Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Get out and ROWE

This morning on NPR I heard a story about "Results Oriented Work Environments" - the office environment of tomorrow, today!

In ROWE workplaces, people can work remotely, for the most part, unless they're scheduled to cover some face-to-face customer service type meeting. This means that "cubicle farms" are left mostly empty while workers rotate who's actually present. Managers of ROWE offices claim that the workers who do this are more productive because the hours they are working are actual working hours, rather than "butt in a chair at the office" hours (or what they call "presenteeism"... a term that's a bit too cute for my taste).

My taller half disregarded this idea, saying it's just another way to squeeze even more hours out of workers, for the same pay. As I was commuting to my office, though, I found myself wondering just how much of my job I could do from somewhere else... and whether I would be more productive and possibly happier if I tried it.

Which inevitably got me thinking about how much more time I could spend in natural light.

You see, at my workplace I have my own office, which I understand is a luxury, especially for someone my age. To be able to close a door is very nice on days when I need to be on the phone for a while, or am working on number crunching that needs concentration, or just don't want to deal with interruptions (though a closed door isn't necessarily a guarantee of that).

But my office is windowless. I spend hours of my life sitting at a desk, facing a wall, under fluorescent lights, and seeing zero natural anything, unless you count the plant that lives on my metal office shelf. I'm fairly certain this contributes to the lack of fulfillment the job gives me, which I've written about before.

Really, I could just as easily call people or reconcile receipts from... anywhere. Except for running the occasional conference and being secretary for the occasional meeting, I could do, probably, 80% of my job remotely. And the rest of that stuff could be scheduled for days when I plan to be around.

Heck, if I was able to work from somewhere else, my boss could give me a cubicle and assign my office to someone else.

Listening to the story about workers telecommuting, or only going in to the office once a week, I caught myself dreaming about setting up shop on a screened-in porch, with my coffee, in jeans and a sweatshirt, and logging my work hours to the sound of birdsong.

(Note: I don't have a screened-in porch. But it sounds nice, doesn't it?)

All this daydreaming is made worse by the fact that my desk at home just got moved and rearranged (does anyone else out there correlate "rearranging furniture" with "fun weekend"? Or is that just us?) so that it now faces two windows. As I was finishing a class project yesterday, I enjoyed swaying trees, changing evening sunlight, and puffy clouds. Just the occasional glance up helped my mental state considerably, and I got the project finished hours before I had originally expected to.

Of course, the usual tradeoff of working from home and/or working someplace comfortable is that you'll just never stop. This is certainly the case for most people I know who work from home, but the difference is that those people work for themselves. They're either running small businesses or they're independent contractors. My brother is a solid example of this: he has a home office, which means he works, like, 18 hour days, then staggers down the hall and falls in to bed, basically. And he's usually doing that six or seven days a week. He's got to be the most demanding boss ever, but he's his only employee, so nobody complains.

But if instead of running your own business you were reporting to a supervisor via e-mail and Skype, would it work? In a mostly self-managed job like mine, I think it would. And I think I'd be willing to give it a try.

Perhaps it's time to chat with my boss.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Surprising myself

My sense of hindsight is excellent: I am quite skilled at seeing and analyzing things I've done in the past. If only the same could be said about my foresight. Is this common?

In speaking with other folks who are living through graduate school programs of different stripes, I've concluded that I'm not the only person who does this, especially when it comes to projects like, say, a thesis: the process convinces us that we, folks who are pretty smart and have accomplished some tough academic tasks in the past already, cannot do this thing.

Some grad school programs seem to pride themselves on destroying the confidence of their students. (Law school is particularly cruel: IF you survive, THEN you get to take a multi-day exam which covers a million things you didn't learn in your three expensive years and which you will probably fail.)

Combined with this culture, I have a chronic tendency to think I peaked in the past. When I was in high school I honestly thought that my intelligence had spiked in seventh and eighth grade, because those were years I qualified for the regional spelling bee. Spelling skills, folks. That was my smart-peak. Then, in college, I looked back at high school and thought that then - then! - was when I had reached the pinnacle of my brilliance. I competed in mock trial all four years. I wore a suit and argued a case in front of real judges at seventeen! Can that be topped? I think not.

I realized this the other day, while I was procrastinating from editing my thesis proposal. I was picking up some items at the little health food store next to my workplace, and I heard my least favorite store clerk lecturing two undergrads about something or another (he lectures. Hence he's my least-favorite). Mr. Lecture said: "You're in school now - you're the smartest you'll ever be. It's all downhill from here."

Oh, my God. Really?

And I realized there's a part of me that has always subscribed to that point of view: it's all downhill from here. You'll never be smarter than this. The peak, you dolt, has already passed.

The inevitable thought that is born from this line of thinking is: why bother doing anything else then?

A day later I sat down with my draft thesis proposal and, upon reading, realized that it is actually kind of good. Imagine this: in different ways, I've been working on parts of this document for at least a year and a half, and at this point it's not horrible. My hindsight kicked in and I saw myself working on my pilot project last spring. Even though that was a large project crammed in to a totally unreasonable timeline, I managed to complete it and do so fairly well. Then I saw myself researching for the rest of the literature review as it now stands, this past fall, and I recalled my professor telling me it was "outstanding". I thought she was being nice... and then I remembered that she is actually a fairly tough evaluator.

So where was the peak? Because of course it's already passed, right? Because there is a peak, isn't there?

I decided to go ahead and submit my draft proposal to my advisor, so she could give me suggestions for things to fix. She contacted me three days later and told me I'm ready to defend it as it is. I met with her exactly a week after I sent in the "draft", we talked about it, and she approved it. Now I'm working through all the human subjects research protocol before I begin actually researching and writing my master's thesis.

Maybe this can be done. Maybe, to stop using the passive, I can do this.

Wouldn't it be convenient if my foresight was as sunny as my hindsight? Have you ever thought you peaked in the past?

Monday, March 1, 2010

In like a...

Well, it seems that February was a bust at the old blog, but in "meatspace" I had a lot going on:

I did more traveling than I usually do, all solo, which is quite unusual for me. It's nice to be by my lonesome every now and then, but as usual I was reminded what a great travel companion I have in my husband. After a few evenings of only being able to talk to him for a few minutes on the phone, I also remembered how much I don't miss the long-distance dating we did. I mean, dating was fun. Needing a phone to connect with each other wasn't.

All the traveling was for the two baby showers held for my sister. The one I hosted turned out pretty well, and I was proud of its special twist: I asked everyone to bring their favorite children's book. She got a pile of great books! This had the doubly-good effect of taking up so much time, the one game I had planned got scrapped. Nobody was sad about this.

My sister got some important necessary items at her showers, like a stroller and a baby seat... and clothes, clothes, clothes. We were wondering how many onesies a kid can wear at the same time. I started mentioning that babies need their clothes changed all the time, but as we started unpacking two showers' worth of cute outfits in the nursery I realized that there is perhaps such a thing as too many clothes for a baby. Especially one born in the spring... don't babies just hang out in their diapers during the summer?

Before the traveling (fortunately!) I had the flu for the first time in... years. It took me at least 24 hours before I admitted it was the flu. I thought I was just tired, or lazy, or something. Turns out not wanting to move and hurting everywhere was on account of the 101-degree fever I was rocking. Ohhh.

Having the flu for three days confirmed for me that our apartment is too small. It's workable for the two of us on evenings and weekends; it's not entirely bearable when one of us is quite ill and wants to sleep/watch TV/make 37 pots of tea and the other is about six feet away in his office trying to grade papers and prepare for the class he's teaching that night. Alas, it seems unlikely we'll move soon, so I just need to stay as healthy as possible.

Perhaps with that in mind, I started swimming in earnest during the latter half of February. I hope to have more to mention in March about my certainly ill-conceived plan to participate in a sprint triathlon in July. The longest atheltic event I've participated in up until now was an 8K last March, so I have some nervousness about the swimming and biking bits. Which I understand is two-thirds of the race.

Most importantly, I hope to make this less of a "first of the month" blog and more of an "occasional" blog. I admire bloggers who post daily, but I know myself well enough to know that this, at least at this point in time, is not one of those blogs.

Happy March, everyone!