Everything is a Crisis (From the archives)
I have a plugin called “ForecastFox” running in my browser. It popped up a serious looking red exclamation point this morning, meaning a serious weather alert had been issued. It’s unusual, but not unheard of for us to be visited by a tornado this time of year, so I clicked on the “!” to see what was up. What I found struck terror into every fiber of my being – a possible frost warning. Is it too late to buy tickets to Hawaii? I’m thinking maybe it’s time to uninstall ForecastFox. No, the plugin does exactly what it should be doing. The problem is the weather service. I’m getting heavy rain warnings, high wind warnings, high heat and humidity warnings, thunderstorm warnings, high pollen warnings and now frost warnings (this all in addition to somewhat more useful weather alerts). The problem is that everything seems to be elevated to crisis level.
I had a similar chat with my boss not long ago. Probably like a lot of bosses, he has a long list of projects he wants done perfectly, the first time, yesterday, and a short list of people to do them. This leads to an accumulation and a shuffling of projects while we all work on the hot project of the week or worse, put out fires and patch problems. These are often caused by projects being thrown together too quickly and not adequately tested or otherwise suffering from lack of focus as several projects are being completed simultaneously. Now, my boss is not a stupid guy. I’m sure he understands all this, but the air must be thin in those meeting rooms he spends so much time in. When I brought him a list of three major projects he’s assigned to me and asked him which one should be the priority, he said “all of them.” It must be a boss thing. Years ago I had another boss. Once in frustration I asked him if he wanted it done fast or right. Of course, he replied “both.” What this means to me is that nothing is a priority. I’ll continue working on X until he bursts into my office after yet another meeting and demands to know what’s going on with Y. Then I’ll switch to Y until the process is repeated with Z and so on. Eventually, everything may get done, but I can guarantee it would be done better and probably quicker if I were given a clear-cut list of priorities and left alone to do my work.
I guess what I’m saying is that you have to have priorities. If you don’t set them, somebody else will. I was raised to be a hard worker. A good employee. The old Protestant ethic. I still believe there’s merit in that approach, but I’ve quit following in my parents’ footsteps in that regard. They let a little man at a little company rule their lives. Every morning they were up early and off to work. Every night they were home and talked about “the shop” over dinner. There was overtime. There were late night and weekend emergencies, and my father always answered the call. Eventually, “the shop” was sold to bigger little men, and my parents were sold along with the rest of the furnishings, equipment and office supplies. They continued getting up early and going to work. Two weeks of every year was vacation. Two weeks. Out of fifty-two. Work fifty, get two. It doesn’t seem right to me now, but I never questioned it when I was a kid. That was just the way things were. Then when my father finally retired somebody told me how much money he was making. $11 an hour. Two weeks of living and $11 an hour.
Back to my boss. He uses that same approach with everybody in the office. Some of them remind me of my father – they work hard, days, nights, weekends. This is a public blog and I’m not going to get any more personal than I already have. Suffice it to say that I intend to give the company as much value during my working hours as I can. However, my life is not the job. If I can’t get X, Y and Z done in the allotted time because of mismanagement, empty calorie meetings and busywork, then X, Y and Z won’t get done. At the end of the week, if there’s a paycheck waiting for me, then it was a productive week at work. If everything’s a crisis then nothing is a crisis.