What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Failure to plan. I’ve rented you the hall. I’ve provided the stage. I’ve laid on the cameras and the furniture. I’ve blocked off all the time in the world for people to rehearse, dry run, and generally get to feel comfortable with their part. What I can’t make people do, of course, is actually show up and do any of those things. Mostly I put in the effort because I want people to be successful – or at least I want to set the conditions for their success. What I’ll be intensely intolerant of, however, is when those same people who have displayed conspicuous indifference in planning find themselves in a panic five minutes before things go live next week… Because that’s almost inevitable while also being nearly 100% avoidable.

2. Work clothes. Having spent the majority of the last two years working from home, it hasn’t been necessary to keep much in the way of a “work” wardrobe. I mean mine almost exclusively consists of khakis and polos, anyway, but that’s all stuff I’d wear day-to-day in my real life. After two years of little exposure to the general public some, perhaps most of it, is starting to look a little tatty around the edges. That’s an issue I hadn’t noticed until I realized I needed something more or less presentable for five days this week instead of my normal one or two. If you think the idea of needing to buy clothes specifically so I can drive 40 minutes to sit in a cubicle isn’t grinding my gears, you must be new here.

3. The end of April. The back half of April is my hardest two weeks of the year. The only thing holding my temper just barely in check is not wanting to be unemployed. Stress is up because I’m supposed to be delivering a product that no one else gives a shit about until the day it goes live. My blood pressure is through the roof. I can track it year over year and it consistently spikes during these two weeks. I’m eating like shit, tossing and turning through the night, and generally just not taking the time to do the normal things that more or less keep me on an even keel the rest of the year. All in all, it’s not a great time when your general outlook is often described in such glowing terms as “bleak” and “kind of dark” on the good days.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Return to work. I’m starting to see emails pinging around discussing the plan to “return to work.” What they’re really talking about is bringing people back to the office, which, if you’ve been paying attention for the last two years is not synonymous with “returning to work.” I won’t speak for anyone else out there, but for me, work has been work and the geographic area I’ve occupied while doing it has made effectively no difference in the end product I’ve churned out. Frankly, calling it “return to work” strikes me as wildly insulting. If you’ve got a shitbird who doesn’t do anything in the office, you’ll have a shitbird who won’t do anything while working from home. If you find you have a bunch of people sitting around not doing a damned thing, what you’ve got is a management and supervision problem, not a “working from home” problem. Of course that’s not the kind of answer that will satisfy those who are obsessed with seeing asses in cubicles. 

2. Failure to plan. So, here’s the thing… If some tells you that they need Thing A by the 6th in order for Thing B to happen by the 12th, you really don’t have any standing to act surprised when you send Thing A in on the 12thand Thing B cannot simultaneously happen on that day. That’s not how this works. It’s not how it should work. When there have been monthly and then weekly warnings of the dates involved over the last six months, you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I’m not overwhelmed by feeling like I need to jump through my own ass. I feel like there’s a very telling old saying about your failure to plan not being an emergency for other people that’s very pertinent here.

3. Situational awareness. It costs absolutely nothing to pay attention to what’s going on around you. It’s a freebie and I have no idea why so many people insist on not taking advantage of it. In the approximately 14.4-mile round trip from home to physical therapy today, I had to take evasive action three times to avoid being driven into by another driver. There’s the truck speeding out of the shopping center aisle into my travel lane without looking, the car who decided to drive in through a one-way exit, and the minivan who was fully in my lane coming around a turn on a winding country road. The only reason I avoided two T-bones and a head on today as because I happened to have just a touch of goddamned awareness of anything happening outside my own vehicle. 

My philosophy of meetings…

A big part of my philosophy of project management can be distilled down to one simple rule: Never have a meeting when an email will do. I conservatively estimate that on any given project that eliminates approximately 95% of meetings that otherwise would have taken place. 

There’s a catch, of course. Periodically, the Gods on Olympus sneak into their questions about the status of whatever project interests them in the moment an inquiry like “When was the last meeting on this?” I can tell you from experience that the answer they’re not looking for is, “Uh, I think we had a meeting about three months ago.” 

It won’t matter to them that you’ve got full command of all the pertinent information. It won’t matter that you’ve checked in weekly or even more often with all the people developing content and know that everything is on track. The only thing that will matter is that you haven’t had a meeting. You’ll never convince me that this minor obsession with meetings isn’t one of the big driving influences of why so many bosses are still hellbent on putting asses in cubes. Then, not only can they ask if meetings are happening, they can walk past and see people crowded into a conference room – pure management bliss.

Even though it’s not strictly necessary, I’ve been running a meeting once a month since before the new year. At least that way I can say with a straight face we’ve had meetings. Now that we’re closing in on the curtain going up, I’ve switched it to weekly meetings – because inside the 30-day window Olympian interest can become intense. At least I can tell them that, yes sir, of course we met on that just a few days ago and be 100% honest.

What I won’t mention, of course, is that these weekly meetings never take more than 20 minutes. In fact, today’s lasted a grand total of 21 minutes and conveyed exactly three new bits of information that I’d already sent out this morning by email. We’d have put up a better time but there were one or two technical snags that cost precious seconds.

But, by God, now we’ve had a meeting about it and nothing makes officialdom happier than knowing there was a meeting. I’ll shoot to get next week’s down to sub-15 minutes times. I feel like that level of success is really within my reach.

A dream of spring…

As the days lengthen, the household is beginning to shake itself loose from four months of winter inaction and beginning to lay out the list of things that need done as spring arrives.

This week, I’ve got a repair scheduled for a garage door that’s badly needed adjustment for months. I’ve also made calls to get the yearly generator service put on the books and to get a date for the spring mulching, two other annual expenses I’m perfectly happy to incur. Sure, I could do both of those things myself, but once I figure in the value of my own time (and half a dozen trips to Lowe’s), letting the professionals handle it in 1/3 of the time just makes sense.

Still to come projects are having the windows recalked and the angle iron lintels and a few other bits of trim scraped and repainted. I’ll farm those out too. I’m too old and too fat to fall off ladders. Heading out to pick up a new battery for the lawn tractor is at least one item on the list I’m competent to manage without direct supervision. Judging by how green some parts of the yard have started looking, we’re nearly to the time of year where being able to cut and trim is important. That also means “summarizing” the snowblower and de-winterizing my venerable Echo string trimmer. By the time that gets done and the garage is reset for warm weather operations, it’ll be time to clear off a winter’s worth of grime from the back porch and get the planters ready for a bit of color.

That leaves the wildcard… the master bathroom renovation that I expected to start around the end of January is still pending. There was a 16-week lead time just for the damned vanity, but now we’re past the half-year mark from the date I signed off on the final plan. With a third of the price already paid out to purchase supplies, I feel like I’ve been reasonably patient to this point, but now I just want to get things started so it might actually end someday… though I’ll admit the heated floor felt like a much more reasonable expense in the fall than it does with summer just over the horizon. 

I just made my bi-weekly call to the contractor to check in and remind them I’m still here. I’m not sure it does any good, but it makes me feel slightly better in hoping I won’t be marking a one-year anniversary of starting the design/build process before demo even starts… though I won’t pretend that it’s outside the realm of what’s possible at this point.

It turns out any house can be a money pit if you’re obsessive enough about things being just so.

An awful lot of time…

Sitting in the office all day gives you time to think.

It gives you time to think about smelling other people’s meals, and listening to their phone conversations, and their wandering around from cube to cube looking for an ear to bend, and the hour wasted traveling to and then another hour wasted going from that monument to early 20th century management philosophy.

Yes, sir, sitting in the office gives you an awful lot of time to think.

I’m quite sure there are people out there who are dying to get back to the office full time. God knows there will be plenty of senior leaders who can’t wait to get back to preening in front of town hall meetings and capacity crowds conferences – and seeing their toiling minions stacked elbow to asshole across whole floors filled with cubicles.

More than anything, though, sitting in the office is full of time to think about how utterly ridiculous it is to sit in an office when every single touch point of your day involves email, phone calls, and shuffling electronic information from one place to another. If you’re heart doesn’t seeth with just a little bit of rage knowing it could all be accomplished from any place on the globe with a reliable internet connection and a cell phone, well, I’m not entirely sure you’re thinking about work as a product and not as some kind of half-assed social activity.

As long as those running the show put as much or more premium on the quasi-social elements like maintaining a “corporate culture” and the farcical notion that “real” communication can only happen face to face, no amount of real world evidence seems likely to move the needle away from 1950s ideas of what working looks like.

There’s still no formal guidance on what the new and improved “return to work” plan will look like here in the belly of the bureaucracy. I’m told they’re working on an updated plan at echelons higher than reality. If precedent is prologue, I’ll expect this new plan to cleave as close as humanly possible to exactly how things were done in the Before Times and ignore as much as possible the last two years happened at all.

No time for idle hands…

As most of you who follow along here will have noticed, I took something of a break from posting new content while I soaked in every moment of my Christmas vacation. They say a break every now and then is good for the whatever. Maybe it is. For the moment, at least, I don’t feel like every blank page is the enemy. Who knows how long that will last, but I’ll enjoy it for the time being.

Even though I wasn’t posting, my hands weren’t completely idle during the break. No matter how much down time I think I’m taking, I never really stop making notes or tapping out a few thoughts that might end up being the foundation for an interesting post. Right now, I have six potential future posts sitting in various stages from raw notes to decent drafts. They’ll probably make up the bulk of what I post over the next week or two.

It’s surprisingly nice not to be working from a blank slate against a daily 6:00 PM deadline. Even though it’s entirely self-imposed, the angst to get something ready is quite real. If I were the kind of person who made new year’s resolutions, making sure I had plenty of material in the queue would be a good one. I’m not that kind of person, of course, so I fully expect that by the end of the month every post will be a race against the clock. 

The eighth time around…

This morning I was granted official permission from the gods on Olympus to begin preliminary planning for the annually reoccurring piece of this job that I hate the most. Yay.

Putting a six month long planning process that stretches across a dozen different organizations, nearly a hundred separate contacts, and relies on offering a happy, welcoming face to our partners from the private sector into the hands of a well known introvert and misanthrope feels like the height of bureaucratic folly. It’s the kind of thing I’d intuitively want to give to someone who didn’t unflinchingly use the phrases “wedding planner,” “circus roustabout,”, and “welcoming the great unwashed masses” to describe his role even to the most senior of leaders.

But here we are. This year will be my eighth as wedding planner in charge of this particular effort. Years ago the bosses promised “just one more year” and we’ll get someone else to do it. They don’t even bother with those lies now… so I guess it’s eight down and thirteen more to go… unless I manage to cock it up in some truly spectacular and unanticipated manner. I’m not one to go in for sabotage, but I’m told that accidents happen, so a boy can dream.

That happy dream notwithstanding, I’ll get it done on time and to standard, but don’t think for a moment that I’ll be enjoying any of what I must do these next six months. It’ll be a product not done for love or pride of a job well handled, but purely because I enjoy getting paid every two weeks and would like nothing to interfere with that continuing well into the future. Nothing more, nothing less.

One of my best friends from college had a simple sign in his dorm room. It said “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” On such words, whole careers are built.

Another winter of discontent…

Remembering the fiasco of getting anything shipped between Thanksgiving and Washington’s Birthday last year, I’ve been in a bit of a race to pick up some books. It’s not that I’m in any danger of running out of things to read, but since I have a habit of picking up a series and then racing through it to the end, there are a few titles it’s going to be better to have on hand for when delivery services go absolutely sideways again this year.

Watching the supply chain struggle to not even keep up over the last year, it really feels inevitable that loading it down with the standard end of the year holiday surge will see the whole delicate machine grind to a near halt, if only temporarily. Products will still be flowing, of course, but there’s no guarantee that was moving through the network will be what you ordered. I fully expect basic delivery of goods to be almost unusable for a good part of the late fall and winter. Sure, I suppose your stuff will arrive eventually, but “timely service” isn’t going to be something to expect.

By this time next month, I’m planning to drastically curtail my use of online shopping and delivery. The sheer aggravation of waiting for weeks or months on things that should arrive in a day or two just isn’t worth it. I’ll draw down the stocks I’ve put up for the winter, or shop regional retail if it’s absolutely unavoidable. Now if I could just find the last book or two I’m looking for (at something less than fully-loaded collector prices), I feel like I could be all set to ride out another winter of discontent.

I’m not under any delusion that the supply chain will be completely untangled in 2022, but by the time the last Christmas card arrives in February or March, maybe last mile delivery will at least be usable for household basics again. I’m certainly preparing myself to see as much or more disruption than we did in in the closing weeks of 2000 and the first months of 2021. It’s one of those cases where I really hope I’ll be proven wrong and over reactionary… but I don’t think I am or will be.

Grinding gears…

One of the ways I know I’m still in a bit of a brain fog is that it wasn’t until trying to jam some things onto my calendar this morning and discovered that Monday is, in fact, a federal holiday. Huzzah, three-day weekend. It was unintentionally unexpected, but I’ll take it. I have no idea what I’ll do with it, but I’ll take it gladly.

Meanwhile, the trials and tribulations of home ownership continue. 

In addition to the ongoing saga of keeping the house in fresh and potable drinking water, this morning’s hard rain showed a number of spots where the gutter seams appear to be leaking – and one place where a small stretch of gutter could be blocked entirely. I’m still waiting to hear back from my go to gutter repair/service folks. Their office voicemail said estimates were being scheduled five weeks out – but perhaps regular customers can jump the line for service appointments. We’ll see.

Last week, the fancy washing machine that came along with the house started sporadically throwing an error code. A quick look around Google shows conflicting reports of what the code means. Could be the motor could be the water supply. It feels like those two things should be indicated by different trouble codes, but the nice people at Bosch didn’t ask me when they designed the system. Hopefully there will be an answer to that question on Tuesday.

I’m also waiting for a call back from a local paving company. I’d like to get a few cracks repaired before another winter makes them even worse and get the whole thing sealed in an effort to buy a few more years before having the whole thing replaced. We’re playing phone tag on scheduling an estimate.

Finally, there’s the bathroom. The loan closed Friday. Funds were supposed to be distributed and ready for use yesterday – which was convenient because I was scheduled to sign off on the final plans and hand over the deposit this afternoon. I pushed that to next week since the cash has, for reasons no one has been able to satisfactorily explain, not been deposited yet.

I’m not going to lie, it feels like a lot of moving gears that aren’t quite meshing at the moment. I’ll all get managed, but rest assured I’ll be swearing and cursing the whole time. 

On planning ahead…

It’s possible I spend more time pondering the idea of retirement than is really reasonable for someone who has, at a bare minimum, 13 years, 9 months, 20 days, and a wake up left to go. I’ll make no apologies. The idea of waking up with no mandatory training, creaking inbox, meetings without end, or goofy assed conferences, is just about the happiest place I can imagine. A lot of my retirement-era day dreams center on where I want to land when it comes time to strike my tents here at the top of the Bay.

At one time I harbored thoughts of going west in retirement. Decades ago, I spent some time wandering where the high desert and Cascades slam together. It was a part of the country marked with open land and big skies, making it almost ideal for the kind of hermiting I enjoy. That is to say it’s possible to get far enough away from people so that they’re not a constant source of annoyance, but close enough to civilization to keep a few good book shops within an easy drive. The prevailing political situation in those states coupled with persistent drought and fire threat make the region significantly less attractive.

The lower Eastern Shore of Maryland or Virginia had its own appeal – Particularly somewhere well south of the bridge and tourists that swarm across Kent Island on their way to the beaches. With an elevation no higher than 100 feet much of the Shore could be increasingly problematic. It doesn’t take much, either from storm surge or sea level rise, to swamp a lot of the most attractive bits of land on the Eastern Shore. Add in the idea of saltwater intrusion into freshwater sources and Maryland’s determination to build yet another bridge to bring even more people across the water, and anywhere on the Shore looks less and less like an ideal choice. Better under these circumstances to stay where I am and enjoy the proximity to the Bay and a fairly safe 138-foot elevation. In all likelihood, Maryland won’t make the final cut for a whole host of reasons anyway so the discussion here is a bit academic.

There’s a personal calculus that goes into all this thinking. Taxes need to be favorable. Cost of living needs to be reasonable. Areas prone to natural disaster are right out – Fires, floods, earthquakes are a pass for me. Implications of climate change are absolutely a consideration. Proximity – or at least an easy helicopter flight – to a level one trauma center is almost non-negotiable. Forgive me, please, but if I’m ever faced with something catastrophic, I’d rather not rely entirely on the expertise at Greater East Podunk Community Hospital. 

All of this seems to be carving an area of interest ranging from eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, bits of Kentucky through portions of Virginia and its Western sibling, and then up the eastern seaboard (skipping over a few tax happy and ultra-restrictive states like Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts). I’m even pondering on options as far north as the Canadian Maritimes, though that would be a part-time situation at best.

I know. That still covers a hell of a lot of geography. That doesn’t really feel like much narrowing of the field. At least as I sit here right now, I seem to know what I don’t like and where I don’t want to be. That feels like a reasonably good start on a grand plan that I probably won’t carry to fruition for at least another decade and a half.