Self-Management is not for the faint of heart

June 25th, 2008

Sadly, I score about 80% on the faint-of-heart quiz.

The last job I had was basically self-managed and I didn’t start to relax in that one until they brought on someone who functioned as my manager (even though he technically wasn’t). My manager in my new job is based several states away. He’s done a good job of keeping in touch and responding to issues I have, and has been very careful to make sure my priorities are clear and I feel I can manage them. Kudos to him; not complaining about him here at all.

The reality of day-to-day work, though, is that after I’ve come in and taken care of routine things I have to do every day, I have to decide what needs to be done next and when my assigned priorities have to bend to urgencies of the day. Although I report to a man hundreds of miles a way, I work where I am to support the local facility–and in particular, because of some intense pressure on the factory, supporting the local facility is one of my boss’s top priorities for me. So I feel I should take care of any requests from anyone in the plant staff as expeditiously as possible.

While I am thinking along those lines, I am trying to manage “fallout” from other processes. I call it fallout because none of these things should warrant my attention if you just looked at my list of priorities. But they are issues tied to major efforts inside or outside of our plant, and there are other people involved who can’t or won’t just sit back and cool there heels about the issue. If I know that the issue can best be addressed by someone else I try to send people on their way with a tip for best results (i.e. this is how you know to ask this person, or be sure to have this information on hand when you ask that question). But often enough I believe I am the person best able to deal with the issue, and if I am not involved the problem will not be resolved correctly, completely, or in time; or it might possibly be resolved completely, but other people will have to go through extra effort and do some guessing and asking while I am confident I can get the relevant information much more quickly.

I don’t like to pass a problem along if I know the person I am giving it to could benefit from something I could add. So there are many things that, if I had an extreme situation on hand, I could just shrug and say, “Sorry, can’t help,” but if I am just busy I know the next person in line is too, and I don’t want to slack off what I could provide.

One of the things which is not my top priority is coordinating expedited orders. But even though this is not my top priority, if you don’t take care of an expedite in a timely fashion it is not being expedited, is it? And usually you will hear about it again until you get it taken care of, anyway. So that goes onto the must-do list, and while I am opening those e-mails it is hard not to check the others.

Most of the stuff I nominally should be doing the people I am supposed to be supporting are not all that interested in, and most of the stuff the people I am supposed to be supporting want me to do I nominally should not be doing. They are constantly pushing the boundaries of what my boss and the rest of the corporation have set as business policy.

For most of May and June I have been working frantically every day, but at the end of every day and every week I am not sure what I was working on. I don’t know what I am doing. I know how to do every particular thing that comes up for me to do, but in the larger picture I don’t know what I am working to accomplish, who it is benefitting, and if it makes any difference what I did by the next day or next week.

I have been able to relieve that somewhat in the last week or so by documenting what I am doing as I am doing it. Often enough there are gaps in my log because I got carried away doing things and forgot to jot down a note, but overall I can look back at the list at the end of the day and say, “Well, that’s what I did. That’s where the time went.”

Today I started the day thinking my day was mostly free and intending to do some work to reduce the time taken in some routine chores. I never even began that, though, because during the events of the day I began to think that maybe a different project was more urgently needed to try to help sooth some issues of contention between the local site and my boss. I did manage to get started on that but by the end of the day I felt maybe I should have been working frantically on a whole different line of work which is really vain, because it accomplishes little that wouldn’t happen anyway–trying to force things to ship this month that would ship readily enough in another week or so. I try to avoid that, but the whole corporation is in an uproar about missing financial goals, and sometimes you have to just do the stupid work with the rest of the team.

My morale has been at a low ebb anyway because there doesn’t seem to have been any great disaster, or really much notice at all, from my leaving my last position and not being replaced. That will pretty well make you feel worthless. I am easily reached if there was some kind of crisis where my help was needed, and I have been flattered and somewhat cheered by a number of people outside the plant coming to me because they need something actually taken care of; but outsiders develop a knack for soft targets, and it is not necessarily my expertise that brings them to me as my willingness to jump through hoops and make work for other people in the plant.

And generally, that’s what it feels like I have been doing–in my current job and, in retrospect, in my previous job. There isn’t any actual work that is going undone with my departure, just all the drama and fanfare that went along with me helping with the work. You take out my excitable personality, leave some people a little more jaded and a little more willing to let things sort themselves out, and when it’s all said and done there’s not really any less accomplished.

I know a lot of this is the same all over. I know that even when you have a boss who’s right near by there are still multiple priorities, still the possibility of frantic working in circles. Better a boss far away than one who’s constantly pulling you from one thing to the next! Ultimately everyone has to manage their own time because all bosses will pile things on until you manage to get the critical projects done but not the lesser tasks.

I think I will learn to manage my work a little better, in time. Give me a few more months and I will start to wear grooves for myself in how I handle my job. Then I’ll start whining that I’m bored. Right now, when I’m not at work, my mind is still at work, fretting. It’s not productive thinking, just “What did I not get done today? What do I have to do tomorrow? What can I do tomorrow? How is tomorrow going to be different from today? What can I do differently than today? What did I not get done? What kept me from doing it? What should my priorities be tomorrow?” And on and on in endless questions, always asking the next question and never finding any answers.

I wonder if some of the reason I have worked so much over time is just to convince myself that it really is critical that I do . . .you know, the stuff I’m doing. But I know it was important, because if it wasn’t critical there’s no way I would have let it stop me from doing, you know, all those other critically important projects that haven’t been started for months without anyone besides me noticing.

Yeah, it’s just life, really. Not that special, and I’d complain I was bored if I knew exactly what I was going to do every day. But it’s got me in a tizzy, too distracted and disoriented to give any interesting commentary on what I am doing.

Introducing Evil HR Lady

June 10th, 2008

I have not accumulated a wealth of professional resources, but I know this one is a keeper. Evil HR Lady is the only professional blog I have read for hours at a time, and wished I was clearheaded enough to keep reading. She has one of those blogs that you are sure can explain the entire universe if you can just read everything that’s on there.

Evil HR Lady could be a boring blog written by a malcontent about how odious it is to make triplicate copies of everything. But it is not. It’s about what brings smiles and what brings frowns to the people who hire and fire–the HR people, but also the managers who work with the HR people to accomplish their objectives.

It’s like eavesdropping on the closed-door meetings that you normally hear about through rumor and speculation. All the identifying personal and corporate details are redacted, but you can still see how the process works. You can understand.

Take this autopsy of a botched firing. I can completely sympathize with the enquirer and yet, as the Evil HR Lady deconstructs, I can clearly see how things suddenly and unexpectedly turned out ugly.

I feel like this is the HR mentoring I have never received, and I’m trying to make up for lost time by archive-diving.