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 wish I could tell you that I make some of this up just to have something to post, but the fact is most of it is “ripped from the headlines” of day to day life. Today’s post, for instance, comes directly from a meeting I happened to be stuck in for two hours last week.
Without exercising anything other than the most basic editorial control to allow for spelling, here’s what crosses my mind while I’m doing my best to look like an attentive and responsible adult:
– “We’re on your calendar to talk more about the calendar.” WTF? Really?
– Oh look, another meeting where the only output was lost time. Glad we didn’t accidentally do anything productive.
– Yeah, we have plenty of “management ‘tools'” around here already.
– It’s apparently time to play an exciting game of “Who the Fuck is on First?”
– Yes please, let’s add more training requirements because I’ve got nothing but free time.
– “We have a plan.” Yep. Been hearing that phrase for the last six months… still no plan.
– Yay! Let’s schedule another recurring meeting!!!!!1!
Seriously, folks, these are the only notes I took during that entire meeting. I’d have been happy to make note of anything that might have somehow been relevant to doing my job more effectively or efficiently, but that’s really not the purpose of these meetings. If you’re still trying to guage my level of my boredom, it’s best to imagine every other inch of the page filled with doodles… and then multiply how bored you think I was by a factor of three or four and then you’ll be in the neighborhood.
1. Mandatory attendance. If you want me as seat filler, just say so. Don’t pitch it as a great opportunity to hear some very important words if you’re just looking for asses in chairs. With more to do and fewer people to do it, spending two hours bored to tears hardly feels like the most efficacious use of limited resources, but I’m just a guy sitting here so what the hell do I know.
2. Stuff in my head. I’m feeling pretty good, especially considering how absolutely shitty I was feeling last week. I can’t seem to shake the giant wad of funk that’s taken root deep in my sinuses though. If I could get rid of the wondrous endlessly dripping nose and occasional hacking cough all would be pretty right with the world just now.
3. Paving. Roads need to get paved. It’s one of the few things I don’t mind paying taxes to fund. That being said, it would be awfully convenient if it could be scheduled in such a way as to not take place during peak traffic hours. Seems to me that there are large swaths of time in the middle of the night that would be useful for doing that kind of work that wouldn’t cause mayhem and chaos with everyone else’s schedule… but again, what the hell do I know about operations and logistics.
Everything in life more or less comes down to a competition between wants, needs, and the resources to make those things reality. Needs are fairly basic – those things we must have to sustain life. Wants are more problematic in that the more we have, the more we tend to want. Resources, of course, are very nearly always constrained in one way or another. Having spent six days sitting at home over the previous month and a half when I would have otherwise been working, the constraints are a little tighter now than usual. That’s a shame, because we’re ramping up to that time of year when the wants start following an upward trend. Put another way, it’s the time of year when Apple starts rolling out it’s new mobile toys.
Over the next two months, the boys and girls in Cupertino are set to roll out new versions of the iPhone, iPad, and several varieties of actual computers. Given that I’m currently limping along with a 2008 model MacBookPro, upgrading that really should be my first priority. Of all the machines in the house, it’s the real workhorse and takes the lion’s share of abuse in blogging and general writing. Now that the battery issue is resolved, my iPhone is working well enough and could easily last another year in service. The iPad mini gets its share of daily use, too, but basic web browsing doesn’t exactly tax its considerable abilities. It really should be the last thing I’m looking at replacing right now.
When it comes to new toys, of course, logic and service life remaining don’t exactly play a role in my analysis. It’s almost a mortal lock that I’ll be up in the wee hours of a morning soon after September 10th ordering a new phone on its first day of availability. If I have to make a case for needing a new one, I can always fall back on the fact that the old, standard 8GB of mobile storage isn’t what it use to be. Which is both true and sad all at the same time. I’m a little more hesitant about replacing the iPad at this point. If there isn’t a true retina screen built into the mini this time around, I think I can justify waiting for the next generation in my own mind. Without some exceptional change, a two year replacement on tablets almost feels reasonable. As far as getting over the hump and bringing a new laptop into the family, well, it’s probably going to remain in the easy to justify but unlikely to happen column this time around.
Funny how I can justify a new phone every year in my own mind, but not a laptop unless there is literally smoke poring out of the back of it. Stupid resource constraints always forcing me into the fun decision instead of the responsible one.
The problem with dealing with numbers is that generally there is a single correct answer. If I were to ask how many jelly beans are in a jar or how many cars are in the parking lot, someone could use their fingers and toes and physically calculate the answer. Counting other things, like people or laptops can be done in exactly the same way. All it takes is someone to physically conduct the count rather than give an answer that includes the words “about,” “no more than,” or “somewhere between.” The only thing answers that include those words tells me is whoever was responsible for the counting is pretty much a dipshit who can’t be bothered by pesky things like facts.
We live in resource constrained times, I get it. We’re all coming to grips with what it means to do less with less. Still, though, when the correct answer is somewhere between 1 and 75, I don’t think it’s too much trouble to lock in on the single factual number of widgets in the box. Then again, maybe I just have unrealistic expectations of people not being complete douchenozels. Since my perception is the only thing in this situation that I control, I have no choice but to adjust my expectations accordingly.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.