier to pick out that which did not annoy me than that which has, but I’ll give it my best effort.
1. The last minute. When a large group of people have been working on a project for a very long time, what you shouldn’t do, unless you outrank the people in the room by a whole shit tonne, is show up to the very last meeting making suggestions and trying to change the world. Fuck of with that jackassery.
2. Just (not) doing it. At the moment I’m tracking approximately 4,746 moving parts across a dozen different organizations that all have to mesh close to seamlessly in order to avoid looking like amateur hour. If you are responsible for 1 of those 4,746 things – and only 1 of them – it doesn’t feel like too much to ask that you at least half ass it instead of needing me to call down the whole mountain on your head when we’re measuring time in hours instead of days. Get in the damned sea.
3. New computer day. I’m as big a tech head as anyone and you can count on exactly one finger the times I’ve turned down a new computer – especially considering the elderly and decrepit state of the laptop I’m currently using. The only time I’m going to raise a stink and scream and yell is when you tell me New Computer Day falls right in the middle of the biggest work effort of my year. It would be like taking your accountant’s computer on April 14th and telling him he might get it back in a few hours or maybe a few days depending on “how it goes.” Just no. Not today Satan. Not today.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: There are only a set number of hours in any week that are designated for “work stuff”. This week, that number happens to be 32. When you deduct the hours designated for meetings (7), at least one hour of prep time to build/update slides for each meeting (7), and thirty minutes following each meeting to field questions (3.5) that leaves a total of 14 and one half hours to do the actual work – write the memos, hammer out details, do the planning, and apply the academic rigor to the job. Those same 14 and one half hours are also sliced down by people stopping by the desk for random conversations, being called on the phone, being sucked into random small meetings that aren’t on the calendar, and occasionally getting up to grab a cup of coffee or take a leak.
Fourteen and one half hours isn’t a lot of time when you’re dealing with plans and projects that tend to be complex by their very nature. It often means you’re forced into devil’s bargains about what gets worked and what has to sit and wait. What it doesn’t mean, of course, is that you’re going to somehow defy the laws of time and space and be able to do 32 hours of actual work in the fourteen and one half hours that are available.
This reality of ours has certain limits. At some point you just have to settle for doing less with less.
I can’t write the post I want to write tonight. Actually I can. What I mean is I shouldn’t write the post I desperately want to write tonight. My self preservation instinct is still strong enough to know what should be here in black and white and what should live on only in my head (for the time being).
It’s a story of time management and meetings and leadership and priorities and the difference between won’t and can’t. It’s the kind of post that would go like gangbusters on this blog, but that the tenor of the times demands I leave unpublished. It’s heartbreaking to leave good material just sitting on the shelf, but there’s a limit to how much truth power is interested in hearing.
If anyone needs me I’ll be over here ranting and raving at the dogs. At least they get me.
1. Christmas Music. I leave the radio on for the dogs when I go to work. I came home one day recently to find that the station had transitioned to a 45-days of Christmas music format and nearly lost my shit. I’m sorry but I just don’t need to be told to have a holly, jolly Christmas ten days before Thanksgiving. For that matter I don’t need to be directed to have one ten days after Thanksgiving. Christmas music makes its appearance on my playlist only one day a year… that’s on whatever day I happen to be driving, like a swallow back to Capistrano, back to my native land a day or two before the actual holiday. Even then, it’s not exactly traditional Christmas songs that bleat from my speakers. My carols tend to come from the likes of Blink-182, Reliant K, Bad Religion, and a few others. I just can’t even with the other stuff this early in the year.
2. The damned darkness. I have a fundamental loathing for this time of year, not because I hate the holidays, but because every time I see the outside it looks like the middle of the damned night. It’s dark when I get to work. It’s dark when I get home. Five days a week, there isn’t a lick of actual daylight to be seen since my desk sits in what might as well be a giant shoebox wrapped in tin foil. It might be enough to drive a lesser man off the rails… fortunately it only drives me to drink.
3. Meetings after the end of the day. This seems to be a perennial topic. I guess that’s so for a reason. By the time close of business rolls around, every ounce of mental energy I can muster is being pushed towards getting the hell out of the building. When suddenly a meeting appears that will frustrate that which is my heart’s desire, I can’t guarantee that you’re not getting my best effort. You’re not even getting a half-assed effort. More likely you’ll end up getting what I generously call “I’m here under protest” face. Sure, I can smile, be polite, and even accommodating, but my brain is already 20 miles away. I’m sure it shows and that isn’t good for any of us.
Spend enough days in a row sitting through meetings where nothing is ever decided, writing emails that no one ever reads, and dreaming up good ideas that will never see the light of day and one might be forgiven for tending to adopt a healthy cynicism about their profession. In a bureaucracy where every cog has its own agenda and can through even the best laid plans off the rails, frankly I’m surprised when anything gets done at all. It’s practically a cause for celebration.
I suspect that’s why I spend so much of my “off” time doing things that can demonstrate a tangible result. Reading and writing are easy. Finish the book, draft a new chapter, and either way at the end point you have something to show for the effort. It’s measurable. I suspect it’s also why I throughly enjoy mowing the grass, running string trimmer, and cutting back another few feet of encroaching saplings. Adding two hours of physical work after eight hours of repeatedly banging your head against you desk probably isn’t everyone’s idea of good times… but it makes me unreasonably happy, even as it leads to increasing exhaustion.
In that one small way, I’ve carved a bit of order away from chaos. It’s not making the world safe for democracy, or curing polio, but it helps stave off the madness and that contribution shouldn’t be undervalued.
Maybe the worst thing you can do in a room full of people who analyze and evaluate information for a living is walk in and show them a presentation while telling them that you don’t know how the data was processed to arrive at the stated conclusion you want them to believe. Most of us are already cynical from long years of having people try to convince us that “this time is different” or “shit doesn’t stink and I have a comprehensive study to prove it.” When you, the peddler of snake oil wrapped in a pretty PowerPoint covering, basically tell us that the scores are made up and the points don’t matter all you’ve really said is you’ve wasted an hour of our time. You see, that’s what happens when you pass along data that’s impossible to validate, from sources that are impossible to verify. Now that might not have been your intent, that was most assuredly the result.
In this line of work, credibility is pretty much the only coin of the realm. Once it’s lost, it almost never comes back without a massive effort and wasting even more time. It’s my estimate that avoiding that path from the outset is the better, more practical, course of action.
But what do I know? I’m just a guy sitting here with 105 minutes of his life gone today that he’s never going to get back.