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.
1. Panhandlers. Need gas? Need beer? Whatever you need I’m sure you have a fine reason for not tending to those things through the fruit of your own labor. But you see I have bills too. Lots of them. My first duty is to provide for me and mine in our daily needs and then lay some back for the future. So no, I’m not interested in your sad story. We all have our troubles and I already subsidize enough bad decision making through state and federal taxes that I’m not interested in taking on any additional dependents at this time.
2. Blast email from Maryland’s US Senator. I regularly opine to my Senators and Member of Congress. I’ll continue to do so at any time I feel the need. Receiving their occasional email blast “report from Washington” though, always reminds me that while they may indeed be my duly elected and seated representatives in Congress, I agree with them on almost none of the issues that matter. I love my home state from the beach to the bay to the mountains, but ultimately its politics and its taxes virtually ensure that my time here in my home state has a definite expiration date.
3. 3:30 AM. I only have so much tolerance for laying wide awake in bed. Which is to say I have no tolerance for it at all. Once awake I want to be up and doing stuff. It’s fine on a weekend when I can get up and start knocking things off my list. It’s a bloody nuisance when it means just another 90 minutes to kill before heading to work. At least it set the tone nicely for the rest of the day so that’s something.
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.
After some thought today it occurs to me that I spend upwards of 60 hours a week doing things that by definition I don’t want to do. How do I know I don’t want to do them? Well, because someone has to pay me reasonably well to convince me that it’s how I should spend my time.
That thought leads to the corollary that I’m so completely resistant to doing things that I don’t want to do in the 44 or so waking hours that I haven’t sold off because I spend so much time doing shit that I really don’t want to do in the first place.
When you spend 60 hours a week doing that which you do not naturally want to do, the calls of “you should go to the gym,” or “you should stop eating red meat,” or “do you really need that second whiskey sour” tend to fall on deaf ears. Honest to God, I don’t even hear “you’re cutting years off your life” anymore because I just assuming a good portion of what I’m cutting off are the years at the end when you sit around a nursing home shitting yourself. That’s way up there on the list of things that I don’t want to do.
The 40 or so hours that I’m awake and not being paid, are for the things that I want to do. It’s a freedom that certain life decisions have afforded me and I intend to take advantage. I’m going to drink the good whiskey. I’m going to eat the steak. I’m going to sit in the comfy chair with a book. I’m not going to spend what is currently my most limited resource on the damned stair master or learning how to make tofu “taste good.”
I just don’t want to… and that’s not a statement I get to use nearly often enough.
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.
I can’t write the post I want to write tonight. Actually I can. What I mean is I shouldn’t write the post I desperately want to write tonight. My self preservation instinct is still strong enough to know what should be here in black and white and what should live on only in my head (for the time being).
It’s a story of time management and meetings and leadership and priorities and the difference between won’t and can’t. It’s the kind of post that would go like gangbusters on this blog, but that the tenor of the times demands I leave unpublished. It’s heartbreaking to leave good material just sitting on the shelf, but there’s a limit to how much truth power is interested in hearing.
If anyone needs me I’ll be over here ranting and raving at the dogs. At least they get me.
They’re calling for shit weather tomorrow morning. On a typical day, that would have been the sign to drag my laptop home in hopes that there was some combination of liberal leave or a closure called by the Destructive Weather Team. Having another day to work at home uninterrupted by 30 ringing phones and eight or ten pop up meetings would be a godsend in terms of getting some actual work done.
Sadly, I’m the guy who’s supposed to run the meeting tomorrow – which means I need to be there to flip the slides. Because it’s not an official meeting unless someone flips slides… and we certainly can’t expect people who come to a meeting to print off their own slides or bring their own laptop so they could see the slides. If we could count on either of those things there’s no part of what needs talked about tomorrow that needs my physical presence in a blandly decorated conference room.
We’re stuck in some kind of bizarre world where we want everyone to be prepared to work from wherever they happen to be, but make in next to impossible to do so. Where it is possible, we make the processes and procedures painful to the point where most find the option unattractive.
Me? I’m a contrarian and poker of people with pointy sticks from way back. I’m already turning over plans in my head to slowly drag my team into the 21st century – and prep them for the day when I’ll be leading the discussion while wearing sweats and fuzzy slippers. Until people see working from some place other than your designated spot in the cube farm getting results, I’m afraid the bureaucracy will never get away from it’s favored mode of business as usual. I like to think I’m feisty enough on this point to lead the way by example.