Tables, or A lifetime of questionable career decisions…

Note: Yes, I know this place and time is usually reserved for the weekly edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Go ahead and read to the end and let me know if you don’t understand why I called a quick audible this week instead.

If you guys are tired of the current trend of posts I’ve been thinking of as “Chronicles of an Event Planner,” you’ll have to take my word that I’m even more tired of writing them. Sadly, though, life happens where we are and not necessarily where we want to be. That’s my way of saying sorry, but you’re going to have to live with at least a few more days of the jackassery that ensues when you try to drag 60-odd people into a room and make them talk about things they don’t really want to talk about.

Today’s illustration in the extraordinarily limited scope of my influence revolves around the size of the tables we’ll be using. Let me start off by saying the original floor plan – the one we’ve used repeatedly, over the last few years, was on target right up until some point late yesterday afternoon when it was not. Different configuration? Sure. Can do easy. Except for the part where someone at echelons higher than reality didn’t like the size of the other available tables – wanting six person tables instead of the standard eight person tables that were readily available.

This demand for smaller tables triggered the standard paper chase into which two senior analysts lost an ninety minutes each of productive time. The end result of this particular goat rope was that the eight person tables ended up being fine. All it took was sending a guy over to the venue, setting one of them up, snapping a few pictures showing it in its natural environment, and coming back to illustrate that believe it or not, we really do know what the hell we’re talking about.

Sigh. I’ve spent more time thinking about the various sizes and shapes of tables and how they can best be configured to create an intimate café feeling today than I would have ever expected to spend in my lifetime. It’s hard to imagine this was the job Uncle had in mind when he trained me to move Armies across the globe or provide relief supplies to those stricken by natural disaster.

Talk about the leading edge of a life marked with so very many questionable career decisions.

Another lost day…

In spite of myself I’ve become something of a convert to the concept of working from home. That one day a week is a reprieve from the never ending background noise that’s inevitable when you cram twenty or thirty people into a small space and then expect them to do work. My telework day, in fact, is the one day out of the week when I get to focus on whatever is in front of me to the exclusion of all other things. Even when the issue is vexing, addressing it without interruption or commentary is something of a pleasure. It seems there’s no limit to what you might be able to accomplish when you’re not being interrupted by something else every few minutes.

The most pressing issue with working from home in my experience thus far is that on at least half the days I should have been doing it, I’ve found myself getting dragged into the office for “something important.” That usually translates into flipping slides at some briefing or enduring a meeting that could just as easily have been a phone call. So far it looks like the week is so pock-marked with these “must attend” meetings that a day in the home office is in all likelihood lost.

We can say that we want employees to be “telework ready” all we want, but when the default setting is “you need to come to the office” instead of finding a way to get the job done remotely, we’re never ever going to get to a place where we’re not tethered to a quaint 19th century notion that work only happens when the bosses can look down a long row of desks and see people doing things. I suspect that method of “doing work” is too ingrained in the organization for it to change – which is a shame when the alternative is hiring grown ass adults, letting them display initiative, and holding them accountable if they don’t. Yeah, now I know I’m just talking crazy.

Not much fear, but a shit ton of loathing…

Today, perhaps as much as or even more than any other, reflects one of the biggest reasons I’ve learned to loath Monday through Friday. Sit back and let me tell you a little story…

It was supposed to be a run of the mill briefing. Spend an hour talking about Topic A, find out the new whims of the powers at echelons higher than reality, and drive on smartly towards the finish line. A few hours before show time, they also added Topic B to the lineup. That’s fine. A little bit of fiddling with the material and all will be well. Thirty minutes after that they announced the need for a pre-meeting meeting. Fine. Good. Let’s talk about what we’re going to talk about. Ten minutes later, a message comes out adding an additional 30 minutes to the meeting. Now we’re weighing in at 90 minutes with Topics A, B, and C. Finally, an hour before everything is theoretically supposed to be in place, the final call comes that we’ll really be discussing Topics A, B, C, and D so please have that prepped and printed in the next 30 minutes. Also, your 60 minute meeting is now scheduled for 120 minutes.

At the appointed time, the people gather – the deputies, and strap hangers, and clerks, and slide flippers, and administrators that accompany every movement of important people. The court of a minor royal house, if you will. And then, when all were assembled and the proceedings were just getting underway, the Gods on Olympus decided to take a pass. More commandments would be issued. More perfect explanations offered. And opportunities to revise and extend remarks concerning Topics A, B, C, and D would be offered before laying the motion to reconsider back upon the table.

Fuck all if we don’t make every little thing 10 or 100 or 1000 times harder than it needs to be if you’d just let common sense prevail instead of spending all day every day worried about what asses need covered and which ones need kissed. I use to be good at just turning off my brain and letting the stupid flow over and around me like a river in spring flood. The older I get, though, the harder it seems to keep my mouth shut and my own ass out if trouble. At this rate I can’t even begin to imagine the things that will come flying out of my mouth 17 years and 11 months from now when self-preservation is no longer an operational consideration.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Emergencies”. We’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating. The way people throw around the work “emergency” in the contemporary office is basically laughable. No one is bleeding. No one is about to start bleeding. The word you’re probably looking for most often is “embarrassing” as in you’re about to be embarrassed due to something you did, were supposed to do, forgot about doing. ​Alternately, you might be about to get blasted because of poor decision making skills. In any case, those things might represent a legitimate personal emergency to you, but to the rest of us it’s really just a shrug and a so what. Let’s try to leave the talk of “emergencies” to the times when there really are barbarians at the gate or brass hitting the floor, ok?

2. County taxes. The proposed Cecil County budget for FY18 includes increases in both the real property and income taxes. It’s made all the more noxious because it was proposed by a Republican county executive who ran less than a year ago on a platform of fiscal accountability and no tax increases. I know, lying politician isn’t exactly breaking news. Still, though, I’m left to wonder why at some point it isn’t perfectly acceptable to say that we have X number of dollars to spend against Y number of services and when there’s no additional revenue for new or existing services, some things need to be cut. The politicians first response is always to borrow or tax their way into all the revenue they need instead of being required to live by an actual budget in which they can’t always purchase all the goods and services they’d like to have. In the end the bastards always end up with their hand just a little deeper in our pocket. I suppose that’s just what you get when every level of government desperately wants to buy the love and affection of the voters and seeks ways to be all things to all people.

3. Keeping my head in the game. I’m probably expending at least as much energy just trying to keep my head in the game as I am actually doing any productive work. That doesn’t feel like something that’s going to be sustainable over the long term. It’s easier some days than others, but for the most part by the time mid-afternoon rolls around I’m dumping every bit of available effort into just staying awake and some delusory productive activities. Believe me when I tell you that you don’t want to read some of the written products that fly off my desk after 2PM. Unless I absolutely can’t avoid it, I hold them as drafts and then clean them up the next morning when I’m still relatively fresh. It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.

The new Monday…

Tuesday is the new Monday. There. I Said it.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago I use to dread the arrival of Sunday night and the end of the weekend. Now that Mondays are usually spent working from the comfort of home, Tuesday is the day that causes the most angst and consternation. Now that I’ve settled into the new Monday routine I’m even more starkly aware of just how cripplingly unproductive a day at the average office is.

The trouble with being an information worker is that so much of what you touch requires some amount of reflection and analysis. Concentration is pretty easy to come by when you’ve got views of the woods and the loudest sound is mid-morning trash collection across the street. It’s a much harder commodity to come by when you’re stacked shoulder to shoulder with 30 other people who are all having their own conversations, or are warming up their lunch, ignoring phones ringing, pushing reams of paper through the shredder, and making their way to and from meetings and appointments, or who are just away from their desks wandering around to pass the time.

Now I can be a pretty focused guy. When the need arises I can summon monumental amounts of concentration on one point to the exclusion of all else… but I’m starting to suspect that the need to do that all day, every day is a major contributing factor to why I drive away from the office four days a week feeling like someone has run my brain through a blender. Somehow I doubt seriously that’s part of the recipe for wise and effective analysis over the long term.

I know for a fact that isn’t not even a short term recipe for a happy and productive Jeff.

Anything at all…

Today was one of those days that seemed to zip along at a respectable place. I was getting a few things done, knocking items off my ever expanding list of stuff to do, and just feel that so focused and productive that surely the end of the day is in reach… until I looked up to discover it was only ninety minutes since I came back from lunch.

Is there a name for that kind of disconnect between the perceived movement of time and its actual movement? If there’s not, there should be, because it’s a damned real thing. And that’s unfortunate in that it tends to instantly deflate any accumulated sense of accomplishment or good will that may have accrued. Look, I’m a believer that doing hard work is its own reward, but when it doesn’t also get you closer to that ultimate objective of getting out the door at the end of the day, well, it just leave a bad taste.

I no longer consider these situations an aberration or even a bad day. Instead they’ve become just the defining characteristic of the normal day – mostly like any other. That should probably make me sad, or angry, or embarrassed. A decade ago it would have. Lately it doesn’t make me feel anything at all.

One or the other…

In part 658 of the ongoing saga of network access and availability from my desk, I present to you the following question: Which capability to you need more on a day to day tin-can-phone.jpgbasis, reliable access email or consistent access to whatever websites the gods on Olympus have decided not to block today?
It’s not a trick question in any way. Having one or the other is simply a fact of life at least once a week. Of course we’re never asked to pick which one we’d like to do without for between 15 minutes and 8 hours, but the one thing you can rely on is that whichever one collapses, it will be the one you actually needed in order to get something done. On extra special bonus days they both fail simultaneously and for at least 1.5 working days.

While it’s true that this big green machine ran for a very long time before the advent of desktop computing, it’s also true that almost no one now working in it remembers those days. And even for those few who do remember acetate view graphs and carbon paper, there simply aren’t the processes, procedures, materials, or equipment to throw the whole operation into the Way Back Machine for a few hours while the network monkeys figure out what plug got kicked out.

I know it sounds like I rant about the tech side of the job way too often, but when they keep setting me up, it would be irresponsible of me not to keep knocking them down.