Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Quitting Time

So one of the guys who works for me often says in in meetings "I don't want your job." If he read this blog, I'd say "Ok, we get it."

But I was talking with another guy recently who's often still at his desk when I leave for the night, which is typically about 5:30. Often, I stop working at 5 and will try to tie up some personal details in the last half hour. Though sadly all too often that's actually more like 5:20, 5:25 when I'm able to push off the work work.

But it got me to thinking... in the olden days, my bosses often beat me to the door, sometimes almost running when the clock struck 5. At times, I thought it unfair in my first job. But then in my second job, she was even more punctual, but at the same time, we spent much of most afternoons playing Rainbow Six over the network. (We all, even she, believed, that it was about to get really busy, so we were staffed for it and ready for it. However, instead, AOL merged with us and a bunch of people got laid off while AOL bought itself another decade of existence.)

At the third job, one of my bosses was gone on time very regularly, but my other lived there. Seriously, sometimes he'd sleep in an unused room he had appropriated on a cot he had brought in.

But now, I'm the guy out the door first a number of days a week. Sometimes I even leave before my boss?

So what is it? I think it's two things... one - young children. The people most likely to stay later than me have children. Those that don't are more likely to continue to work past five. The other, I think is more telling - the nature of the work itself. I am an email-pusher, a mid-level manager trying to keep things running smoothly. Helping manage workflow of two teams, be an advisor/coach to seven people, and acting as a buffer between what my team can offer and what the internal customers want. So in the old days when I was coding, I could get lost in it. But today, I guess it's more like whatever I don't get done today will still be there tomorrow. And whatever I don't get done tomorrow will still be there the next. While I can't just ignore stuff I don't like, there's always the possibility that something more interesting or more urgent will come along. Or that if something waits long enough, it becomes a non-issue. Granted, there's a lot of prioritization and assessment going on. It would be dereliction of duty to just ignore someone hoping they'll go away or not doing something important because something easier/funner is sitting there. Fortunately, I typically have just a small amount of time more than needed and often come pretty close to getting it all taken care of. There are ebbs and flows.

So it's an interesting take... I enjoy my job, I'm energized by it, but at the same token, sometimes it can feel less like I'm doing something. (Which causes my morning prayer to often fall along the lines of "Dear God, please let the work that I'm doing have an actual impact on how many children are fed versus if I wasn't here. That my being here helps more people get helped.")

Probably one of the reasons I'm not compelled to stay later. Of course, right now nights for my family also include dance class, women's group, Awana, choir practice and small group. I'm only involved in the latter, but the others all have a big impact on what I will be doing that evening.

But, in some ways, the easier does get a free pass to the front of the line. If I've just gotten 20 new emails in my inbox, my first pass is always going to be for the easy ones - the quick responses to colleagues, the emails that can be dispatched without further action. In some ways, that means I'm always working on the then-easiest as I triage, but that's sometimes the best you can do.

Which leads me to another thought I was discussing with a friend over email the other day - a concept I've tried to share with no success with some of my colleagues who cause me "buffer overruns."

In simplest terms, a buffer overrun - a computer term - is when the input supplied exceeds the processor's ability to handle it. In some cases, that leads to "cracks" which allow invalid or otherwise illogical actions to take place (this is how most computer viruses get a foothold) or causes a shutdown (all inputs are then ignored until things slow down and the computer can get some breathing room to check itself out) -- this is how must websites are taken down - overwhelmed with too much traffic.

While children may be more susceptible to the "cracks" idea, I think most adults default to the "Shutdown" mode. Send me too many emails and I'll set them aside. Do it regularly and I'll lower the perceived priority of all communication from you. And some people don't get that... email lots of people, then lots of people respond, or they email you several times about the same topic. My email sorts automatically by topic (either the subject line or a topic I assign). Sometimes my need to declutter my inbox lets that pay off - I can open a grouping of 10 emails and quickly scan and dispatch with all of them. Other times, if there's work involved, or I have to synthesize action to descrambling 4 out of the 8 emails in the group, then it gets set aside.

There was a guy I worked once who was notorious in that regard, constantly stopping by to chat, sending emails, etc., etc. So much so that if you even saw an email from him, you couldn't help but sigh. If there was an attachment, you knew you needed to set it aside until you could devote 30 minutes to it. And if he was even in the vicinity, you'd usually learn about it first over instant message from the last person he had been talking to - it was often a head's up/apology because sometimes you had to push someone else in front of his bus just to extricate yourself for meetings or work.

So yeah, I'm not sure exactly where I was going with that, just thinking about how I'm more likely to leave on time these days. Maybe it goes hand in hand with the fact that I'm also constantly checking work email from my BlackBerry all the time I'm not at work, meaning I'm really always at work.

Odd fact... for whatever reason, I find it easiest to work from the bottom of my inbox instead of the top. And since my inbox is sorted by grouping alphabetically, that means the subject lines closest to Z get responded to first when I'm "batching." That's when I turn off the "spigot" - no new emails come in, all the emails I write are queued but not sent. It's a great way for me to really bushwhack through the thicket and clear a lot of my inbox at once without the distraction of incoming emails. (I also use my BlackBerry so that I can be aware of truly urgent stuff, and also to send new stuff straight to the almost-trash so that when I do turn it back on, I won't even see those things.)