Monday, December 21, 2009

Focus, Part II

So, I'll level with you. The ending to this story is only partly happy. It's a bittersweet sort of ending. I hate to disappoint, especially since this is my pet problem at work, but this is the sort of battle that, I think must rage on. It might just be one for the ages, like the dryer vs. matched pair of socks battle, or the Endless Struggle to Balance Work and Home Life. It's just like my current battle with my laptop to capitalize things when I push Shift. What's up with that, laptop? (My laptop apparently does not like me talking smack about it, as it just froze up during that last sentence, and threatened to lose communication with Blogger.)

So, when we left off, I'd identified the reasons I wasn't working, and was about to plunge into the dangerous waters of actually doing something about it.

I first decided to make up my own solutions, because that always works. In all honesty, though, having identified my problems, I felt pretty powerful, because, as you may have heard, knowing is half the battle.

The battle's second half began with a daunting challenge: Lack of Resources. For those of you playing along at home, that's the part where accessing the files I need, and saving those files once I've altered them, takes FOREVER. I cannot change this, but what I can change is what I do while waiting for my computer to do its thing. I needed several very small tasks (or, failing that, several very quick time-wasters) to tide my mosquito-like attention span over until files could be uploaded to or downloaded to and from the mothership. I decided, instead of cracking open the old Google Reader (which generally leads to an hour or more of non-productivity), I would create a cache of small tasks, like clearing off my desk, or watering my plant (a cactus), to keep me more or less focused on work while waiting for my computer to catch up. Barring legitimate tasks, I allowed myself to read one webcomic, not a whole series, before checking back to if work had appeared.

This . . . didn't work. I probably would have done better to just try and zen out and wait, doing nothing. Once distracted from the task at hand, hauling my attention back was nearly impossible. I believe this is what the Internet likes to call a FAIL.

Moving on, Lack of Guidance. Ok, this one I could tackle. I am a smart cookie, and I know what needs to be done. I decided, instead of waiting for some larger entity to hold my hand, that I would take my large, amorphous tasks, and break them down into manageable chunks, step by step. This strategy was moderately more successful. Once I'd taken the time to write out the baby steps required to complete my tasks, I didn't find my eyes glazing over as much when confronted with my task list as a whole. Smaller tasks are easier to accomplish, and not as overwhelming. They're also much more satisfying, since "Create a Manual" only gives you one cathartic check mark per couple of months, but "Identify Missing Content," "Download Missing Content," and "Add Downloaded Content to Table of Contents," can all be accomplished in an afternoon, resulting in personal pats on the back all around.

The only problem with this solution? Issue #3 from last week: Lack of Accountability. While my Outlook Task List was very proud of me for accomplishing my mini-tasks, nobody else gave a hoot, and after awhile I didn't give a hoot, either. Breaking down my tasks into mini-tasks just started to feel like one more task . . . one more task that I didn't really have to do.

Clearly, it was time to call in the big guns. I needed to ask my old friend the internet, who had been so effective at distracting me from my job, for help in getting down to it. The upside: I could almost call this working, so I could do it while on the clock.

Stay tuned for next week's Long Distance Blog!!! Work Blogging while on vacation my be sacrilegious, but somebody's got to take one for Team Workplace, and since I am the team's only member . . . well, see you after Christmas!

Happy Happy, Internet!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Finding Focus: Part 1

For this week's post, I decided to dive right in and tackle my biggest challenge at work, and the issue that prompted me to start blogging in the first place: staying focused.

Like many office dwellers, I have unrestricted access to the internet at my place of work, which leads to untold opportunities to divert my attention from the task at hand. The internet itself, however, would probably not be enough to distract me from my job (I like my job, after all, and genuinely desire to do it well), were it not for a number of other forces working against me. Since knowing is half the battle, I set about to diagnose my distractedness disease before seeking a cure.

With this in mind, I kept a log for one week of exactly what I was doing at all times, attempting not to correct, but merely observe. The results, to say the least, were depressing. The ratio of productive hours to distracted hours is too embarrassing even to post on a relatively anonymous internet blog. Suffice it to say that I sincerely hope this is rock bottom, and that I can only improve from here.

After recovering from my shock at the tattered remains of my work ethic, I analyzed my carefully recorded ramblings, and identified three main obstacles that I believe are keeping me from being the laser-sighted super-employee that I wish to be.

  1. Lack of Resources: That is to say, lack of computing resources that can keep up with the pace of my job, and my attention span. I work at a satellite, thousands of miles from my company's main location, and thus thousands of miles from its computer servers. In this day and age of lightening-fast connections and enormous bandwidths, this wouldn't seem to be a problem, except that I must connect to the shared file system via a twisted, tangled path of firewalls, VPN (Virtual Private Network)s, and other hurdles, all of which require seemingly endless passwords and patience to navigate. Once connected, a file that would take less than a second to open were it located on my own machine, takes well over a minute to navigate its way from the mother ship down to me. Well over a minute, I have discovered, is the exact amount of time it takes for my eyes to glaze over, and my brain to say, "Huh. Wonder what's going on over on LOLcats . . ."
  2. Lack of Guidance: Being a satellite often means that the mother ship forgets about me for months at a time, assuming all is going swimmingly unless I start making noise. When decrees do come down from on high, the tasks are often enormous and vague. Create a Manual. Organize Vast Stretches of Data. Investigate Avenues of Improvement. Like a sculptor facing an enormous block of marble, with nothing but a tiny chisel, and, for that matter, a very limited knowledge of the art of sculpting, I often look upon these monumental undertakings and think that perhaps now would be a good time to break for lunch.
  3. Lack of Accountability: When my boss leaves the office for a meeting or takes a sick day, I know I'm sunk. She rarely checks in on me even when she's there, but the chance that she'll walk into my office with some question or other, and catch me looking up wedding hairstyles instead of Creating, Organizing, and Investigating is generally enough to at least get me to try and focus. When she's gone, so am I.

Now, I'm not proud of these obstacles, and they seem pretty pathetic when set out in black and white, but I've got my diagnosis, and that, at least, is a starting point.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of this series, when I will attempt to first tackle my problems myself, and then cave in and go looking for outside support.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Well, I was going to be extra-special cool this week and post to blogger from my phone, but blogger is being uncooperative, so we'll have to do things the old-fashioned way.

This is going to be a short one, not only because last week's facebook post was the size of several small novels, but because I'm in the midst of some self-research at work, but won't be ready to report back until next week.

But for this week . . .hold on to your hats! We're going to a conference! Do you know why we're going to a conference? Because conferences are awesome! I didn't used to think so. Back when I was in grad school, conferences were something terrifying and incomprehensible that grown-ups did. Places where people gave incomprehensible talks about opaque subjects that only mattered to approximately 5 other people in the universe.

Not anymore! No, no, no! Go to a conference! Go to one right now! If it's a year from now, and you are in the Bay Area, go to this one: I'll be there.

5 Reasons this Conference was great!

5. Swag! I got a tote bag, and a stuffed animal, and a t-shirt, and and and post-it notes, and a book! Christmas came early, and with a bank logo slapped all over it.

4. Discounts! The whole day cost me only $20, because the bank putting it on in collaboration with the YWCA wanted so much for me to know the things it was teaching me, that it subsidized my fee. There may be somebody out there who wants to feed you muffins and chicken and facts and motivation right now! Start looking!

3. Networking! I'm not the queen of networking (that was the third Keynote Speaker, actually). I'm not particularly good at it. However, this environment made it easy for even people like me to smile across the table, and make connections with other smart young go-getters. People were nice! They gave me their e-mail addresses, and told me we should connect with each other. The conference atmosphere put everyone in the mood to seek out connections and get things done. It was exciting, and very good practice.

2. Knowledge! Glorious knowledge! I learned a lot of useful things about money, and at the same time, received unbelievable amounts of motivation from superbly enthusiastic speakers. I really felt energized, even during the cheesy parts. Hearing that Saturday was the first day of the rest of my life enough times made me believe it a little bit, or at least think about how my life would change if it were true. It got me in touch with the big picture, which is something I think we all need not just every once in a while, but regularly.

And the number one reason why conferences are great:

1. When I told my boss where I'd been this weekend, she said, "Wow. That's great that you're being so proactive about that."

Hear that? My boss thinks I'm proactive. All because I ate some chicken and got some people to tell me about my potential while giving me presents.

Go conferences! Go TO conferences! I dare you. It'll be fun.