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 said it before, but it bears repeating: There are only a set number of hours in any week that are designated for “work stuff”. This week, that number happens to be 32. When you deduct the hours designated for meetings (7), at least one hour of prep time to build/update slides for each meeting (7), and thirty minutes following each meeting to field questions (3.5) that leaves a total of 14 and one half hours to do the actual work – write the memos, hammer out details, do the planning, and apply the academic rigor to the job. Those same 14 and one half hours are also sliced down by people stopping by the desk for random conversations, being called on the phone, being sucked into random small meetings that aren’t on the calendar, and occasionally getting up to grab a cup of coffee or take a leak.
Fourteen and one half hours isn’t a lot of time when you’re dealing with plans and projects that tend to be complex by their very nature. It often means you’re forced into devil’s bargains about what gets worked and what has to sit and wait. What it doesn’t mean, of course, is that you’re going to somehow defy the laws of time and space and be able to do 32 hours of actual work in the fourteen and one half hours that are available.
This reality of ours has certain limits. At some point you just have to settle for doing less with less.
There’s a tendency in the bureaucracy for days to run late into the afternoon and then on into the evening – as if those running the show didn’t have a home to go to and had no interest in being anywhere else. If I’m honest, by the time we’ve rolled past the usual and customary close of business, my loudest voice in my inner dialog is screaming “Why won’t they just shut the fuck up?” loudly enough to drown out most everything else. By that point, how interesting or important a topic might otherwise be is utterly irrelevant to the way my brain processes the information. It’s one of the many reasons I know I should never angle to restart my rise through the ranks. I just don’t have the interest in putting in the hours required and it’s never, ever going to be the place I’d rather be than anywhere else.
A sure and certain end of the work day is the only thing that makes some of them even tolerable. Take that away and, well, you’ve put me to sea without a compass or any way to find my North Star. It’s not lost on me that no one is looking for information or wanting to have meetings at 7am before they drag themselves in. What makes those same people think the rest of us are any more interested in staying on in the other direction is beyond me. Of course rank has it’s inevitable privileges. That truth is as old as our species, I’m sure.
Things would be different, of course, in the World According to Jeff. No meeting would last longer than 30 minutes and none would start after 4PM… because unlike others I have other shit to do and don’t live life searching for the adulation of those who dwell in offices.
Maybe it’s the fact that during a “normal” week, I spend five out of seven days at the office, but it does feel like more and more of what ends up on these pages finds its inspiration from my four by eight foot cell. That’s genuinely not intentional. God knows I’d much rather leave that mess where I drop it at the end of the day than drag it along with me here. Despite that, the office – and probably any office – provides a wealth of reasons why someone might blog, or drink, or take pills excessively. In my experience the modern office is a reaffirmation of why, in the end, work is simply another nasty four letter word that darkens our vocabulary.
As a case-in-point, I offer the following vignette:
It was suggested today that perhaps the weekly 2-hour meeting that we were all sitting in was not sufficient to get us to the root cause of any of the issues that keep getting thrown around week after week. Someone daringly offered up the suggestion that a solution might be found by way of scheduling an informal weekly follow-up meeting to the already scheduled weekly 2-hour meeting. Let that sink in for a moment. The solution to one unproductive meeting is to continue to hold it, but to then schedule a second meeting to discuss the same topics that were at issue in the first meeting.
Someone, some brave soul, might have there suggested that the solution to solving problems might be found by sending the whole group out of the conference room and back to our desks, waiting voice messages, backlogged email, and, you know, actual work. While we all cast looks askance at one another, not one intrepid fool among us floated that idea. Our fate was plainly sealed.
Some days I wonder what the hell we’re doing here… but mostly I just shrug, roll my eyes, and trudge on towards close of business.
The world where days off are relaxing, restful, and leave you feeling recharged and ready to face the world is probably a complete fiction. Even on my slowest moving weekend, I don’t remember reaching the end of it and feeling particularly recharged. If I’m lucky, the weekend means I’ve allocated an extra hour of sleep each day to the five or six I try to stick to during the week.
Even though the extra long, long weekend I’ve had is coming to it’s inevitable end, the best thing I can really say about it is it has been fruitful and productive. I won’t even make the pretense of it having been restful in the least. The last two days have been eaten up by organizing last year’s tax information and pulling together the even larger stack of paperwork needed refinance a home loan. Either one of those activities over a two day period would be enough to make a simple history major like me crazy, but running them simultaneously has left me feeling a bit like maybe the world getting hit by a meteor wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Sometimes I wish I was the kind of person who could just sit happily in front of the television and not have ideas that inevitably end up causing me to jump through inordinate numbers of hoops. I could just use one of the online tax services and let it go at that… but for a little more effort, I can squeeze every drop I’m owed back out of the system. The loan I have now is good enough… but I can better structure my debt using a new loan. I could just sit here and stare at the talking images, or I can try to churn out a few hundred more words of my own story.
For a guy who fundamentally thinks of himself as lazy, I’m not at all sure I’m doing it right. Surely I’d spend more time with my feet up and a lot less trying to cram 30 hours of “wanna do” into a 24 hour day.
I know a few of you out there are all gung ho about your exercise routines. You run marathons, lift six times your body weight, and participate in all manner of physical exertion. More than a few of you have commented about how the effort leaves you feeling energized and wanting to go harder and do more. See, right there is where you lose me. I’ve tried a lot of it over the years – free weights and machines, walking, jogging (aka my feeble attempt at breaking into a run), stair climbing, resistance training, etcetera and so on. Where these activities leave you feeling energized, they leave me feeling tired, achy, sweaty, and generally like there are a dozen other things I could have spent that hour doing that would have left me feeling more productive for the day. It’s not that I reject the obvious benefits of these activities so much as it is that I find them mostly dull, tedious, and often painful. Hard as it might be to believe, that’s not the exact recipe for keeping me interested in something.
However, my semi-annual visit coming up in January to my Teutonic doctor and he’s going to ask the inevitable question about doing a minimum of 30-45 minutes of cardio a day. I won’t lie to him, because lying to your doctor is just bad policy, so with the impending visit in mind, I’m back on the wagon. And by wagon, I mean the cursed stationary bicycle that lives in the basement and for the last three months has served as an improvised laundry drying station. So at least when he asks, I can tell him with a straight face that yes, I’m doing the requisite number of minutes per day. I’ll leave off the bit about hating every minute of it since I’m fairly certain that’s not medically relevant.
I envy you people who find your exercise regimen personally fulfilling. For me it feels an awful lot like three hours a week that I’ll never get back.
I’m an early bird. I don’t just mean that I get up early even on mornings when it’s not strictly necessary. I mean I’m early to damned near everything. Meetings, doctor’s appointments, oil changes, you name it. I’m the guy who shows up well in advance of the designated time. Even movies, where we all know the listed “start time” is fictional at best, I’m in my seat sometimes even before they start running the pre-film advertainment. Admittedly even I can accept that there’s no good reason for that one.
This compulsion to be early if possible and on time at a minimum leads to an inordinate amount of sitting around waiting for other people, which ironically, is one of the most visceral of my pet peeves. Experience has taught me that expecting from others what I expect from myself is good in practice, but lousy in theory. While I don’t envision many of my lifetime habits changing at this late date, I’m doing my best to scale back my expectation that others at least make a minimal effort to be on time if there’s no possible way for them to be a few minutes early.
While I’m coming to grips with the fact that most people seem to go through life in a constant state of late for everything, that doesn’t mean I’m not quietly judging you based on your distinct lack of time management skills. If we’re on friendly terms, I probably won’t make a big deal out of it, but I’ll still think you need to invest in a watch and actually consult it now and then. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re not early you’re already late.