Ok, so I’m going to use today as a learning experience and opportunity for growth and professional development by implementing a new rule. Effective immediately you don’t get to spend two weeks wringing your hands wondering why morale is in the shitter and then start scheduling meetings that don’t start until 6PM. Frankly there’s no better way to wreck whatever small satisfaction I manage to find in the work than making sure I don’t get home until 4 hours after I’m supposed to. It’s fine to preach the importance of balance and being laser focused on people, but if you don’t actually practice those things, I’m not sure why even bother talking about them. Nothing gives the lie to “taking care of people” like doing the opposite.
If you’re wondering what the deal is with that word up there in the title line, it represents the total number of emails I received today. Being a careful shepherd of my limited supply of vacation days, I realized that burning one off on the Monday before Independence Day was likely to be a tragic waste of resources. I thought this for two reasons 1) I was scheduled to work from home today anyway and 2) Virtually no one who can avoid it is going to come in to work on a single day between a weekend and a federal holiday.
My assessment of the situation proved to be entirely accurate although just how dead it proved to be was well beyond my expectations. Neither of the messages I received called for immediate action… and in fact one of them was just thanking me for providing some information requested last week.
I don’t have a years long study to back up this supposition, but I’d be willing to stake my questionable reputation on the fact that Uncle Sam could save a shit ton of money by just closing up shop on these oddball occasions that pin a work day between two days off. Then again, if Sam went around doing things that made sense on a regular basis, I’m not sure I’d even recognize the place. I suppose we’ll just carry on then.
1. Forgetting Tuesday. So as it turns out, when I have more than two days off I lose all sense of time and do things like completely forget to write a blog post in the middle of the week. Since the chances of finding too many four-day weekends in the course of a year is slim to none, I’m not worried that this will become a regular occurrence… but really any deviation from the normal schedule is enough to make me just a little bit twitchy, especially when it’s something as built into the daily schedule as writing. Maybe we are all entitled to an occasional misfire, but I like to think my inner sense of consistency is stronger than that. Apparently it is not.
2. Luddites. I work from home one day a week. To make that possible I rely on a lot of decades-old technology such as email and the telephone to stay connected to the home office. When I discover that my normal day for working at home is going to be shanghaied because I’m “needed” at the office, that usually translates into having to have someone available to flip the slides. That’s fine. Whatever. But when you’re going to want to do things like that could you please not let me find out that the person we’re staging this meeting for will be talking to us from his car on the way to some other meeting while I drag myself in to the office to huddle around a single land line like a congress of latter-day Luddites. If only there were a fancy device that let people hear voice communication from more than once location simultaneously instead of trying to pretend we exist in a universe where the best solution is two tin cans and a bit of string.
3. The oblivious. There are any number of awkward things that can happen in the modern office. Of them, the one that annoys me the most is probably the people who have no natural sense of when a conversation has hit it’s logical conclusion. They just continue to stand there looking at you as if you’re supposed to stop the world and entertain them for whatever duration their attention span can muster. Look, even when I’m not pressed for time, I don’t want to spend any significant part of the day in idle chatter. I’m just not that social. If you’re that desperate for social interaction, hit me up on instant messenger like a normal human being. I can work with that. But please, for the love of all the gods, don’t just stand there with your arms draped over my cube wall hoping that I’m suddenly going to get chatty. And yet I’d be the asshole if I just looked directly at someone and told them to go the fuck away.
1. Facebook live video. I get it, Zuckerberg. You did a neat thing and can push live video direct to my phone. That’s nifty. But really what I need my social media to do is compliment my daily activities, not attempt to hijack and monopolize them. One of the reasons I still like Facebook is it isn’t time dependent. I can check my news feed periodically throughout the day, check responses to comments, laugh at a few cat pictures, and then move on. Getting 20 notices an hour that friends and pages I follow “went live” isn’t helping. Thank God now that it’s become a thing you did at least give us a toggle switch to make it go away.
2. Rescheduling. If you have a meeting set up with one of the gods on Olympus and the date and time of that meeting gets changed three times in as many days, you know all you need to know about the priority of the effort in which you are engaged. Look, I’m perfectly fine being a low priority, but it would be helpful to know that well in advance so I can allocate my own time spent working on a particular project appropriately.
3. You and the team. I got an email a few days ago asking for “me and my team” to review something. While it’s adorable that anyone things that my work output is the collective group effort of some mythical team, it’s just me down here banging shit out every day. Those reports you’re getting, those briefings you’re reading, those endless meetings being attended, that’s me. It’s not a vast team of people coordinating this jackassery. I’m an army of one down here in the belly of this particular beast. However, if you do indeed believe this product to be the work of a team, I believe it’s high time we started talking about a step increase and a title bump.
As everyone knows by now, I’m a creature who enjoys habit. I may not quite run like clockwork, but some days it’s damned close. Work, mostly is just another routine. Get up, show up, do the time, and get the hell out. There’s a rhythm to it and even when the level of stupid is unmitigated, at least you know there’s (usual) a fixed end time to the suffering. My approach isn’t quite Zen, but at least it helps stave off the madness most of the time.
The problem today is that after ten days off I’d managed to set myself into a different routine. Sure I was still waking up two hours before the crack of dawn, but it was to do actual productive things like reading, cooking, general home repair, or tending the menagerie. What I wasn’t doing is answering emails that would be unnecessary if people read the whole memo, or going to meetings that could have been emails, or trying to look attentive when someone was talking about the most recent time they were visited by the Good Idea Fairy. I liked this new routine. The fact that I’ll invariably find something to tinker with, or read, or be curious about is one of the reasons I know I won’t go stir crazy in retirement. If I’m honest, nearly everything that interests me occurs naturally outside the scope of the office.
Fortunately I have the capacity to put up as good a front as anyone. I can play the game when it suits me. It exacts a terrible cost, though, in that playing my part and adjusting to this new old routine is absolutely exhausting.
It’s long been my opinion that three-day weekends are the best time to tack on extra vacation days. On a normal weekend, by the time the cooking, cleaning, and general upkeep is finished, it’s practically Monday. Extending that already long weekend into a 4th day, though, means time to get after some of the projects that never get to the top of the list during a normal weekend. This weekend, by example, was the first swing at bringing order to a basement that for the last 20 or so months has been not much more than a dumping ground for extraneous “stuff.” Now that it’s less prone to taking on water, the extra day gave me a chance to at least start turning the place into something useful. It’s going to take a few more days like that and a lot more shelving, but it’s started and that’s why I like the extra long weekend – they let me end a week feeling like something got accomplished.
Because every silver cloud has a lead lining, though, I couldn’t manage to escape the jackassery that is the American office. If I were a smarter man I wouldn’t have bothered checking the voicemail when I saw the number that left it. The boss calling two hours into your day off is never to tell you that there’s been a payroll problem and they’re crediting you with $50,000 in back pay. Still, curiosity got the best of me. Curiosity will, in all likelihood, eventually be a contributing if not a causal factor in my death.
Instead of an unexpected windfall the boss was letting me know that the uberboss called a “surprise” meeting Thursday morning, but that they couldn’t make any progress because I was the keeper of the particular nugget of institutional knowledge that they happened to need. Instead of pressing on with stiff upper lips, they decided they’d reconvene when I was back in the office on Monday. Except they won’t technically be reconvening when I’m “in” the office since the gods of Olympus decided to schedule the meeting after the end of my scheduled day.
It’s a small thing. A bare hiccup, really. The intrusion into what up until that point had been a blissfully quiet and content day off, however, was enough to twist my usual smirk into a decided sneer. My boss, knowing well my love of schedule and my grave distaste for hanging around after the close of business, did his best to spin the news – wondering if I could just come in late to offset the time at the end of the day. Wonderful, my reward for being the keeper of this particular bit of knowledge is that I get to jack up my day by coming in when traffic is at its worst, there’s no parking, and not going home until well after the sun has set. Excellent. Thanks for this outstanding opportunity to excel.
In and of itself, it’s nothing. What it represents, though, is much more significant and far more troubling. It’s an endemic situation where we continue to try cramming ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag. At least one other person should be as informed about my projects as I am, but we don’t have the manpower to provide that depth of coverage. There should never be a point at which someone at my decidedly junior level is able to foul up the works by simply taking a vacation day… and for the love of God, when you’ve put yourself in that position don’t expect that couple of good people you’ve got left to continually jump through their own ass to bail you out. Eventually the answer is going to be no.
Goodwill and desire to be a team player are a finite resource, especially when no one is doing a damned thing to refill the well.
1. Throughput. I’ve said it before, but it bears saying again: When you have X amount of time and Y amount of work, unless you’re managing things pretty closely the sum is almost never going to be zero. There will always be more work than time. The best most of us can manage is to prioritize the effort and try to get to the important stuff. If there’s important stuff that’s not being tended, it’s probably a good idea to tell someone it’s important rather than relying on them to read you bloody mind.
2. Scheduling. It’s Thursday night. The list of things to get done between now and Sunday evening is already twice what I should reasonably expect to get done. I shouldn’t complain since I make my own list, but still, I’d love to at some point have one of these nice restful weekends I hear people talking about. At least there’s a hard stop at about 8:30 Sunday night. The Dead are back and a man has to know where his limits are.
3. Election. Oh dear god how is this election not over yet? Please make it stop.