Friday, May 30, 2008

Gobble this up!

Today, as I was catching up on Pasq242's writings, I learned a new term: Work Turkeys. He defines it as

work turkey - [wurk tur-kee] - n. - a project or activity undertaken at work that appears to be productive but is actually an elaborate means of wasting time (usually with some kind of end product). Derived from the grade school activity of tracing your hand and decorating it like a turkey (thumb is the head, fingers are feathers)--specifically, performing this activity at work.

  • Drawing turkeys during meetings
  • Creating hula skirts for your pens by fraying the edges of post-it notes
  • Changing the "DRAFT" watermark on the document you are working on to various things throughout the day including:
    - "penguin"
    - "bootylicious"
    - "deez nuts"
    - "my anaconda don't want none unless you got buns, hon"
  • Anonymously modifying items in your shared workspace
(click on the link for that last bullet point!)

Footnote: sorry, I'm totally ripping off his post but it is 100% applicable here and also it is freakin' hilarious. Thanks, Pasq. Much, much respect.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Excuses, excuses

Sometimes I miss a meeting. Oops. That means I have to spend more time coming up with an excuse for why I wasn't there. Today, though, a friend at another (international) company told me about the best excuse yet she's heard for missing a meeting...

Sorry about yesterday, things got a little crazy. One of the employees won the lottery proceeded to get drunk and ended up chasing people with machete. We had to lock him up in the locker room, which he trashed ... and call the cops.

Hmm, yeah. I hope that if I ever win the lottery I use the first big chunk of it to bail myself out of jail.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Calendar Crap

I am, by title, a "Senior [blah blah blah] Engineer." Which is pretty impressive to my mom, and might make you think that I drive a train, design hydroelectric power plants, work with calibrated instruments, or solve problems involving lots of numbers using a slide rule or abacus. But I do none of those things.

I attend meetings. And you know what? It isn't so bad. Most of them are conference calls these days, so I can keep my feet on my desk while I listen through my headset to the inane droning from the other end. That part is actually pretty cool.

The hard part, the part that takes up the bulk of my time and mental energy is figuring out when to "go" to a meeting, what meetings to "go" to, and what number to dial to attend. So I spend a lot of time in scheduling a meeting via email and then putting it on my calendar, and often enough forgetting about the meeting until 25 minutes after it started anyway. In most cases the meeting didn't require my presence, or eventually someone will call me to ask the specific question that the group who attended arrived at. In the end, my time has not only been saved to permit me to work on other things, my value as a senior engineer has been illustrated to those who waited on me.

Let me just say right here that I staunchly refuse to use Microsoft Outlook for reasons other than just its storied history of security vulnerabilities. For one thing, I don't want someone to send me an "invite" that automatically assigns my time. I don't care to expose my calendar to the rest of the company (what if sales blow-hards started attending my POWER meetings? shit!). I also can keep a straight face when I tell people that the bulk of my real work gets done when I am not in meetings, so staying out of meetings is an advantage to my productivity.

Still, I must keep a calendar so I can refer to it when someone asks me a question because the inevitable answer is that I will have a better answer for them after some other meeting which is happening later in the week. You want to know if the widget-counter contraption you've been asking me about for three months is complete yet? Yeah, let me get back to you after the engineering meeting Thursday afternoon. Of course, on Friday they are too busy thinking about light beer to remember to ask me about it again, so the cycle can continue for another week. I also need to keep a calendar so I know when to go get my haircut.

What I would hope for, presumably in order to be more efficient, is an easier to use calendar. A way to be automatically gently reminded of upcoming events, and just a little goddamn privacy. Look, efficiency is efficiency. If it could help me be more efficient with working, it will help me be more efficient with slacking.

A colleague has suggested using but I know that using external websites to record sensitive company data is, well, frowned upon in an organization so large that they feel they must do everything themselves or not at all.

In the mean time, a frustratingly large proportion of the time that I'm in my chair, awake, sober, and not unabashedly wasting my time is spent coordinating my schedule instead of solving cool problems that make things work better, faster, cheaper. If you wonder what drives a person to become a slack-hacker, that's a big part of it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

POWER meetings

One of the things I love most about working in a really huge company is that there is a whole system set up for the reservation of conference rooms.

At a small company, you just go into the conference room. If the company is large enough that a meeting might be occurring without your prior knowledge, it is probably also large enough to have two conference rooms.

But this place? Who knows how many rooms we have set aside just for meetings. If we were more efficient, they wouldn't be empty so often or we would just have fewer of them. And that's probably exactly what some genius MBA was thinking when they started the project to develop the "Conference Room Scheduler" (which, I should note, dethroned the previous application called "Conference-room scheduler" that was totally different). This application runs on the intranet and permits me to reserve a conference room in any of the company's office locations in the country. There is a separate system for international sites for some reason. You can also schedule things like projectors and network hubs (in case everyone attending is not equipped for wireless) and the like. But not, it is important to note, critical meeting aids like coffee or lunch.

Well, like it or not, this is the application what you've gotta use if you want to have any kind of uninterrupted meeting. Imagine the embarrassment of having someone walk in while your arm is above your head as you gesticulate wildly in front of a white board and your right hand is flinging a red dry-erase marker dangerously through random geometrical shapes in an effort to ensure that the other people in the room are on the same page with you. My god, caught in the act! right?

Back to the Conference Room Scheduler. It so happens that there's no level of authority required to orchestrate a meeting, and no minimums or checks or reporting on who has what meetings, which is a good thing. If there were, we would slide even more deeply into a dilbert-esque universe where people were measured on having meetings instead of more concrete evidence of productivity like, oh I dunno, results or maybe the bottom line or just the number of hours that their ass is in their veal fattening pen. So, with no requisite for need or authority, I have taken to having a meeting each day at around 2:20 pm that lasts for about 20-25 minutes in which I and all my reports (none) work on our shavasana.
It is great, I tell you. After these POWER meetings I feel incredibly refreshed and healthy, like I could (if I so chose) be an efficient and effective contributing member of my team.

And some days, I actually am.