I want to normalize reading at the office. No, not memos or email (although it would be helpful if people would start reading those for understanding too).
First, let me ask that we be very honest for the purposes of this discussion. In all my years as a cubicle dweller I’ve never known anyone who doesn’t dick off some (or most) of the eight hours of any given work day. My best estimate is that in a standard 40 hour work week, most people might spend 20 of them actually knuckled down doing productive work, stuck in meetings, or otherwise engaged. The rest of their time gets pissed away in pointless conversations with people stopping by their cube, out wandering the halls, shopping online, fucking around on Reddit, or otherwise attempting to look busy without really doing anything.
The only difference between any of those time fillers and reading a book at your desk is that some of the other things people use to kill time can give the illusion of “working.”
As an office drone, “Time to lean means time to clean,” doesn’t exactly apply. Sometimes there legitimately isn’t anything that needs doing – or if there is you’re waiting on someone else to do their bit or send a response before you can take the next step. Some days are busier than others – some are jammed full – but there’s plenty of days where there just isn’t shit happening.
I have to think keeping a volume of Civil War history on my desk and reading a few pages in these down moments ultimately feels more workplace-relevant in my situation than chuckling through another post on r/amitheasshole or looping around the cube farm to see what kind of pickup conversation I can get into.
1. The difference 30 minutes makes. Leaving the office on time gets me out and away minutes ahead of the big rush of traffic trying to squeeze out a couple of undersized gates and onto the also undersized surrounding highways. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve put some thought and analysis into minimizing the amount of time I spend fiddling around in traffic. You see, the difference in leaving 30 minutes later in the afternoon translates into getting home a full hour later than I usually would… so it’s not so much an issue of minding staying in harness for an extra 30 minutes, but the fact that that 30 minutes really costs me a full hour. Anything that slices that deeply into my evening is bound to top the list of things that annoy me.
2. When I tried to warn you. If I come to you four or five times over a period of a few weeks trying to give you a heads up that something is coming along that will bite you in the ass if you ignore it, there’s a fair bet that’s exactly what’s going to happen. I’ve been at this a while now. I don’t cry wolf and I don’t ask for top cover very often. When I do, it’s probably something you should have on your radar. Otherwise, 20 hours before the thing happens you’re going to end up getting hit with a fast moving shit sandwich, wonder how the hell it came out of nowhere, and then get all angsty and aggravated that something that could have been easy turned into a smoking hot mess. I know being the guy who says “I told you so,” isn’t the best look, but I did tell you so. Sadly, I have very little control over what anyone chooses to do with that information even when they have been forewarned.
3. Failure to close. I should have been closing the sale of my condo today… but thanks to various banks, lawyers, and the state of Maryland, I’m not doing that. Instead I’m carrying the place into another month – making another mortgage payment, paying the insurance, and paying the utility bills. Plus, after three and a half weeks of planning, I’m just finding out that the damned home owners association that I’ve been paying into for almost 20 years hasn’t spit back the two page form they’re supposed to fill out so now I’m leaving never returned phone messages for them trying to determine what their dysfunction is. Buying a house is the single most stressful thing I’ve ever done… but don’t kid yourself, selling one is almost if not just as much of a pain in the ass.
It’s been an easy week. With Telework Monday and Vacation Day Friday, you might think there’s nothing to complain about. While there are surely fewer annoyances than during other weeks that doesn’t in any way mean there are none. What kind of rank amateur do you think you’re dealing with here?
In fairness, it’s an easy week so I’ll just give you two things:
1. Mid-day OS updates. There are few things better in the middle of the work day than getting a notice that “hey, we’re about to upgrade your operating system.” Great. Because what I need while I’m in the middle of desperately trying to put a cork in things so I can depart the premises and spend the long weekend blissfully ignoring work is for my computer to slow to an even worse crawl than usual and then reboot itself without warning periodically. Some days I long for the reliability of carbon paper.
2. In the great war between “I need to get the grass cut before the possible rain tomorrow” and the reality of it being 90-something degrees in the shade with murderous humidity, I’m opting to sit this one out after a day’s work. In the war between body and brain, I’m going to let the body win this one. Just this one time since I’ll undoubtedly regret that decision the minute the garage door rolls up tomorrow and I’m forced to look upon a scraggly front yard to my great embarrassment and shame.
1. Other duties as assigned. I can do my job – the heavy analytical lifting – or I can do the other duties as assigned – issuing keys, setting up new employees with laptops, filing, hole punching, and flipping slides. However, I lack the gift of being in two places at once so you’re going to have to pick between those so I know what you actually want me to spend time tending. I’m good either way, but choose one and you’ll get a seriously good analyst, close the other and you have a spectacularly overpriced secretary. The choice is utterly yours.
2. Being other than on time. Although I’ve been doing it nearly every working day since January 2003, people always seem surprised when I shutdown and head for the doors on time. You may work for love. You may work for pride. You may even work to give your short time on this rock a sense of purpose. I’m a simpler animal. I work for money because I know my time isn’t free or limitless. Think of it what you will, but you can always be assured that when I’m “on,” you’ll get the best product I can manage, but I will be equally dedicated to preserving my personal time at almost any cost.
3. Free stuff. My news feeds and the media channels have been filled with talk of everyone who wants “free” stuff these last few days. They want a $15/hour paycheck guarantee for entry-level unskilled labor – essentially a request for “free” money since their economic activity doesn’t command such price in the marketplace already. They want “free” higher education. They want “free” healthcare. They want “free” housing and “free” food and maybe even a “free” phone. I may be a poor simple hillbilly from Western Maryland, but it strikes me that what the most recent round of protestors really mean is they want the stuff and they want other people to pay the bill. Precious little in life comes for “free.” Someone, somewhere, has to pick up the check. It’s not presently the popular thing to say, but in my mind being a grown ass adult mostly means being able to make your own way in the world, paying your bills, and being a responsible and productive member of society… or maybe I missed a memo somewhere. In that case, where’s my free shit?
The 40-hour work week where everyone arrives and departs at the same time each day probably made eminent sense when it was instituted for a country with a massive manufacturing sector committed to assembly line methodologies. When you’re living in an electronic age and the output product of your efforts live in a storage device as a series of ones and zeros, a fully regimented work schedule is a little harder to understand. In a plant where they build cars, you can expect X number of frames to roll by a given point on the line each eight hour shift every day of the week. OK, a standard 8-hour day makes sense there. In the information sector, Wednesdays might be the heavy volume day and represent 11 hours of required work while Monday only requires five hours of work. Even though the requirements have shifted, we largely cling to that magic eight hours a day, five days a week concept.
If I were king for a day, I’d propose a new standard for information workers. In this system, you’re paid your base salary for 2080 hours a year. On days when you get the work done in 5 hours, feel free to go on home. On days when workload is high, plan on staying a little longer to get it done. All things being equal, I’d be willing to bet that in most cases, the time would even itself out over the long term.
Of course we know that all things are not equal. Some people are going to abuse a system based on them being honest about their workload. Some people will work half days every day and others will put in 12 hours every day. So yeah, I intellectually understand that there are pretty high barriers to getting away from the standard work week. I get that my new system is a managerial nightmare and completely impractical, but on those days when I blow through my assignments in 4 hours, it sure would be nice to have the option of punching out for the day rather than sitting around watching the clock tick on towards the end of the day…. because let’s face it, when their actual work is done, no one is sitting around dreaming about what other great things they can do for the overlords, right?