I’ve often enough mentioned how much I generally enjoy the one day a week I get to work from home. What I don’t usually mention is that there is a dark underside to this arrangement.
That underside comes in the form of a little noticed provision of the agreement that specifies that during unschedule office closures due to things like bad weather, terrorist attack, or super volcano eruption, I’m required to either work from home or burn off a day of vacation time. Giving up your snow days is the devil’s bargain you strike for the privilege of having a regularly scheduled day where you get to skip out on sitting in a cubicle.
It doesn’t happen often, but on the days when it does, it feels like a particularly onerous paragraph buried in the fine print. The only redeeming quality it may have is that most of the people I’m required to respond to on a day to day basis don’t have such an agreement – and are therefore sitting home quietly and not bothering me with new requirements… so while this is technically a work day and I did manage to get a few things done, it was surprisingly stress free.
Now if you don’t mind I need to go check and see if telework has been authorized for tomorrow yet.
I’m historically a guy with a long… fuse. Most of the day to day trauma rolls past little noticed and I drive along on the same trajectory doing whatever it is that needs doing. Sure I comment on it here because it makes for somewhat interesting reading, but beyond the notes I jot down in the moment, I don’t internalize much. A quick spike in blood pressure and then I can smile, nod, and keep on going.
That’s most days. Then there are the ones that aren’t most days – the ones where you can feel your blood pressure rising continuously, until you’ve ended up with a screaming headache. They’re the days when every batshit crazy idea comes out of the woodwork and you end up wondering what the actual fuck you’re even doing. Days like that aren’t the worst ones, though.
The worst moments are reserved for the days when you have meetings stacked like cordwood at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00. 12:30, and 2:30. They’re the days when inevitably someone is going to ask why some actual work didn’t get accomplished while you were busy enduring your laundry list of meetings.
I might roll my eyes and mutter under my breath, but I’m not the kind of guy given to violent outbursts. I know from hard experience, though, that I’m a guy with limits beyond which it is unwise to push. And while that outburst may not come in the form of flipping over desks and beating someone with a three hole punch, it often comes with the loosening of the tongue and the saying of things that discretion and common sense would tell a clear thinking person are better left unsaid.
Opening my mouth and letting what’s usually my internal dialog flow out as actual spoken words isn’t the kind of thing that ends well. Mostly because what I really think is, in most cases, considered “not helpful,” “unprofessional,” or in some cases “wildly inappropriate.” I can’t quite shake the feeling that tomorrow is going to be one of those days where we’ve crossed well into the danger zone and every ounce of available restraint will be needed just to keep my mouth shut and my face from doing that thing it does when I’m abjectly annoyed.
When serving the staff there’s something that you need to remember always. Everyone is always going to think that whatever they happen to have you working on is the most important thing that anyone is working on. They will have a tendency to want their project to take up all available oxygen in the room, every moment of discussion time, and every bit of available manpower. That leads to the typical day being a maelstrom of competing priorities and people who want something done right-the-hell-now.
The reality is, good as I may be, I am but one man with one keyboard and a finite amount of time to allocate in pursuit of whatever harebrained scheme has priority at the moment. As often as not, I determine the priority of effort among the universe of possible projects that need action with minimal outside input. I like it better that way, really.
From time to time, though, something comes along that someone wants and yet it still never bubbles to the top of the list of things to do. Eventually, though, someone high enough in the food chain gets it in their teeth and starts gently nudging you towards whatever this favored need may be. When they nudge hard enough, no matter what else is churning, it gets some attention.
That’s all my long way of saying that it’s remarkable what can get done in two hours when you lock yourself in a room, turn off Outlook, don’t answer the phone and just start writing. It’s remarkable and might even get you off the naughty list of the person who’s been asking for that bit of information for three or four weeks… but of course it lands you squarely in hot water with the 37 other people who think their projects also deserve special attention.
I’ve come to the conclusion that this place is marginally easier to contend with once you realize that falling behind is the norm and the best possible day is one where you manage to break even because with the time and resources authorized there is literally no way to ever get ahead of the volume of things that need doing. Trying to have a little bit of perspective is awfully important.
I can feel my brain turning to jelly just a little bit more every day. We’re squarely in the middle of what can generously be described as my “busy season.” It’s roughly analogous to trying to hold a diagram of 1,745,381 moving parts in your head and knowing exactly what they’re all doing and without getting any of them confused at any given time. Some of it you can write down, but much of the rest relies on (occasionally) faulty memory and the natural sense of how things *should* go together which may or may not bear any resemblance to reality.
There’s an ebb and flow to things here. Spring and on into summer is usually peak demand. November through the new year slows down. The periods between are somewhere splitting the difference. It varies from day to day. In some ways this cycle is just the nature of the business. In other ways it’s entirely self-inflicted – with people stacking up requirements however they best fit one or another particular schedule.
For me, the only option to stave of madness is in realizing three things: 1) Accept there is only so much you can do with the time and resources allocated; 2) Understand that some (read all) decisions are actually above my pay grade; and 3) Trudge through while trying to avoid blood pressure spikes and heart attacks due to actions or inactions that are outside of my decidedly limited span of control.
Some days I’m more successful than others at keeping all that in mind. This week, however, has been made up completely of days that fall distinctly towards the “unsuccessful” side of the ledger.
I’ve learned from hard experience to control my tongue in moments of frustration and anger (mostly). It’s a skill that has saved me on more than one occasion when all I’ve wanted to to was vent every little thing that was on my mind.
What it appears I’m never going to be able to master is the skill of keeping my face under control. The rolled eyes and look of utter disbelief or disdain just shows up no matter how hard I try to keep it impassive and apparently no matter who happens to be in the room.
If I ever manage to tend both mouth and face at the same time, then God help me I could take over the world. As it is, I can’t even disguise a passing moment of annoyance. Then again, I’m probably not trying that hard.
1. Intellectual inconsistency. As recently as a few weeks ago, the popular narrative was of police brutality, cops shooting unarmed citizens, and the racist tendencies of police departments across the country. This week the news is full of those arguing that only the police should have semi-automatic weapons. It stands to reason that if you think the police are a bunch of trigger happy racist jerks, they’re precisely the group of people you don’t want to have armed with “sophisticated weapons of war.” Then again, intellectual inconsistency isn’t so much of a big deal when your argument stems largely from a place of emotion rather than from logic, so there’s that.
2. Any given day. On any given day there’s no real way to tell what might be considered a priority by echelons higher than reality. There’s no reliable to plan for it, no way to prepare in advance for all possible topics of interest, and really no gauge for whether that particular thing will continue to be important the next business day. It makes for some interesting conversations with people going on for minutes sometimes without realizing they’re discussing too different things, but what it doesn’t do is make a good platform for getting anything done.
3. Office space. If you’re going to want to hold meetings about every single thing every single day, it might have been a good idea to plan on having more than two or three conference rooms for the thousand plus people you’ve poured into this fancy new building. At a bare minimum you should at least make sure your meetings end on time so the people showing up for the one scheduled to start immediately after yours doesn’t end up playing Tetris on their phones for thirty minutes while they wait for you to wrap up “just one more thing.”