Friday, February 24, 2006

Stop the World. I Want to Get Off.

“Most U.S. workers say they feel rushed on the job, but they are getting less accomplished than a decade ago, according to newly released research.”

UK Reuters reports that Americans are working more but less is being accomplished.

Boy howdy can I relate. Every week I ask myself, how did my parents do it? How did people hold standard 9 to 5 jobs and still feel productive?

A shortened week meant meetings from 7am to 7pm the last three days. As many know, back to back meetings = less time to work on the stuff you need to do in the first place. Back to back meetings = more work to add to the work you didn’t get to do because of the meeting in the first place. Back to back meetings = an increase in emails, phone messages and memos to follow up on. It’s a never-ending cycle.

The article sites technology as the culprit. What was supposed to make our life more efficient and productive has given us nasty side effects. Being connected means the standard 9 to 5 is non existent in my world.

Downsizing, attrition, lack of leadership and low morale/loyalty has also compounded our multi-tasking lifestyles. The line between homelife and worklife sometimes is blurred because you can receive a text from your boss while you’re on the toilet, picnicking with your kids or even traveling to visit family out of state.

So how do you deal? How do you advance your career while maintaining your own personal identity, homelife and sanity?

I’ve gotten better. Friends can attest to this. I used to work late hours, come home and work until I passed out. Now I work on average 9-10 hours/day. When I’m home, I try to focus on home and/or me. I try to avoid bringing work home and I’ve nearly stopped checking my work email and voice emails when I’m out of the office.

But Pantrygirl, aren’t you buying a mobile device to help you keep connected at work? Yes, I’m getting a Treos but I do use it for personal stuff too. Right now, my pda is set to only display personal tasks while my work pc shows my work tasks.

Sorry, I was just interrupted by this guy who looks like an older and skinner Pat Kiernan. He was walking with the department chair and he was laughing at something she said. His laugh was not a regular laugh. It was a chesty laugh. It wasn’t as comforting and giggle-inducing as a belly laugh. It was more irritating and brow crinkling.

Anyway back to Americans and our obsession with work. I’ve always wondered why we don’t take after our European brethren and have siestas or extended holidays. Clearly we need it. Everyone that surrounds me seems to be as swept up in the current as I am. Today, in order to catch up, I had to block time in my calendar with a dummy appointment to catch up on emails and memo reading.

Are we afraid we’ll stop being productive if we give each other a sabbatical? Honestly, I think many of us would feel more refreshed and invigorated. I’m not talking about these company mandated retreats. I’m not talking about ‘Fun Days’. I’m not against morale boosting and team building workshops but their still work related.

I’ll admit that I’ve been stuck in my eat lunch at my desk routine. I eat my lunch while reading mail, writing a letter or even during a web-conference. I know it’s bad for me. I know I’m only hermitting myself even more into my ‘cubicle’. I’m afraid if I leave my desk I’ll come back to more to-dos than I left.
Change is difficult yet I know it would be so much better for me to take an hour and half to decompress and see the outside. I know because at least once a week, I force myself to have a personal lunch with colleagues. Come hell or high water, I go out to lunch once a week. I always come back happier, less stressed and refreshed. No, it wasn't because it was a liquid lunch. I find I’m able to focus more on a project afterwards.

So why don’t I do it more often? Time doesn’t always permit me and I still have a fear things will pile up even more.
Ellen Wurfhorst’s article quotes John Challenger, CEO for a consultant firm, "We never concentrate on one task anymore. You take a little chip out of it, and then you're on to the next thing.”

That sums up my feelings in a nutshell. Sure as a project manager, my job is to handle many tasks within a project. Sometimes I’m juggling multiple projects. I should be used to it. Well, it gets worse and worse every project I start.
Why? Mini-tasks have slowly grown into these unnecessarily overly complicated tasks. I find myself congratulating myself for being able to schedule a meeting. I’m not talking about actually having the meeting and it being a productive meeting with an outcome. I’m talking about just being able to find a space available, coordinate everyone’s schedules and get the resources necessary booked. Forget about even preparing the agenda and any documentation or slides. I got people to agree to meet.

If I feel harried now while I’m still fairly young how am I going to feel when I’m near retirement and things run twice as fast as they are now? I’m scared to jump off my surfboard. I’m afraid I’ll crash and burn but if work continues like this, I may very well crash and burn and it won’t be an option.

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