Somewhere in the middle hump…

When you get use to easing into the week by spending most Monday’s working from home, a Monday thrown directly into the daily asshatery of the office is like wrapping yourself in a cold blanket of angst. Going from a nice quiet Sunday surrounded by books and dogs to a cubicle surrounded by 30 other chattering bureaucrats is just hard on the system. It’s not insurmountable pain and agony, of course. Maybe it’s more akin spending eight hours with your swim trunks full of sand. It’s just unpleasant.

There are two sides of every coin, though. In this case, the obverse is that it’s one more day ticked off the calendar – meaning the work week is 1/5 the way done and there’s still a nice day of answering phone calls and emails from the comfortable precincts of Fortress Jeff still left to come. Don’t tell me I can’t see the brite side of things.

All told, it’s probably just another Monday – somewhere in the middle hump of the bell curve; not great and not awful. If there’s one thing I can count on my inner pessimist to deliver, it’s a constant stream of reminders to not worry, because things can always get worse. I’m quite sure that’s one of those sayings that’s supposed make you appreciate what you’ve got, but for me it’s always been more of a warning that even in the midst of what seems stupid, there’s plenty of room to drive the train even further off the rails… and into the ditch… knocking over a bridge… and crushing a bus full of nuns and children on their way to adopt all the puppies.

So if you’ve ever wanted to know what thoughts lurk in my head on a typical Monday in the office, there you have it.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

What annoys Jeff this week? Shit. I could write a book on that. There’s one thing, though, that stands out in my mind this week. It’s the mother of annoyances. The one that if it didn’t happen day in and day out with a steady drum beat, so many of the other, smaller annoyances wouldn’t exist at all.

I don’t know exactly if it’s human nature or just SOP in our little part of the world, but the propensity for people to ignore things right up until the movement when it needs to be finished drives me directly around the bend. It makes me into an absolute mental case.

When you’ve known for weeks (or months) something needs to happen, but only start looking at it a day before it’s needed – or even better – two days after it was supposed to be finished, what exactly am I supposed to think? Well, first, your time management skills blow, but that’s just the baseline. If you procrastinate everything until the last possible moment all you guarantee is that everything in your wheelhouse is a self inflicted crisis. There’s no planning, no strategic vision, and certainly no sense that some ideas require time and attention to mature into final products. If you do happen to scrape something together to meet a “surprise” requirement, it’s a giant flaming shit sandwich. As often as not it’s not even a sandwich – just the various component ingredients for making one.

At that point why bother? Just admit that you’re a enormous waste of resources who exists purely to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide and draw a salary. I’d at least appreciate the honesty of admitting that someone doesn’t give a good goddamn. Hell, it would be refreshing. I’d almost respect you for it.

As it is, at least I know why every day is an exercise in jumping though my own ass to get even the simplest of projects done – because expecting people to pay attention is our own personal bridge too far.

On leadership and decision making…

As I was Frankensteining together another PowerPoint slide deck from lightly used and discarded pieces of other briefings, it really started to sink in that I’m working on the 6th yearly iteration of this project. It’s a project that was originally slated to be part of my life for “a year or two max” and then get handed off to the next lucky victim. It’s another in Uncle’s long train of bright, shiny promises that may or may not in any way be reflected in eventual reality. It’s something you get use to after enough years have sheered away.

I’m really only stuck on this topic today because it set me thinking about the various ways that whoever is sitting in the big chair influences all sorts of relatively minor details that can make life an unmitigated shitshow. What I’ll call “leadership personality” appears to be the only driving difference between a small, no frills, meeting the requirement sort of job, and one that has all the stops pulled out and all safeties disarmed.

For a moment there this afternoon, I was stuck with the towering reality of just how little years of collective expertise and experience count against a single moment of “Yeah, but I want to do it this other way.” It’s probably best that I don’t spend too much time dwelling on that. I’m sure I’d be told that’s a feature of the system rather than a bug. It’s a reasonable assessment that some people would even believe that.

The fact is, I’m very nearly agnostic when it comes to what decisions are made – especially if they’re only made just that one time and not jiggered about every six days thereafter until the inevitable heat death of the universe. I’ll provide the best insight and information I have, but once someone points out the approved direction of travel, I’ll head that way and keep moving until apprehended.

We’re maybe, possibly, somewhere in the general vicinity of a decision that may or may not have a large impact on something I’ve spent months out of the last five years tinkering around with. I’m just going to assume that level of interest in anything goin on in my sandbox is what has my nerves set to “on edge.”

Weekdays are interchangeable…

Tuesdays are definitely the new Monday… even though I’d be hard pressed to tell you how it was any different than a typical Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday either. All the standard weekdays just fall into a general batch of sameness as far as the eye can see. It’s gotten to the point that the only time I can really tell the difference between them is when I take note of the day of the week marked when I shoot a handful of pills out of my classic geriatric medicine storage container.

I’m not saying the sameness is necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. It’s PowerPoint, Excel, rinse, and repeat. It doesn’t take a lot of extraneous brain power unless something is slipping from the rails. Like I discovered back in my past life as a teacher, once you’ve been doing something year after year, there really isn’t much new. Most “new” efforts mean dusting off some slides I’ve been storing for five or ten years in the archive, prettying them up with some new graphics and numbers, and pasting them into wherever they need to go. It can be time consuming and monotonous, but it’s rarely hard.

I probably shouldn’t admit that. It’s like giving away some kind of trade secret. Or an invitation for fate to knock my carefully constructed web of standard answers wildly askew. On second though let’s just pretend this post never actually happened, ok?

Climate survey…

Every job I’ve ever had was driven, at least in part, by the recurring rhythms unique to the organization. Cycles are everywhere if you’re paying attention – fiscal year end, annual conferences, daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports… and my very favorite, changes of command.

One of the perks of working for our Big Bureaucratic Organization is that someone new ends up occupying the top spot every two or three years. When you’ve got a good one, the time goes a little faster, but when you have a bad one at least you know they won’t be there forever. In the age old tradition of the bureaucracy, when all else fails, bureaucrats know we can outlast even the worst of the worst in their tenure. The bureaucracy was here long before any individual leader and will endure long after any individual has departed. To quote Ronald Reagan, the bureaucracy “nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

As sure is night follows day and summer follow spring, a change up at the top of the org chart is followed by conducting a climate survey. It’s one of the tools by witch the new guy is supposed to “get to know” his organization – or at least what people are brave enough to say about it when they’ve been promised anonymity and non-attribution.

I’ve lost track of how many of these surveys I’ve responded to over the years, but I can count on not all the fingers of my left hand the number of things that have ever been improved in any meaningful as a result of them. Still, I play along, mostly because if the bosses are dumb enough to ask me how I really feel, I’m absolutely dumb enough to give them an honest answer. Since it might be the only chance during any particular boss’s tenure where I’m invited to tell truth to power, it feels like it’s just too good an opportunity to pass up.

Fortunately, after years of answering questions and very little changing I have built up quite a repository of stock responses that, after a bit of tweaking, are every bit as applicable today as they were the day I first wrote them… two, five,, seven years ago, or more. It’s just another in a increasingly long line of times when saving every scrap of previous work products as part of my Official Papers archive really pays dividends.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Toothpaste residue. If you feel the compulsion to brush your teeth at the office in the middle of the afternoon, I’m sure you’re doing great things for your dental health… but for the love of all the gods can you please wash away or wipe the toothpaste residue out of the sink when you’re finished. It’s hard to feel like a trusted professional when it looks like you’re sharing a shitter with a bunch of 5 year olds.

2. Checking your work. I’m forced by the universe to accept that mistakes happen… but most often they seem to happen because people don’t check their work. If you know that you got a bad batch of widgets in and someone is making a special trip to your place of business to purchase one of these “might be bad” widgets, it stands to reason that you’d check before that person physically showed up in your shop, wasting time, and being inconvenienced. I can’t save the world from faulty material, but I can bloody well call out shit customer service when I experience it.

3. The dream of immortality. In a nation of almost 330,000,000 people living deep into the 21st century, on any given day about 7,708 Americans will die. Another 10,563 will be born. The rest will muddle through what, for them, is a more or less unremarkable day. For all the fuss we make about our big, developed brains, we have a bit of a strange relationship with death. It’s almost as if we try to pretend that if we just build a better seat belt, or cure cancer, or ban the right object or beverage, that all 330 million of us will go on living forever. It’s never worked that way. Sure, everything can be a little bit safer. You might even manage to cheat death for a while, but it’s most assuredly only a temporary reprieve.

A late lunch…

I went to lunch at 2:30 this afternoon. Because reasons. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about that other than the fact I usually try to snag lunch around 11. That’s reasonably close to the mid-point of my normal work day and it’s when you can run out and back without returning to find the closest parking somewhere in south Uzbekistan.

Mostly I don’t like eating that late in the afternoon because I stick to a fairly early dinner schedule. Even of weekdays, dinner is made, eaten, and cleaned up before 6:00. A late lunch throws that schedule out of whack, which nudges other bits of the nightly routine our of order. It’s all minor stuff that conspires to create a big mood by the time the day is done.

I still went to lunch at 2:30 today… not so much because I wanted to eat at that point, but because not going to lunch at all has the potential to create a precedent that I have no intention of adhering to in the future. In the absence of direct threats to life or property, lunch is a thing that’s going to happen, as much my time and inviolable as the small hours of the morning.

Long experience tells me that doing something for nothing only ratchets up the expectation that you’ll do a lot more somethings for the same amount of nothing. Even when that’s not the intention, it’s an idea that I’m determined not to allow to take root even by accident… although getting back at 3:00 and leaving at 4:00 does have a certain charm.